Salish Fusion Knitwear is an Olsen family business. We are based in the Saanich territory in Brentwood Bay.
All work is performed by Vancouver Island knitters who are highly valued, fairly paid and profit from this venture. We value the unique and original, continuing in the steps of those before us who innovated to preserve our woolworking culture.
The wool we use is Canadian and is natural in its form and colour. Wool is carded and spun to produce a beautiful thick wool with natural water repellency. Felting turns casual knitwear into fashion, traditional design into graphic design and knitting into textile art.
Our finished woolwork products are one of a kind. Inherent inconsistencies in wool thickness or tightness are considered part of the creative process.
Meet the Olsen's
Sales, Marketing, Design, Production & Knitter
Adam manages the online presence, processing orders, building relationships and pounding the pavement developing new markets for our products. Adam has also been building his skills on our Brother Bulky knitting machine making blankets, pillows and bags.
Knitter, Design & Production
Learning the art and craft alongside her mother, knitting is very much in Joni's blood. Like her grandmother Laura, Joni doesn't just knit, she creates. If you custom order a product you will meet Joni and she may even produce it for you.
Knitter, Design & Production
Sylvia has a long history in First Nations woolworking on Southern Vancouver Island. She is an avid knitter, designer and the creative force behind our products. She has taken Salish, Fair Isle and other traditional knitting methods you have come to love, taught herself the art of felting, and is creating modern fashion.
Coast Salish Knitting History
Coast Salish peoples live on the west coast of Canada and the United States. Before Europeans and currency arrived on our shores, wool blankets were valued assets that were traded and gifted. Blankets demonstrated a family’s wealth and position. Originally Coast Salish blankets were made from the wool of the mountain goat, collected from bushes in the spring when the goats shed their fur, and from the wool of small wool dogs that were bred by the women of Vancouver and the Gulf Islands. This combination of wool fibres made Coast Salish blankets original among blankets and became the trademark of Coast Salish woolworkers.
Photo: Tommy Paul, David Latasse and Edward Jim, three Saanich chiefs from Tsartlip, wearing twill-weave mountain goat hair blankets and headdresses. The photo was taken in Brentwood Bay in the early 1900s.
IMAGE AA-00617 COURTESY OF ROYAL BC MUSEUM, BC ARCHIVES
Coast Salish meet European Fashion
In the mid 19th century Europeans brought sheep to the northwest coast providing a new source of wool. Women working for Europeans on farms at the time likely collected fleece from the sheep and began making wool. Soon they picked up knitting needles and created clothing for their families and to trade with neighbouring settlers. By the 1920s and 30s, knitters had popularized a specific look that became known as the Cowichan Sweater. The sweaters were popular because of their warmth and comfort and their ability to repel water—a necessity on the west coast. Other products soon followed such as socks and hats.
Our feature pattern, zig-zags with triangles is an example of one of many geometric patterns traditionally used. While many animal designs emerged later with the development of the Cowichan sweater, we set ourselves apart through our commitment to primarily playing with geometric shapes in our products. We do have many animal patterns and can render virtually design if you wish, but we have chosen to primarily feature the roots of the craft on the west coast.
The patterns used derive from a variety of origins and some have developed over time as work was copied from knitter to knitter. Woolworkers had personal preferences and unique styles. Families developed their own recognizable signature designs that set them apart from others while some knitters used no set pattern, often crediting their needles for the final outcome. Innovation remained key to all their work to maintain relevance in the market—buttons made way for zippers and styles changed with the times. Knitters, like their mentors before them, adapted their work to remain fashionable and in demand.