Friday, 26 February 2016

Hand Spinning Camel and Qiviut

The postman brought more parcels this week.  One for me and one for my companion, Elinor Gotland.  Both of us had been harbouring great expectations.  Mine concerned the Travelling Goodie Box, I've been following its progress on the UK Spinners Forum on Ravelry and knew it was due to arrive at my house.  Brilliant idea, a box the maximum size for small parcel postage, filled with fibre-type delights by the genius who dreamed up the original concept, is now being sent round a group of signed up participants.  Each of us is allowed to take out as much fibre as we like, replacing it with stuff of similar quantity and value from our own stash, before posting the box to the next spinner on the list.  By the time it gets back to the original spinner, the fibre inside will be completely different.

Presently, while there is all sorts of stuff in there, I mustn't spoil the surprise for those further down the list. Suffice to say, these luxury fibres proved irrestible.  From the top centre, I took from the box a bag of washed locks of Cotswold (a pricey fleece I have hesitated to buy), sari silk, which should make any dull batt of wool much more exciting, then camel tops and qiviut, finishing with some richly coloured silk.  
Elinor was equally absorbed by her new book.  When I emptied the Travelling Box across the kitchen table, she got in huff about me taking up all the space when some people were trying to read and flounced off to the sitting room.  I followed some time later with a peace offering.
"What's it about, then, this book?"
"Put my tea down over there.  I don't want cup rings on the pages."
I stooped to read the title.
"'The Argonautica'?  Oh, I know, that's the one about Jason, sailing off after the Golden Fleece.  Why is there a clock on the front?"
"It takes time to savour the 1863 edition, translated by Coleridge." Elinor pushed her specs back up her nose and gave me a superior look. 
"Ooooo, fancy - how ever did you get hold of that?"
"I had an original copy printed off by a specialist company, Beaut.  Took a while, but it's bound to be worth the wait.  See, they've even included the page with the Cornell University Library stamp."
"Marvellous.  I might just sit in here with you, do a bit of spinning."
"If you must.  Just keep your fluff off the sofa and no greasy fingers on my book."

Qiviut.  I'd not heard the word, but I must remember it for our next game of scrabble.  Examining my sample taken from the Travelling Box, the fibres were incredibly light to handle and consisted of the finest, dark hairs amongst a short stapled, grey and brown down, so soft I could barely feel it between my fingers.
Reading up online, the word is pronounced kee vee ut and refers to the undercoat of the musk ox.  I have met ordinary oxen and can only speculate how people manage to shear their vests off.  No wonder qiviut is hard to get hold of and costs a fortune.  Various websites declared it to be eight times warmer than wool and finer than cashmere, but gave no practical information on how to get the spinning right.  Elinor and I sat for some hours in silent concentration .

To my delight, qiviut is a dream to spin laceweight.  I guess the longer hairs help hold it together.  Fluffing out a pinch of fibre in my hand and pedalling the spinning wheel madly on the 15:1 ratio, after a little practice, I could draft out from the cloud an inch at a time and spin a single that didn't fall apart the way my fine wool singles tend to do.  Two plied and washed, I got 30m yarn out of four grammes, which must be a personal best. While surprisingly tough to break, the haze that blooms about the central thread makes qiviut exceptionally lush to the touch.
"Will you give over patting and stroking and sniffing that wool, Beaut?"
"Would you like a feel, Elinor?"
"I would not."
"Your loss.  How are you getting on with the book?"
"In the classic style, the story begins with the gathering of the Argonauts, telling of their illustrious parentage and mighty deeds.  I'll admit, so far, it is a little short on narrative drag."
"More tea?"
"Don't mind if I do."

Camels do not bring to my mind smoochy comfort.  I once spent a week travelling across the Thar desert and my recollections include an arse too painful to sit down at all, the first evening.  As a camel of strong character, Kunza took no crap from me and while she had my respect and gratitude, cuddles were never part of our relationship. Though I'm pretty sure the thick, hairy saddle blankets we slept under to keep the sandstorms out were made of camel fibre, I've racked my brains and found no memories of supersoft fluff. Having a look at pictures on Wikipedia, I realised Kunza was just not that kind of camel. The silky undercoat we spin is taken from Bactrians, when they moult.

The Travelling Box held a substantial bag of combed camel tops, golden brown gossamer-like fibres only a couple of centimetres long. Drafting them out in strips, I treadled away at spinning fingering weight two ply yarn in worsted style, after an epic fail at carding tiny rolags to spin longdraw.

Once I had the skeins washed, fulled and dried, Elinor did agree to go and have a squeeze of my luxury yarns. When I went to find out what she thought, it looked like she was enjoying my Golden Fleece more than the one in her book.


  1. nice haul! I've spun qiviut once and was delighted with the result, but the amount is tiny, so I plied it with light cashmere.... my one and only "pet skein", not enough to use and far to pricey to buy more myself:) and the weather in ireland isn't of the kind, where a polar bear like me would need stuff 8times warmer than wool! but musk ox is not shorn, they only collect the moulted flecks of fibres (I don't think touching a musk ox would be such a great idea:)! camel is much easier to find and much cheaper, too - though I have been warned not to take up offers of free camel fibres from zoos and such - because the smell must be rather bad and they come as mixed lumps - taking out the long hairs from the fluff is supposed to be very time consuming! pity that we don't have a travelling parcel like that over here - I still have guanaco in my stash that I could put in!
    happy spinning - and reading!

    1. Now I shall have to google guanaco. Bet you could set up a travelling box in Ireland, there must be some online group or guild organisation where you could see if there is enough interest. The list for hours gets longer by the week, you only need a handful of spinners to make a start. Spin the zoo - that would be a challenge ....

  2. I read an article in Wild Fibers Magazine about a lady who combs the undercoat from a brown bear (they give him treats)
    she spins it and had made a cardigan for a grandchild. Now that's love.

    Susan (Pembs)

    1. Oh good grief - were the treats salmon parcels? Combing a bear ... my mind is blown.

    2. ouch, I am still looking for fibre samples of polar bear - but I don't think I'll ever find someone, who survived the collection:) have you ever smelled a bear up close? I wonder if the fibres smell like that - yuck!

  3. The Andean camelids range from llama, very coarse, good for rugs through alpacas to vicuna (which the Inca used to run down and collect the shedding fleece, then release.)There are two different coat / fleece in alpaca - suri and huayaca. Huacaya alpacas are fluffy and Suri alpacas have long locks.

  4. Something to amuse you - here's an entry about shearing alpacas (hope the html coding works O.K.)

    1. Thanks Judy, very interesting entry and beautiful images. Think I could do with a sock on my face. I've woken with a filthy cold.