Qiviut, (even its name sounds exotic) is pronounced ki - vee - ute. It is an Inuit word meaning down or underwool and refers to the soft greyish-brown underwool of the rare Arctic animal, the musk ox (called Oomingmak in Inuit).
Musk oxen are large animals that are found in artic regions like Alaska, Canada and Greenland. They look a lot like bison or buffalos, but are significantly smaller than cows and provide wool like sheep. But unlike sheep, their coat is never shawn, rather, it sheds naturally or is combed off in great swaths during Spring, which is a much kinder way of collecting fiber.
Qiviut yarn is eight times warmer than wool and is incredibly lightweight and soft to the touch. It's been said that if a small amount of qiviut fibers were placed in your hand with your eyes closed, you would not feel the fiber touch your hand. It's also been said that putting your hand into a ball of qiviut is like putting your hands into a cloud.
Qiviut, apart from being incredibly soft, also has other unique qualities. Muskox yarn is hypoallergenic. Unlike wool, it doesn't shrink and can be hand washed in mild soapy water and qiviut yarn actually gets softer the more it's washed. It's odourless and retains heat even when wet.
Qiviut yarn takes on color beautifully. Manufacturers like Windy Valley Muskox Yarn produce traditional and custom-dyed qiviut yarn in beautiful colors.
There are some characteristics of musk ox yarn you should be aware of. Muskox yarn doesn't have the same elasticity of sheep's wool and so can sag. If you don't like sagging, you can buy qiviut/wool blends but these yarns won't be as soft as 100% qiviut. As well as producing 100% qiviut yarn, Windy Valley Muskox Yarn produces two exceptional blends: Qiviut Luxury Blend, which comprises 45% qiviut, 45% merino, 10% silk and Qiviut Royal Blend , which is 50% qiviut, 50% mulberry silk and is hand-spun in Peru.
Also, there is the price tag. Qiviut is one of the world's rarest yarns and you can pay upwards of $60 per ounce for fingering-weight musk ox yarn.
Muskox yarn is a very versatile fiber. You can create warm and soft hats, gloves or mittens for the winter and, if you can afford it, qiviut yarn makes an elegant shawl to place about your shoulders and your evening dress.
More and more fashion designers are taking notice of this unusual fiber. Qiviut yarn is no longer labelled something that is used in making folk art and now, thanks to people like the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producer's Cooperative and Windy Valley Musk Ox Yarn, the popularity of this truly remarkable yarn is spreading far beyond the frozen North.
Follow the links to learn more about Windy Valley Muskox Yarn and other hand-dyed yarns like Rio de la Plata yarn.