It takes many knit swatches to make one garment. (Many, many, many.)
With musk ox yarn bought what’s next on the qiviut trail in Alaska? That would be this little gem in Anchorage.
The Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers’s Co-operative is a Native owned co-op with members made up of women living in various remote villages around Alaska. The members knit garments from musk ox yarn and sell their items through the co-op, with the income going back to the craftspeople.
Established in 1969 it has grown from 25 members to over 200. Interestingly, from what I have read, knitting isn’t a traditional craft of the First Nation people but by using their local yarn and incorporating traditional patterns in their designs they are creating a very unique new craft tradition.
While I was at the Oomingmak Co-op as well as picking up an Alaskan Handknit, I bought a copy of Arctic Lace by Donna Druchunas. It is a fantastic book, which includes lots of info on qivuit, the co-op, and has great lace knit patterns. So what have I made with my yarn?
So far I have knitted a traditional Smoke Ring or Nachaq Hood. Which is a short tubular scarf that can be worn a couple of different ways, either around the neck and/or over the head. It’s very lightweight, especially with the lace work, but also very warm. I wish you could reach into the screen so you could feel the yarn, because it really is amazing, instead you might have to head to ‘the last frontier’ yourself for the full adventure.
This Nachaq Hood pattern can be found as a hand knit in Arctic Lace by Donna Druchunas. I used the hand knit pattern in the book but converted it to be machine knitted.
I’ve been thinking about holidays a lot this week. In amongst panicked thoughts of how much money I need to save for adventures at the end of the year, I’ve also been thinking I should finally write some posts about a few of the amazing trips I’ve taken. For me, a big part of the delight of discovering a new country is learning about its textile story. (And when I say learning, normally that actually means buying. Hence the need to save for holidays.)
I thought I’d start with Alaska because… well, it’s pretty special.
I’d done my textile research before we left so I knew there was one very very special thing in Alaska I wanted to find and that was musk ox yarn or qiviut (kiv-ee-yute).
Qiviut is considered the softest wool in the world, softer than cashmere, and is extremely warm. It’s also really rare and is one of the most expensive yarns in the world dubbed ‘the qolden fleece of the Arctic’. The musk oxen naturally shed their underdown fibre (qiviut) each spring, up to 2.5kgs per year, which is collected to produce yarn.
While there are still wild animals, there are also a few musk ox farms around the state which you can visit at certain times of the year. Instead we visited the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Centre and while everyone else headed off to see the bears I excitedly went to visit the musk ox herd. In my head I thought they’d be a similar size to a bison, but they were so much smaller. I loved them.
And yes. I bought qiviut yarn. Of course I did. And yes, it cost a lot.
Stay tuned for more textile holiday adventures including more from Alaska.
Meet my Singer knitting machine (now I realise I should have named her)... Betsy.
I've had Betsy for about 3 years, which is only a very short part of her life. She was made around 1974 and has spent the majority of her time with a lady in Victoria. As her third owner, she spent some time with another RMIT knit graduate for a few years before I bought her during my final year of uni studying textiles in Melbourne.
Domestic knitting machines like Betsy are a bit unheard of these days but were big business back in the day. Your nana has probably got one tucked away in a cupboard or the back shed that's been untouched for decades. Depending on the make, model and condition they can still bring in a bit of money today. Recently I met a lovely lady, Thelma, who told me about how she bought her first knitting machine, a $1100 Passap, back in the 80's from Myer. Interestingly today Thelma could realistically get a similar price if she sold that exact machine.
I'll be posting more about Betsy and her workings but maybe in the meantime go check out what you can find in your Nana's back shed.