What's softer than cashmere and warmer than down? Kuujjuaq students spin muskox qiviut into yarn
CBC News | April 05, 2022
Wooly undercoat a new type of material for these Nunavik crafters
April Hudson · CBC News · Posted: Apr 05, 2022 3:51 PM CT | Last Updated: April 6
There's a secret hiding under the thick, coarse pelt of muskox: a wool that's light, soft and warm, and which a group of people in Kuujjuaq, Que., recently learned to turn into yarn.
It all starts with a good brushing — no easy feat when you're talking about a large animal that lived out its days in the wild. But with time, patience and some sturdy pet brushes, instructor Rachel Guindon led students through the process of collecting the material known as qiviut and then washing and spinning it to be used for crafts.
"All the ladies that were part of the workshop, they were fantastic — they were motivated, they were laughing all the time, very curious, asking a lot of questions," Guindon said.
"I think they were very happy that they gained new knowledge, new techniques ... I was very impressed by them."
Guindon made the trip from Quebec City to Kuujjuaq for the three-day workshop, which ran from March 21 to 23. Thanks to a donation from a local resident, the workshop participants had a large spring muskox hide to work with.
They learned about the history and ecology of muskox, and had Elder Mae Angnatuk visit them every day to talk about the creatures.
Your typical spring muskox has four pounds or more of qiviut nestled beneath its long, thick guard hairs — an insulating layer to keep it warm in the winter. In the spring, over a matter of days, it sheds that wool.
Mary Saunders, an education consultant for cultural programs with Kativik Ilisarniliriniq who organized the qiviut workshop, said qiviut can be collected from the ground if you know where muskox have been. The clumps of wool look almost like plants, but brown.
Saunders said many people in Nunavik are not too familiar with muskox. The large creatures were introduced to northern Quebec in the 1970s.
"We're slowly getting to know them and we're learning that there are so many ways to use muskox," Saunders said.
"Their fur is really warm — I've been hearing that they're warmer than down [feathers]. I think it's really cool to explore an animal like that and use more of it."
Guindon said she started spinning qiviut as a "side passion" when she was studying muskox and plants as part of her master's project in university. She's spent the past two years learning more about the fibre and its unique characteristics.
Guindon said qiviut fibres make for great insulation — it can be stuffed into snowpants or made into liners for mittens or kamiks. It's also far better than the types of synthetic materials a lot of yarn is made out of.
"It's softer than cashmere, which is a very soft fibre, and it's eight times warmer than sheep wool. And the great thing is that it's super light, so it's not going to feel heavy on you," she said.
"It has wonderful properties ... so that's a fantastic fibre to make yarn."
Saunders, who attended the whole workshop and got a chance to join in, said they plan to bring Guindon to travel around Nunavik teaching qiviut workshops and already have her next stop planned: Umiujaq.
"It's fun to learn new things, discover what we can do with different animals," she said.
"I would encourage everyone to try to learn more about muskox."