Twice in my life-so far- I have been surprised by Musk ox.
First, some background. Musk ox were native to Alaska until the 1850s when they were hunted to extinction. In the 1930s some were imported from Greenland to study for domestication. These Musk ox were set free when that project ran out of money. (Why do I want to say the more things change the more they stay the same.) In the 1960s they were studied again and it was determined they could be raised on farms. Some are on farms, some live in the wild.
I had read a lot about them in a knitting book called Arctic Lace which told about native Alaskan knitters and a co-op there. From the book I knitted this scarf. I used the fiber from an alpaca named Marcus who lived on the Great Rock Farm in Barre MA. But I digress.
I never thought I would work with Musk ox fiber. They grow various fibers including coarse outer hairs for protection against snow and rain and a very soft, warm, durable and highly prized by spinners undercoat- qiviut. Due to the lack of great numbers of them and the process of dehairing it generally sells at wool festivals for $50 an ounce and often only one vendor has it. That is out of my league. Unless that is the only thing I want to bring home which it never is. So I would enjoy touching it when I came upon it and then move on.
Then my opportunities changed. A few years ago on a summer day a package arrived for me from my sister-in-law. She had been to Alaska and sent me silk/qiviut yarn and yarn with the outer hairs and undercoat blended together. It felt like Christmas. Very exciting. I knit the silk/qiviut into a small cowl I wear whenever I am going to spend time outdoors on a cold winter day. So warm, light and luxurious.
So I enjoyed those yarns and continued to touch the qiviut at festivals and walk on. Until a few weeks ago. Elizabeth at the yarn shop where I teach, Auntie Zaza’s Fiberworks in North Easton, told me she had a present for me. A man had come in with a small dirty bag of musk ox fiber he had collected 20 years ago while hiking in Alaska. Musk ox do shed all year long so it was possible. He had thought he would do something with it but realized he never would and was passing it along. What great provenance. What a fun challenge!
Musk ox in zip lock bag
The fiber weighed about 2 1/2 oz and expanded greatly out of the bag.
2 1/2 oz of raw musk ox fiber
No moths, no deterioration, looked like much can be spun. It will be a labor of love because I must dehair it and get rid of some other things in the fiber. It might be years before I finish it because unfortunately other things in my life are often of higher precedence than picking at qiviut. I never feel anyway that I have to spin up yarns quickly, even those I sell. I enjoy the process of it all so much that when they happen to be done, they are done. I also believe that since there are enough things in life that we have to do that we don’t enjoy much, spinning should never be pressured, always be kept fun.
I have made a sample.
Flick carding qiviut
I dehaired it, flick carded it gently to get out other things, then hand carded the locks together to get a bunch to spin at a time.
Qiviut on hand card
Not being a perfectionist- I don’t think handspun yarn should look like a machine made it-I took it off the card, drew some out and spun it with a lot of twist since the fibers are short.
Qiviut ready to spin
I could have made punis which are small rolags which are rolled off the hand card in this case with a knitting needle. But I wasn’t in the mood so I didn’t. I made one for show though since they are so cute.
I then took it from the bobbin and put it around my hand to so I could ply it. There is such a small amount that this is easiest. Please note that the bobbin on the right is not full of qiviut! I spun it on top of an almost full bobbin because in a class on spinning exotic fiber with Robin Russo she recommended we do that to reduce the pull on the fibers. I take everything she says without question!
This sample made nine yards. It didn’t even weigh one gram and could even be spun finer for more yardage. Light, soft and warm!
Spun qiviut sample
In other news we have opened an Etsy shop with yarn, hand dyed batts and locks for spinning and felting and fiber in a few other form. We decided to focus on promoting the rare breeds of sheep whose numbers are also small. Each item is 50-100% rare or unusual wool. We call it Eagle Lake Fibers since we met when we both lived near Eagle Lake. We do want to try using some of its water for dyeing just for fun.
We will not however follow the precedent set long ago by those who ran the old empty woolen mill that is still on it. I remember an elderly man years ago saying that as a kid they would go and look at the color of the water gushing into the lake since it could be red, green, anything depending on the dye they were using and pumping back out into the environment. Oh gosh. Glad we got to swim in it and ice skate on it when it had only its natural colors.