New website pays expert knitters ‘fair wage’ for traditional Cowichan sweaters

New website pays expert knitters 'fair wage' for traditional Cowichan sweaters
A screenshot of the documentary Cowichan Sweater, Our Knitted Legacy is shown.

For Cowichan knitters, their iconic sweaters are a labour of love.

“I knit with love,” Ann-Marie Rice, a Cowichan knitter, told CHEK News.

From cleaning, to carding, spinning, then knitting the wool, creating a Cowichan sweater is a process that not only takes time – one sweater taking two to three days to make – but also expertise.

Each stitch is steeped in family history. No two sweaters are the same.

But for at least a generation, the knitters have been fleeced.

“You have to pay $90 for wool, and that’s only if you do two colours,” said Rice. “And they’re only giving you between 120 to 180 dollars a sweater.”

On average, expert Cowichan knitters are earning an average of a dollar an hour. The Victoria Native Friendship Centre is looking to change that by paying knitters for what they’re worth.

“By changing that dynamic we are creating more interest in the craft itself of knitting and weaving,” said Ron Rice, Ann-Marie’s brother and executive director of the centre. “In doing that, we are hoping a whole generation of knitters will be born in the process.”

They’ve been buying sweaters from the knitters for a year at $500 per item, offering the knitters a livable, stable wage.

“It makes a big difference for them, that they can actually live off of it now,” said Ann-Marie.

“The world isn’t an easy place and we all know that. It’s getting more expensive. It just helps them out,” she said. “They feel appreciated. They’re grateful that they’re getting paid for what they’re worth now.”

A limited run of sweaters will become available for sale Thursday online for about $800 to $900.

A CBC documentary on the Cowichan sweater and knitting history and legacy can be viewed here.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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