Salish Knitting

Artist: May Sam, Sylvia Olsen, Joni Olsen, Adam Olsen
Year: 2012

The 2012 visiting artists were elder May Sam and the Olsen family – Sylvia, Joni, and Adam. The artists taught the class about the history of Coast Salish knitting and led them through each part of the process – cleaning, carding, and spinning wool into yarn, and knitting the yarn into traditional and contemporary Salish patterns. Each student knit two squares, and the artists then assembled the squares into a blanket, using the leftover squares to create two purses. To thank the artists for their teaching, the class raffled off the blanket and used the money they raised to purchase a new stove for the T’sartlip First Nation longhouse.

The artists also created two knitted outfits to be permanently displayed in the Cornett Building. Elder May Sam knitted a sweater, hat, purse, and socks, all featuring traditional Orca designs; the Olsen family created a complimentary contemporary felted outfit, featuring geometric patterns. These garments represent how Salish knitting has changed over time and continues to be a functional and beautiful art form. Generations of knitters have supported their families by selling their creations – a tradition that continues to the present day with the Olsen family’s knitwear company, Salish Fusion.