Meet the Musk Ox

Qiviut is one of the most desirable fibers nature makes—more coveted than cashmere, warmer than wool, as fine as vicuña. It’s kind of a spinner’s dream fiber. I bought some years ago (in a blend) and I’ve been waiting for the right moment to spin it (I should stop waiting!)

   
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The Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska. Photo by Donna Druchunas.

 

 

Well, Donna Druchunas went to the source in her article for the new issue of Interweave Knits. Invited to visit the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer, Alaska, she got up close and personal with the beasts and with their staff. Here are a few things she shares in “Hand-Combed Qiviut: A Rare Luxury from Alaska” in Interweave Knits Winter 2015:

 

Musk oxen don’t have musk, and they’re not oxen.

Cattle aren’t even their closest cousins. Instead, musk oxen are related to sheep and goats.

 

Musk ox fiber is shed or combed, not shorn.

Most sheep are shorn, and some goats can be either combed or shorn, but musk oxen have to be combed to harvest their fiber “on the hoof.” Donna notes that one musk ox who was shorn perished of pneumonia.

Once upon a time, musk oxen roamed a surprising amount of the North American continent.

Although musk oxen were one found as far south as Virginia, they’re currently limited to Alaska and Canada in North America as well as the chilly northern climes of Siberia, Scandinavia, and Greenland.

   
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   Musk ox calves get a snack. Photo by Donna Druchunas.

 

You—yes you—can buy hand-combed raw qiviut from the Musk Ox Farm.

Until a few years ago, most of the qiviut fiber was sold to the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’ Cooperative, but in the past few years their supply has increased to allow more public sales including fiber just for spinners. (It’s still pricey at $55 for 2 ounces, but it’s in the ballpark of paco-vicuña and guanaco.)

 

You can read more about Donna’s amazing adventure—plus learn to knit and cut steeks, visit a mill producing new yarn made from spinning silver and cotton, and find 21 snuggly projects—in the latest issue of Interweave Knits.

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