Sylvia Olsen is an adult educator and facilitator specializing in First Nations housing. She is the author of over twenty books for adult and children, including Working with Wool: A Coast Salish Legacy and the Cowichan Sweater, which was awarded the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing. She married into the Tsartlip First Nation near Victoria, BC, where she lived for 35 years, and developed relationships with Coast Salish knitters through her family’s sweater shop. Her interest in Cowichan sweaters – familiar for their wide single-colour sections interspersed with bands of bold geometric or natural motifs in creams, browns and greys – lead her to write a master’s thesis on their work. “I maintain that if you want to teach B.C. history, the Cowichan sweater story tells it all,” she says. “It’s about contact and race relations, power, politics and passion, industry and economy, family, innovation and survival.” 

Her life experiences, and the desire to explore the juncture of her English/Scottish/European heritage inspired her to beign exploring deeply personal questions about Canadian knitting traditions and asking questions about identity, influence, authenticity and colonization. Unravelling Canada: A Knitting Odyssey is her cross-Canada cultural road trip. Author Lorna Crozier says “I love this book, for what it says about the artisans of the past and the present, for what it says about what gets passed on from family to family and between different cultures, for what it says about our country and the people who inhabit it. This book knits us together, not only with strands of wool but with compassion, intelligence, caring and storytelling of the most appealing kind. 

Sylvia lives in North Saanich, BC with her husband Tex and dog Piper. 

Sylvia is supported by Author Patron Reiders Book Club.


Appearing in:
4. FFT: Spinning a Good Yarn: A Cross-Canada Road Trip