Saturday, February 19, 2011

Qiviut -"kiv-ee-ute"

Ever since I was a kid I have loved the imagery of "The Far North". The desolate beauty of snow covered tundra and the wild animals that live there. While the Boreal Forests and Rocky Mountains of central and western Canada are the furthest North I've been I still dream of visiting Northern Canada and Alaska. When I get to northern Canada my goal will be to see, up close and personal, polar bear, Ursus maritimus. Hudson Bay is where I will go.

But when I get to Alaska, one of the first places I will go is to the Palmer Musk Ox Farm. I'll post their website home page's description because it says it so beautifully: "The non-profit Musk Ox Farm is dedicated to the domestication of the musk ox (Ovibos moschatus), an Ice Age mammal that once roamed the earth alongside saber tooth tigers and woolly mammoths.
Known to native Alaskans as “Oomingmak”, which means “The Bearded One”, this once-endangered animal produces an annual harvest of qiviut, the finest wool in the world."

You can visit their website here: They also share some nice natural history about the musk ox here:

Then I will go to Anchorage to visit the Alaskan Qiviut Cooperative. This is a cooperative of Native Alaskan, mostly women, who make the most beautiful hand knit items from this delectable fiber. Qiviut, which comes from the underbelly of these ginormous creatures and happens to be so soft and warm. Some say the softest and warmest fiber known on Earth. I'll second that! I don't know about you but I like to fantasize about what it would look like to gather this luscious fiber. I visualize people scampering up to the unsuspecting giants, grab a hand full of fiber from their belly, and run fast as heck away. Only to repeat the whole process countless times! But in reality the way this fiber is harvested is that folks go around the Palmer Farm (and maybe other musk ox farms)in spring and gather fiber left behind on bushes near where these creatures shed.

But until I go I have to settle for purchasing my qiviut at a local fiber fair. And that's what I did. This week I will take breaks from carding and spinning Maine Island Sheep fleece to continue de-hairing my qiviut. De-hairing is tedious to say the least. This is when the long guard hairs are removed by hand from the luscious downy fiber. I'm about 1/2 way done and hope to finish the rest this week. Ambitious! So we'll see how far I get. My goal was to make a "nachaq". This word means hat or hood in the Eskimo language. It is also known as a "smokering", I'm not sure why but I suspect it has something to do with the lovely smokey brown color. It is seamless and scarf like that can be worn around your neck or head. It's lacy, warm, and soft! But in reality I don't think my 1 ounce will be enough so I may instead make a nice neck warmer or scarf. Here's a pic of the qiviut before being de-haired:

Now back to my new spinning wheel that I am loving very much!
Happy spinning and knitting!


  1. Hi Mary, I just weighed my nachaq. It is 24.9 grams - less than one ounce. Very lacy pattern - Mekoryuk. You can buy qiviut roving from a place in Quebec.

  2. Karen, I 'd love to see a picture of your lacy work when you are done!! Such a lovely fiber. Thanks for the heads up on where to purchase some! Have fun! Mary