by Deborah Rogers
In 2015 Sylvia Olsen and her partner (now husband) Tex McLeod embarked on a cross-Canada road trip to conduct a series of knitting workshops. Along the way they met knitters from all backgrounds and exchanged knitting stories and experiences. The trip also turned into an opportunity to explore Canada: physically as they covered kilometre after kilometre in their van, but also the very idea of Canada as a nation.
The first observation from our enthusiastic readers is that although Olsen’s subsequent book Unravelling Canada – A Knitting Odyssey is a book about knitting, it’s not a book just for knitters. Olsen explores knitting as a way of belonging, of learning something new, of being connected to your past or to your community.
Our group found the book very readable. Olsen’s writing is open and even when discussing difficult subject matter she frames her thoughts carefully so that as readers we felt educated and engaged, rather than lectured to. It’s a really warm book that comes across as a love story: for knitting, for Canada and for Tex. Woven throughout the book are the sweater stories that were picked up from the workshops along the way. They are just short vignettes but give a sense of cultural adaptation embodied by knitting; of the things that unite us; and sweet personal histories that are connected to one treasured piece.
Many of our group are not knitters, but we uncovered a few sweater stories of our own during our meeting. One consistent thought about the book is that we would have appreciated photographs alongside the descriptions. Those who have come across Olsen before will know of her long association with Cowichan knitting. For a short read this book fills in a lot of history about the role of knitting for First Nations communities.
At the start of the book Olsen admits to a sense of discomfort with her country, but the journey, and perhaps the writing of this book, allow her to move into a place of greater understanding and respect for where we are. Our readers felt that it gave them the chance to feel good about being Canadian; it brought back memories of road trips and travel, and the feeling that Canada really is special. Sylvia writes: “countries are like our West Coast Douglas firs: they don’t reach their prime until they are a few hundred years old. Even now at 150 Canada is still a teenager.”
Next month we meet on Tuesday, October 12 at 6:30 p.m., to discuss Petra by Shaena Lambert. The meeting will take place on Zoom; make sure you’re signed up to our mailing list to get all the information: www.seasidemagazine.ca/book-club.