Qiviut can be combed from farmed muskoxen. If handled and socialized with people from an early age, muskoxen, females and castrates in particular, become very tame and easy to handle. Bulls respond equally well to early handling but as adults their behavior changes with the onset of the rut and they must be treated with a great deal of care at all times. Even with tame muskoxen, we comb them in a ‘squeeze chute’, an animal restraint system that is designed to ensure the safety of both animal and handler.
When the qiviut is ready to comb it has already lifted from the skin such that a long toothed comb can be slipped between the qiviut and the skin and the qiviut slowly teased out through the guard hair. Large ‘fleeces’ can be combed from the sides and shoulders such as seen in the pictures below. Two people can comb the prime qiviut (neck, shoulders, side, back, and upper rump) in approximately 1 hour, if the muskox is patient and stands still. Usually, though, the animals are brought through two or more times to get all the qiviut.
A fleece can be ‘graded’ and skirted much like a sheep fleece. Matted, dirty qiviut and qiviut contaminated with vegetation can be easily pulled from the fleece. Combed qiviut is extremely clean – normally very low in oils, it also has very few guard hairs and with good management – it is also free from excessive hay and dirt contamination.
The qiviut harvested on the farm is sent to small custom mills in the ‘lower 48’ for processing into yarn. These small custom mills can process very small quantities and all the yarn we get back is from our animals. Each batch is very different and has an artisanal, hand made quality. Recently, two custom mills have opened in Alaska and we are working with both of them to help develop a high quality, made in Alaska yarn
Blending qiviut with other fine fibers improves the spin, uptake of dyes and enhances qiviut properties. Superfine merino wool, for instance, gives strength and elasticity and compliments qiviut’s softness. We also blend with silk (10-20%). Most of our yarns are spun in a 2 ply lace weight (with approx. 200 yds/oz (range: 180-220 yds).