About Our Fiber & Yarn
Qiviut, this strange word pronounced ki - vee - ute, means down or underwool in the Eskimo language. In English it means specifically the soft greyish-brown underwool of the rare Arctic animals, the musk ox.
The animals shed during the spring and by combing and gently pulling the fiber that hangs like great powder puffs of the "golden fleece of the Arctic" it is harvested on the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. An adult animal sheds between four and six pounds a year, which when packed down will fill a kitchen size garbage bag. The hand combed qiviut from the farm is cleaner and softer than the underwool shed in the wild since the loose fiber is not subjected to the harshness of wind and weather, but stored and protected.
The Co-Op purchases all the fiber combed from the animals at the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer each year, as well as fiber from other hand combed sources as they become available. We also purchase fiber from the Alaskan Native people who have hunted musk oxen for subsistence use. They will comb the fiber from the hide and sell it to us as part of their effort to utilize every part of the animal they have hunted, carrying on the traditions of their lifestyle.
Qiviut is actually so grease-free and clean to work with that it could literally be hand spun off a willing musk ox's back (if you could get one to stand still!). For the Co-Operative hand spinning did not prove practical due to the equipment needed, time involved and quantity of yarn needed. The Co-Op must collect a minimum of 600 lbs as required by a speciality cashmere company, before we can ship the fiber. The fiber is then scoured in a four bowl system using a mild detergent, and ready for dehairing after it has dried. Dehairing is a special procedure that untangles and separates all the fibers. The fine down is caught, while the courser hairs, dust and debris are spun out.
The dehaired fiber is then sent to a spinning mill where it is blended with oils to lubricate and open the fibers for carding. Card settings are similar to those used in processing cashmere. After carding the rovings are spun on spinning frames. There is a speciality cashmere company in the east that we contract with for these services, since they have the knowledge and connections to get the work done for us at the highest quality and the best prices. It can take more than a year before the yarn is returned from the souring, dehairing and spinning process, so the Co-Op has to plan well ahead to ensure that we have enough yarn available for our members to knit.
Qiviut closely resembles cashmere in its hand, luster and microscopic appearance. It has few and smooth scales, and consequently can withstand temperature shock and agitation without shrinking or felting. A finished garment is so wonderfully warm, soft and lightweight that the wearer is barely conscious of having it on. The naturally soft color is complementary to nearly every skin tone, while the soft feel can be appreciated by people of all ages, from babies to senior citizens.
Generally it takes several years before enough fiber is collected to send to processing, and since the combed fiber is not abundantly available, we only have enough yarn to satisfy our members.