Muskox wool fashion is very expensive and wanted for its great insulation properties for thermal comfort in winter. The underwool of musk-ox, namely, is best to hinder body heat from escaping. This post covers the production of muskox fashion from qiviut, where to buy qiviut garments and more interesting things about muskox wool.
- Qiviut – the Wool of the Muskox
- Why and How Do Canadian and Alaska Qiviut Differ?
- Qiviut Wool Processing
- Characteristics of Muskox Underwool
- Qiviut Fashion Cooperatives
- Qiviut Yarn Patterns Are Local Secrets
- Garments Knitted from Qiviut
- Where to Buy Qiviut Clothes and Wool
- Other Qiviut and Muskox Related Fashion Items
- Muskox Scent
- Arctic Muskox Fun Facts
- What I wore …
Qiviut – the Wool of the Muskox
To survive the freezing temperatures of the Arctic, muskoxen have a two-layered coat consisting of soft under-wool and long outer wool, the guard hairs. The under-wool serves for insulation. In the Arctic, temperatures often plump below -40F (-40oC). Muskoxen shed their under-wool naturally each spring, i.e. they don’t need shearing. On the contrary, the under-wool is plucked from their coats during the molt. Historically, the under-wool was collected/gathered from objects that the muskoxen have brushed against.
Qiviut is an Inuktitut word that originally referred to the down feathers of birds. Today, qiviut refers to the downy soft under-wool of the Arctic muskox.
Why and How Do Canadian and Alaska Qiviut Differ
Most of today’s commercially available qiviut stems from Canada where it is taken from the pelt of hunted animals. The pelts of hunted animals, however, are shaved to gather the muskox wool as the animals are taken during hunting season in fall.
In Alaska, the majority of qiviut stems from live domesticated muskoxen. Muskox farmers comb the qiviut off as one sheet of fleece. Wild animals rub their underwool off on brushes or the underwool falls off in large clumps. Natives gather qiviut from the land during the molt of wild muskoxen. An adult muskox looses about four to seven pounds of qiviut during the molt.How many pounds of qiviut does an adult muskox loose during molt? #triva #sustainablefashion Click To Tweet
Qiviut Wool Processing
The obtained qiviut is cleaned manually to remove vegetation and other debris including intermediate (greater than 30 micrometer in diameter) and long hair from the outer wool. The latter process is similar to the carding one applies for cashmere. The manual carding avoids breakage and weakening of the qiviut. The latter would roughen the qiviut. Obviously, qiviut from hunted muskoxen requires much more work and time as the shaving process cuts off both the wanted and unwanted wool. Next the raw, cleaned qiviut is spun into yarn and then washed.
Characteristics of Muskox Underwool
Qiviut has a soft grayish brown color, but dyes well. While one can bleach qiviut, bleaching damages the fiber. Thus, natural or dyed qiviut items are better in quality than bleached items.
Qiviut is not scratchy like sheep wool. Having only about 7% oils, qiviut fiber is much drier than sheep wool. Furthermore, it is easy to handle qiviut because it does not shrink no matter of the water temperature. It is eight times warmer than cashmere and much lighter. Even better, qiviut garments are equally comfortable in warm and cold weather.
Qiviut Fashion Cooperatives
Native Alaskan women in remote coastal Alaska villages use qiviut to produce sweaters, scarves, stoles, smoke-rings (also known as nachaqs), hats and tunics. They are organized in cooperatives of which Oomingmak founded in 1969 is one of the most known. The name of this cooperative goes back to the Inupiaq word, umiŋmak, which mean “the animal with skin like a beard.” Their muskox farm is in Palmer, Alaska. The University of Alaska Fairbanks also farms muskoxen. Their Large Animal Research Station is open to the public for guided tours during summer. In their souvenir store, you can buy muskox wool fashion items too.
Qiviut yarn patterns are local secrets
The different villages of the cooperatives knit recognizably different pattern. These fashionable knit patterns are under copyright for the use of the cooperative members only. Consequently, you cannot buy them. Experts in qiviut clothing can tell the origin of the items by their pattern. For instance, members of the Oomingmak cooperative from Nightmute, Tununak, Newtok and Toksook Bay, a cluster of small villages near the coast of Kangirlvar Bay knit the so-called Nelson Island Diamond Pattern. This pattern mimics a traditional design on these tribes’ parka trim. The so-called Harpoon pattern stems from Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island. The inspiration for this pattern was a 1,200 year-old ivory harpoon head found on that island.
Garments Knitted From Qiviut
A qiviut headscarf or so-called smoke ring is about 18 inch wide and 24 inch in diameter (about 46 cm x 61 cm). A nachaq is a seamless tube-like garment made of muskox wool. You can wear it as a hood around the head or as a stylish accessory to any outfit around the neck.
Qiviut scarves are about 12 inches wide and four feet long (31 cm x 122 cm). Stoles measure five feet by 18 inches (1.52 m x 46 cm). You can wrap these stoles around the head or drape it around the shoulders.
Qiviut blankets consist of knitted panels sewn together.
Qiviut items are pretty expensive as compared to sheep wool pieces of same purpose. Therefore, I still don’t own anything qiviut. However, a friend of mine bought a qiviut smoke ring more than 45 years ago, after she had immigrated to the United States of America on the old Queen Mary (the one that’s now a hotel in Longbeach, California). She still wears the scarf today every winter. While it meanwhile looks used, it looks still acceptable for a couple of seasons to come. Speaking of scarves, a scarf can really up your style.
Where to Buy Qiviut Clothes and Wool
In Alaska, you can find smaller items like scarves, mittens and hats in the gift stores at the Fairbanks and Anchorage International Airports as well as in gift stores of major cities. Some museum gift shops also offer a small selection as mentioned already above.
You can buy made to order qiviut scarves for men and women online at this vendor. They also offer custom-made mittens and hats.
When you want to knit your own pieces, you can buy all Alaskan fibers in 1 ounce balls in various colors at $40 with free shipping.
Other Qiviut and Muskox Related Fashion Items
Recently, Oomingmak introduced a cheaper line which items consist of a 20% silk 80% mix qiviut yarn. As I have mentioned several times here on High Latitude Style, silk has a good insulating effect.
Some artist knit qiviut items using their own pattern and share their pattern for free. However, these pattern are not the originals from the Native villages.
Like many animals, male musk oxen urinate to mark their territory, especially during mating season. The name muskox refers to the strong odor of urine trapped in their wool. Perfume can consist of the imitated and/or real version.
Arctic Muskox Fun Facts
The muskox (Latin ovibus moschatus) roams the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada. Many people confuse the muskoxen with the buffaloes that look similar. Adult muskoxen have only a shoulder height of about 4 to 5 ft (1.2 to 1.5 m) and weight about 500 to 800 lbs (227 to 363 kg), and males are taller and heavier than the females. One of the biggest difference between muskoxen and buffaloes is the musk oxen’s adaptation to the frozen grounds of the Arctic.
Muskoxen live on a herbivore diet. During the summer with its long white nights, muskoxen graze on flowers and grasses. During the dark nights of winter, they dig through the snow with their strong hooves to live off lichen, moos, dried grass and flowers, roots and alike. They also use the hooves to break through solid ice to reach the water below for drinking.
Estimates say that there are currently about 150,000 muskoxen worldwide. Muskoxen live in small herds. When we drove up the haul-way to Dead Horse, we were lucky to see a herd of 14 animals. Some of them were baby muskoxen. Herds can be as large as about 40 animals.
After an eight months pregnancy, female muskoxen give birth in April. At this time, snow still covers the tundra. The newborn muskox baby can walk and keep up with the herd a couple of hours after birth. Typically, the herds move at low pace as they graze, but a muskox at full speed can reach 25 mph (40 km/h) over a short distance.
In the wild, muskoxen live about 12 to 20 years. Their biggest enemies – beside humans – are polar bears, bears and wolves. Muskoxen build defensive circle of wagons to protect them and their youngsters from these predators. The young are in the middle of the circle. When threatened, muskoxen become very aggressive. They have very strong muscle power in their head and body, and their horns can be deadly. In Alaska, Norway, and Siberia, the law protects muskox herds where they live on preserves.
What I Wore …
… 3 years ago and still looks timeless: A dark blue and gray outfit for work. Some of the items like the pumps I have to replace, but I so would wear the outfit again today.
There is some eternal elegance to a gray with white like the hat in the qiviut clothing photo above. Pair these colors with blue and you have the perfect American Classic outfit. This color combination has some corporate feeling with it. Many pants suits or skirts suits in business use this color combination because of its immediate elegance. However, this classic elegance also brings gray plus dark blue easily into boring or overly conservative territory. So I gave it a twist with the scuba jacket.
To keep a gray plus dark blue outfit interesting different materials are key. Here I went for denim with the skirt, knit with the sweater and tight, and a neoprene Chanel-style jacket. This outfit – despite being gray and dark blue – i.e. all neutral colors outfit is far away from the business corporate style work wear. However, it works well for work in a creative or college work environment.
For the commute to work, I went with a twist on the classic duffle coat and styled my outerwear to avoid winter boredom.
If you like the outfits, please pin it to your Pinterest board so your friends can see it too.
How do you style dark blue with gray? Do you like this color combination?
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Photos of me: G. Kramm
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