The Exceptional Qualities of Qiviut and Yak

wrap design by Julie Hoover - made in lace weight yak
Lucca Wrap from Julie Hoover, made in baby yak.

Ready for a luxe knitting experience? Two fibers that have moved into mainstream knitting are qiviut and yak. Both are expensive, luxury fibers due to their combination of  softness, fineness, lightness and warmth, and eco-friendly means of gathering their downy undercoats. Yarns made from these fibers provide an enjoyable knitting experience, and make for the best keepsake projects.

Qiviut

Qiviut is the downy undercoat of soft, brown fibers from the shaggy Musk Ox. The habitat of these large animals is the Arctic climate, and they are found in Canada, Greenland and Alaska. At one time musk ox were on the verge of extinction, but although there are limited numbers of them, they are no longer endangered. Many are now raised domestically.

The Inuit have enjoyed qiviut for generations to make knit accessories like the “nachaq”, a tubular piece worn over the head and neck, providing extra warmth in the cold winter months. Geometric lace stitches are common patterns. 

The best qiviut is combed from the animal during molting season. A single animal produces approximately 4-7 pounds of qiviut fiber per year, which translates into 20,000 yards of laceweight yarn. Because of the limited numbers of animals, and the laborious procurement of fibers, qiviut is expensive. It will cost you more than $50 an ounce.

Properties

  • fiber quality can vary depending on the age and gender of the animal, and also if the fibers have been properly dehaired.
  • softest of the natural fibers.
  • the fibers are short staples, finer than cashmere with a low fiber diameter.
  • warmer than wool.
  • fluffy yarn produces a subtle halo, and blooms.
  • extremely lightweight.
  • fibers have no crimp, so there is no fiber memory or elasticity, which may result in fabrics that sag.
  • becomes softer with wear, and doesn’t shrink because the fibers are smooth with no scales.
  • will abrade and is best for projects with minimal exposure to repeated rubbing.
  • process of collecting fiber is laborious; usually combed from the animal. Some qiviut is shaved from the hide if the animal is raised for food.
  • the distinctive natural brown colour is often maintained in yarns, although qiviut dyed in deep jewel tones is popular with yarn manufacturers.
  • commonly found in lace and fingering weight yarns.
  • qiviut yarn begs for lace because of its incredible warmth; the fabric at least requires eyelets to breath.
  • most often used for knitting small accessories, such as cowls, scarves, wraps and hats. Used in a garment would be prohibitively expensive and stifling hot.

Yak

These hairy creatures live in the high altitudes of the Himalaya mountains. Yaks are an economic necessity for people in these regions, serving as plow animals, milk and meat sources, the outer hairs are used in the production of items like rugs, and the undercoat hairs spun into yarns. Domesticated yaks are found in North America. 

Yaks release their coats during spring molting. The fibers are collected from the ground or combed from the animals. Each yak produces approximately one kilogram of fiber per year. As with qiviut, yak is sold in luxury products due to its softness and eco-friendly means of collecting the fibers.

Properties

  • fine down fibers.
  • short staple fibers, but unlike qiviut they possess crimp.
  • fiber diameter is similar to very fine cashmere and qiviut.
  • the fiber comes in varying shades of brown or black, and also white from white yaks.
  • durable and lightweight.
  • soft as cashmere.
  • maintains warmth even when wet.
  • yak fibers will felt.
  • non-allergenic.
  • odour resistance.
  • has drape and elasticity.
  • dyeing is unnecessary.
  • as with qiviut, accessories are the most common knitting projects.

These exquisite fibers are the softest of the natural fibers. Qiviut and yak are even more luxurious than cashmere yarns, but not as versatile. The Inuit have known for generations the exceptional warmth of qiviut, and utilized this fiber in simple lace accessories. Treat yourself to a luxurious accessory made in one of these expensive fibers; one that will be cherished for years to come.