Arctic Fibres

188

Supporting Inuit Traditions

Arctic animals can stay warm on dark, wintry days on the Canadian tundra because of their soft, fine, fluffy, and dense under-fur. This soft fur is known in Nunavut as “qiviut,” which means “downy”.

Qiviut can be spun into beautiful yarn. A small Nunavut-based company called Nunavut Qiviut in Kugluktuk, started in 2015 as a food security and cultural continuity initiative. Nunavut Qiviut is producing yarn from sustainable Arctic fibres to support Inuit traditions in the modern-day economy.

Muskox qiviut is the best known qiviut fibre. Muskoxen are hoofed mammals with curved horns, and long shaggy fur with incredibly soft, warm under-fur. They survived the mega-fauna extinction at the end of the last ice age. Today, muskox meat is an important staple for many Inuit families, and it forms an important part of the modern economy. Nunavut Qiviut procures hides to offset hunters’ costs of providing food for their families. This helps Nunavut families maintain a healthy, traditional diet.

Incredibly soft and warm, Nunavut Qiviut yarn is wonderful to wear (Arctic fox yarn, lace scarf). © DNV Photo Ltd. (2)

The hides are processed locally to obtain qiviut fibre. The qiviut is then shipped to small family-owned spinning mills in Canada and the U.S., which focus on spinning small batches of fibre into luxury yarn. Ecologically friendly dyes are used to create the palette of jewel tones. The yarn is then returned to Kugluktuk to be marketed to yarn stores and fine art galleries. Some of the yarn is knit into shawls and other apparel, and is sold around the world.

Nunavut Qiviut’s priority is to remain integrated within the economy of Nunavut to ensure that the benefits go to Nunavummiut. Nunavut Qiviut is the only qiviut yarn business in North America situated in a fly-in community on the Arctic tundra, from which the qiviut originates. While there are numerous challenges posed by their location, there are many incredible benefits to residing in the most populous area for muskox in the world.

Muskox qiviut is renowned in the fibre art world, and is on the wish list of countless fibre artists. It is one of the rarest natural fibres, highly prized for its softness and warmth. What is less well known is that there are other high quality Arctic fibres with potential to be spun into yarn.

The fur of Arctic fox has been used by Inuit for clothing for countless generations. Arctic Hare, too, is traditionally harvested by Inuit, for food and fur. In 2016, Nunavut Qiviut produced the world’s first Arctic Fox yarn, and a year later produced the world’s first Arctic Hare yarn. Unlike muskox qiviut, Arctic Hare and Arctic Fox fibre are not long enough to spin into pure yarn. They can be blended with premium fibres like silk and superfine merino to make glorious yarn. The yarn made from Arctic Hare is almost a pure white, and that of Arctic Fox is a very light grey-white. In contrast, pure muskox qiviut is a light brown grey.

Qiviut is often given as a special gift to experienced knitters. Nunavut Qiviut lace yarn handles with a sensuous smooth feel, and knits into beautiful knit apparel with a soft halo.

The rich colours of Nunavut Qiviut yarn highlight the luxurious array of fall colours found on the tundra near Kugluktuk (50 per cent muskox qiviut: 50 per cent silk, lace yarn).

The Arctic culture has maintained a robust capacity for making clothing from natural materials. Nunavut Qiviut provides the opportunity for fiber artists in Nunavut and around the world to create original knit designs produced from sustainable Arctic fibres to support traditional Arctic lifestyles. Learn more about building a sustainable enterprise north of the Arctic Circle by contacting Geoffrey Clark at Nunavut Qiviut at nunavutqiviut@gmail.com or visit nunavutqiviut.com.