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What is Qiviut?

Ever Wonder About Qiviut?

Qiviut (Ki-vee-oot) is an Inuit word describing the finest and warmest layer of fur or down on Arctic animals, including muskox, Arctic Hare and Arctic Fox. Muskox qiviut fibres are long enough to be spun into pure qiviut yarn or blended with other fibres such as superfine merino and silk to complement the rare qualities of muskox qiviut. Qiviut is an ultra-fine hair and not like sheep wool that has microscopic barbs. Some people mistakenly use the term 'muskox wool' for muskox qiviut. Muskox qiviut is most well known of the arctic fibres that Nunavut Qiviut spins into yarn.

Other cultures adopted the word ‘Qiviut’ to mean the warmest layer of underfur from muskox only, but in the Inuit language qiviut (ultra fine warm fibres) can be found on other arctic mammals and birds. The Inuit language was not originally written, therefore no standardized spelling methodology was developed. Qiviut, qiviuq, qiviuk, and kiveot, have the same meaning among Inuit – it is just spelled differently.

The allure of muskox qiviut spread beyond the Arctic, and now Nunavut Qiviut supplies international customers. Nunavut Qiviut has introduced new arctic fibre products to the world by blending the fibre of Arctic fox and Arctic hare with superfine merino and silk. The qiviut of Arctic fox and Arctic hare is not long enough to be spun into pure yarn but can be blended with other quality fibres.

Muskox and Arctic Fox are ‘dual-coated’ animals with an outer layer of coarse long hair to repel wind, snow, and water, protecting the soft and warm qiviut layer underneath. This two-layered coat keeps muskox warm throughout the long, cold and dark Arctic winter. Arctic Hare have a single coat of ultra fine fur with fibres at very high densities.

Long guard hairs of muskox cover their insulating qiviut layer (Credit: DNV Photo)

Long guard hairs of muskox cover their insulating qiviut layer (Credit: DNV Photo)

Qiviut is shed in May and by summer only a few patches of qiviut hang onto the guard hairs (Credit: Umingmak Productions)

Qiviut is shed in May and by July only a few patches of qiviut hang onto the guard hairs (Credit: Umingmak Productions)

Muskox, Arctic Fox, and Arctic Hare shed their qiviut every spring beginning in May. There are myths suggesting Muskox qiviut can be easily ‘hand collected’ from the tundra. Hand-collecting muskox qiviut works in zoos or farms where small muskox herds are kept at artificially high densities. Such farms and zoos are high-cost operations that offset costs by charging muskox viewing fees and occasionally by collecting the qiviut for sale. The desert ecosystem of the Arctic tundra is one of the least productive environments on Earth. Subsequently, Arctic animals like muskox live at very low densities. Each animal needs many square kilometres of land to survive. This situation makes collecting qiviut from the tundra virtually impossible. Furthermore, qiviut is a protein-based fibre, and the intense 24-hour sunlight from May to August quickly bleaches the fibre and protein bonds become brittle. Nunavut Qiviut’s source of fibre is the hides of wild-harvested muskox used for meat and fur by Inuit as part of their traditional economy and culture.  This is the main source of qiviut in the world.

Many in the fashion and textile industry describe muskox qiviut a ‘noble’ or ‘super-luxury’ exotic fibre used only for the most exclusive designs. Qiviut from muskox is unusually warm, soft and strong relative to its weight. It is not as elastic as wool. Muskox Qiviut has an average staple length of 6.5 centimetres and a width of 17 microns or less. Pure muskox qiviut cannot be pressed to form felt or shrink because of its lack of barbs and low elasticity. Muskox qiviut contains no oils like lanolin in unprocessed wool. People who are allergic to other natural fibres may not be allergic to qiviut.  Over time, with handling and washing of qiviut garments, the fibres ‘bloom’ with an aura of natural beauty and extra softness.

Close up image of muskox qiviut with the long, coarse guard has removed which can then be spun into Nunavut Qiviut Yarn (Credit: DNV Photo)