First, Comb Your Muskox
Recently at the Craft & Quilt Fair we spotted qiviuk knitting yarn on sale. Questions immediately arise – just what is qiviuk? And how exactly do you get a muskox to stand still while you harvest their fleece?
We talked to Prudence Mapstone to find out some of the answers.
Qiviuk (pronounced kiv-ee-ouk; or in the US sometimes spelled qiviut and pronounced kiv-ee-ut) is the Inuit word used to describe the ‘wool’ from the muskox (ovibox moschatus). These animals are found in relatively small numbers in the arctic regions of Canada, the USA, Greenland, Norway and Siberia.
Despite looking so imposing, they are not nearly as large or as fierce as they would appear. Smaller than a bison, an adult muskox is usually not much taller than about 1.5m, and weighs less than 300kg. Their lifespan in the wild is generally less than 20 years. They live in small herds, typically of around 25 animals, and when they are threatened by natural predators (wolves, etc) they stand shoulder to shoulder and form a defensive circle around their young to protect them.
These muskoxen moult once a year during the short Arctic spring. Their fleece falls off in large clumps and blows away in the wind. But because they spend most of the year in sub-zero temperatures their fleece grows back quickly again, and it is one of the most insulating of all natural fibres.
More of a ‘hair’ than a ‘wool’, it has no crimp and will not felt. Prized for its softness and warmth, traditionally it was collected from the trees and snowdrifts and the light brown undercoat was then separated from the coarser and darker guard-hairs.
This soft, lightweight and downy undercoat is said to have a finer micron count than cashmere, and to be up to 8 times warmer than wool. The yield per adult animal, before the fleece is cleaned and de-haired, is usually only 2.5 to 3kg, therefore only a small amount of the actual qiviut fibre can be harvested each year.
It is an expensive fibre because of its softness, warmth and rarity. When it is commercially processed it is often blended with other luxury fibres such as silk and cashmere. Originally introduced to some of these gorgeous yarns in Canada, Prudence Mapstone is now importing them exclusively – you can find Prudence exhibiting regularly at the Craft & Quilt Fairs and Stitches & Craft Shows.