Knitting Odyssey: Sylvia Olsen’s Tales from a Road Trip Across Canada

by | Mar 31, 2021 | Profiles

Sylvia Olsen is many things: a knitter, an activist, a storyteller, a historian. For years, she worked for her daughter Joni’s company Salish Fusion, which she describes as “the family wool business,” making and selling garments featuring traditional Indigenous stitch patterns and design inspirations; she’s a gifted knitwear designer and teacher. (The company has been on hiatus for a few years, and Joni plans to relaunch it this year.) I first met Sylvia nearly ten years ago, at the Knit City yarn and fibre festival in Vancouver. She was the keynote speaker on the first night of the event, on the topic of the history of the Coast Salish knitters, and the iconic Cowichan sweater.

Knitting is only one piece of who Sylvia is, and her new book—though ostensibly about knitting—introduces us to the other sides of her work, the other aspects of who she is.

Unravelling Canada: A Knitting Odyssey, coming April 17, 2021, tells the story of a cross-country road-trip (read an excerpt from the book). Several years ago, Sylvia and the man who would become her second husband, Tex, decided to bring together her professional interests and his personal interests, combining a promotional book tour with a road trip. They set off from Victoria, British Columbia, on April 30, 2015, in their old red minivan, stopping first at Tim Horton’s for coffee, of course. Sylvia had booked fifty-two knitting classes and speaking engagements in forty small and large communities across the country, to support the launch of her book, Knitting Stories, with the goal of arriving in Newfoundland by June 15th.

Image description: Woman in a green sweater, Sylvia Olsen, with knitting in her lap.

Sylvia Olsen, knitting. Photo credit Tex McLeod.

Read an excerpt from Unravelling Canada: A Knitting Odyssey, by Sylvia Olsen.

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Featured image credit Tex McLeod. Book cover image courtesy of Douglas & McIntyre.

Kate Atherley
Kate Atherley

Kate Atherley (she/her) is a co-founder, editor and publisher at Digits & Threads and Nine Ten Publications. She has worked in the crafts industry in one way or another since 2002 as a designer, editor, writer, and instructor. She’s authored eight books about knitting, from a next-steps guide for newbie knitters to the industry’s only guide to professional knitting pattern writing. Kate lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her husband.