Christmas gives knitters a wonderful sense of direction and determination. What is usually our leisurely, self-indulgent pastime now has an imposed deadline and external expectations—will it fit, will she like it, will he wear it? But the knitters’ Christmas tension gives us goals and drives us to think purposefully about our vocation and, in spite of the pressure, we love it.
Oh and don’t get me started on how New Years sets our knitting compass—that is for another post. For now I have a pile of knitting to finish.
For those of us in the knitting business, Christmas orders can get right out of control. In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s when I operated Mount Newton Indian Sweaters (a Cowichan sweater shop), December was madness. I probably made a quarter of my annual sales at Christmas time and the knitters, including myself, likely still had three or four custom orders to knit at this time of year. It was nothing to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning to get a sweater ready for pick up.
You would think that now I’m older I would have a more sophisticated schedule, or that at least I would have learned to pace myself. And I did. When I gave up the sweater business in 1992 and went to university I only knit for pleasure and my Christmas knitting demands were easy to fill. Until 3 years ago when Adam and Joni, my son and daughter, decided that we should reinvent our old sweater business, make something new and exciting, and call it Salish Fusion.
Why not? They were Salish Fusion to the bone—mixed race (Coast Salish father and Euro-Canadian mother) young people with a passion for life, a love for their indigenous heritage and tons of creative energy. And besides, they had been raised in the sweater shop amidst bags of roving, piles of sweaters, knitters selling their goods and customers buying them. The business of knitting was in their blood and they missed it.
The idea of rebuilding the old family business gave us all a wide field in which to play with wool ideas. We added some foreign technologies to the old art of Coast Salish knitting—a hand thrown knitting machine, that Adam and Joni use to make fabric—a wringer washer, that I use to transform the fabric into the most amazing material—an industrial sewing machine used to make shapes and add leather—all really rudimentary tools but revolutionary (okay so that might be a bit of an overstatement.)
What this wonderful little business means to me is that 20 years after I gave up Christmas knitter chaos I’m at it again. All our products are hand finished and that means Joni and I take each piece and knit borders, join seams, add hems, attach straps, buttons, zippers…you name it.
But something else truly wonderful has happened as well…Joni and I are filling sweater orders…the Olsen collaborative is hard at work. Most of the time Joni meets the customers and designs the sweaters, then she knits the sleeves and passes them over to me. I knit the body of the sweater, join the sleeves and pass it back to her. She knits the front bands and collar, finishes the pockets and sews on the buttons, if needed, then passes it back to me. I give the sweater a short hot water/agitating bath to make the wonderful knitted fabric even better and sew on a zipper if needed and pass it back to her. She meets the customer again for pick up or wraps the sweater up and sends it off.
What a privilege for me to get to work with my amazingly talented daughter. Like her grandmother, Laura Olsen, would say if she was still with us "You will feel the love when you wear one of our sweaters."
Joni knitting a sleeve
Sleeves are almost done
Joni's "love for knitting" smile
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