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Qiviut (or Qiviuk)

Information for Knitters and Spinners

Contributed by Sylvia Becker

Qiviuk is from Muskox, and most of what is commercially available with that label is the mostly dehaired down fiber. The coarse guard hairs are long and best (InMyLessThanHumbleOpinion) used in rugs and such. The fine guard hairs are so slippery they shed out of a mostly down yarn, causing a little itching for the wearer on their way. The down, OTOH, is so wonderfully cushy it begs to be next to the skin. In my experience, down fibers are spun most often and most successfully into elastic, woollen yarns. The fiber I've purchased over the years from Down North (no affiliation, just one Very pleased customer) has been as luxurious as (or more than) the very finest cashmere.

Okay, in order to spin an "inelastic" (worsted) yarn from a down fiber, the fiber must be stretched taut when the twist enters the fiber mass. This is normally achieved by adding a combing oil solution to the clean fiber, then combing it with specially made down combs. This makes a combed roving with all the fibers straight in line (not a natural posture for kinky down).

This is NOT easy! The staple length of the down is usually (in my experience) 1.5 - 3 inches, and I for one would never try to comb a superfine down fiber that length. I would have a nervous breakdown before finishing an ounce of fiber, even with the best tools. Then the roving is spun worsted into a relatively dense, shiny singles and plied. The yarn might stay pretty inelastic until you wash out the combing oil, especially if a person really packed in the twist, but then the natural crimp and loft of the down fiber would do its best to take over.

In order to spin an "elastic" (woollen) qiviuk yarn, one simply cards the fiber with fur cloth cards and spins. The twist enters the somewhat topsy-turvy fiber mass and the result is an elastic, delightful, woollen yarn with a slight halo. Perfect for lace camisoles (which I saw at Convergence 1990 - oo-la-la!).

As for Memory, well, and BLENDS??? Qiviuk IS a slippery down fiber, so if it were spun incorrectly (not enough twist and too coarse a singles (I like 12,000 ypp)), its Memory might fail over time ("drifting"). I have never seen this happen with qiviuk. If you pay that much for a fiber, you usually do your best to spin it correctly. It does blend well with fine wools, like Merino or Rambouillet, but I have been much more pleased with pure qiviuk or, for economical reasons, one strand qiviuk plied with two strands of Rambouillet.

I made my husband work gloves of the plied blend, which he used to wear while working at the lumber mill in -20F weather. They were durable and warm. The qiviuk develops a halo over time but the down doesn't shed. I do NOT recommend a plied blend made with a silk strand or a medium-grade wool, as these have a higher tensile strength than the qiviuk and with wear the stronger strands will cut through the qiviuk strand(s).

I have spun some very nice carded blends of fine wools or silk with qiviuk. The fine wools share enough structural qualities with the qiviuk that the yarns are almost as lovely as the pure stuff. The tricky part (even for machines) is spinning a yarn that is the same percentage qiviuk throughout. If a person can use fleece that has a superfine staple with the same general length as the qiviuk, then it will all spin up together. If the wool has a longer staple length, the twist will draw the wool out of the fiber mass first, leaving a clump of the shorter qiviuk behind. One ends up with Morse Code qiviuk bits dispersed in the wool yarn.

My favorite commercial silk blend, so far, was the finest tussah silk I've seen, cut into 3" lengths and carded gently (no broken fibers) with qiviuk down. The stiffness of the silk filaments gave the yarn much more body, less elasticity than plain down, and the knitted fabric had exquisite drape. The yarn glistened, the golden silk catching the light, the qiviuk softening the look with its halo. EXOTIC!

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