We are proud to be a 100% Inuit-owned fibre mill operating in Alberta. Our qiviut milling process takes time, but we think it's worth it! Here are the steps that we carry out in order to produce our luxurious qiviut yarns.
Beginning with hides from muskoxen harvested sustainably for food in our home Inuvialuit Settlement Region, we comb out all of our qiviut fibre by hand using the tool our grandparents preferred: a fork!
This part of the process takes hours, with each hide yielding about five pounds of qiviut.
Although it's hard work, we enjoy spending this time with the muskoxen hides--and seeing the fluffy, beautiful fibre that results!
Once the fibre has been combed, we wash it by hand in the sink. Each batch is washed twice, squeezed of excess water, and laid out to dry on racks.
Qiviut fibre, unlike sheep's wool, is remarkably free of vegetable matter (VM). However, it is very much full of guard hairs--the long, glossy, water-repellant outer hairs of the muskoxen. These need to be removed in order for us to spin high-quality yarns. Because we do not yet own a de-hairing machine, we spend hours pulling out guard hairs by hand.
With the largest guard hairs picked out by hand, the fibre is ready for the carding machine, which will remove some remaining hairs and organize the qiviut into roving. We typically card our fibre at least five times to ensure that it is free of imperfections. This is also the stage where we combine fibres to produce our blends--and with only one carding machine, we produce one yarn blend at a time, with the machines requiring thorough cleaning in between each run.
Each carder run takes about 45 minutes, and one of us stands at the machine the whole time, removing stray guard hairs with tweezers and ensuring that the roving is flowing smoothly into the bucket.
When the fibre has been carded to our standards, it can be sold to handspinners--or prepared for our own spinning process!
Once we have enough qiviut carded, it's time for our most temperamental mill machine: the pin drafter!
This vintage machine used a set of sharp combs to draft (to pull or stretch) the roving before depositing it in a coil. It takes us several runs in order to achieve the ideal linear density required for spinning qiviut yarn. Running the pin drafter is an intense experience: it's loud, and things can easily go awry if static pulls the fibre out of its correct path. But we love seeing the beautiful, fluffy coils that emerge after each run! These pencil roving coils can also be sold directly to customers for spinning.
The spinning of our yarn is carried out almost exclusively by owner Tanis Simpson, who carefully checks the roving for imperfections or any remaining guard hairs. Our singles are spun with very precise calculations best suited for qiviut--a very fine and short-stapled fibre. After all the work that goes into qiviut fibre preparation, it's important to us that the yarn is spun to the highest possible standard.
Once the singles are spun, they are ready to be plied. Most of our yarn is 2-ply lace weight (with the exception of our 3-ply sock blend). The spinning machine handles the work of plying, with the staff only needing to keep an eye out for any problems--and adjusting the position of the machine every few minutes so that the yarn is distributed along the length of the bobbins.
Skeining or Coning
Once plied, our yarn undergoes a rigorous quality check. Every yard passes through the hands of an experienced fibre technician, with any imperfect sections being spliced out.
For our machine-knitting clients, we are also happy to wind yarn onto cones using our charismatic coning machine!
Much of our qiviut yarn is sold in its beautiful natural colour (a shade we have named 'Akutuq'), but we are also happy to dye yarns upon request. We have a range of vibrant colourways, all of them named for the northern landscape where our fibre originates. Our fibre blends can create subtle colourway variations, but we are always impressed with how vivid the colours are, even when beginning with a naturally light brown base fibre!
Dyeing 100% qiviut yarn in our 'Oukpak' colourway
100% qiviut yarn dyed in 'Purple Rain'
Niviuk yarn dyed in 'Tundra Gold'
Niviuk yarn dyed in 'Delta Grass' and 'Tundra Leaves'
Thanks for reading! Want to come and see the process for yourself? Book a mill tour, and come visit!