Cart ancient universal human language...more on colourwork

Posted by Sylvia Olsen on

I love geometric designs. Their rhythm, cadence, repetition, pacing….they are like poetry and music. They are an international language that spans the globe. I have found the same designs in my travels to Italy, Mexico, Scotland, Ireland and, of course, here in Canada on indigenous baskets and blankets and in modern fashion design. Geometric designs are not just a global art form, they date back to cave art drawn 60,000 years ago.

They are not self-explanatory…the shapes require our interpretation. A wave to one person is the snout of a clam to someone else. A chevron to one is an arrow to another. On the other hand geometric designs can be simply a pleasure that ask for no explanation whatsoever.

They are perfectly suited for creating beauty in carpets, mosaics, cross-stitch, and in my case, knitting. Geometric designs are well suited to anything that can be translated graphically. They only need two colours but can use many.


My knitting designs use geometrics as their theme and are drawn from the influence of the almost 40 years I have been living and working with Coast Salish knitters. Like the Fair Isle knitting tradition Coast Salish knitting only use two colours at a time and make a series of bands of colourwork to make their unique styles.

The difference is that Fair Isle knitting uses a free-floating stranded technique to carry the unused yarn and Coast Salish knitting weaves the strands into every stitch making a pebbled look on the underside. The result is much more elasticity.






I knit this dress to celebrate the launch of Working with Wool. It's linen yarn and I started at the bottom and inserted the geometric designs as I went along--I haven't turned the dress into a knitting pattern yet--soon, I hope.









I call the method I use Coast Salish colourwork, not because Coast Salish people invented it, or because they are the only people who use it. Variations on the method can be found in many places. I call it Coast Salish colourwork because it’s the only method found on Coast Salish knitting. Check out the inside of any Cowichan sweater (Cowichan is one of many Coast Salish tribes—the name is used on the famous sweaters, likely because Cowichan is, by far the largest of the Coast Salish tribes) and you’ll find the same colourwork technique.


The old Coast Salish knitters would look at the back-side of a knitted garment and scoff at anything less than perfect pebbling. Stranding, even for two stitches, while a beautiful and popular technique, was the sign of inexperience.

I teach a class in this weaving technique so knitters can get the full enjoyment of my knitting designs and maximize the elasticity of their colourwork. It’s not hard and once you’ve got the rhythm it’s quick to do—contact us if you are interested.


Here's a project I'm working on...I felted rovings and am knitting colourwork BIG with 1 1/4" dowels. It will be an interested mat or wall hanging...I'm still deciding...will post the finished product later.


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