Back in 2004 while researching the book Arctic Lace Knitting we kept a small day to day blog of what we were doing each day. Take a look back in time in the behind the scenes post that we just put up on this blog. The blog was moved from our personal website to this site for easier reading.

  • Visit the Muskox Farm in Alaska
  • Husky Dog hair knitting?
  • Unalakleet eskimo village in the middle of no where.
  • Anchorage Museum
  • Alaska native heritage center
  • Fairbanks Alaska
  • Dorothy Reade’s lace knitting tips.
  • Visit the Oomingmak Knitter’s Co-op
  • And so much more.
  • Photo album will be added to this website soon. In the mean time you can view the old album here.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Sunrise Changes Quickly

One thing I’ve noticed at looking at the weather pages.

By the time we leave Achorage Alaska, we will gain almost two hours of sunlight in two weeks. How weird.

Sunday, April 04, 2004


Anchorage is both comforting and disturbing in its familiarity…

Not sure that I’m ready for this trip! I am caught up on my work and my house is cleaner that it’s been in a long time. I do need a vacation, but this is also a research trip for my book Arctic Lace to be published by Nomad Press in 2005. I also hate airports, so today will not be a fun day.

Once we get past the “getting there” phase, I’m sure the trip will be fun and exciting! Here’s what we have lined up on the agenda:

Sunday – Free, explore Anchorage Monday – Visit the Oomingmak Knitter’s Co-op

Tuesday – Visit the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer

Wed-Fri – Fly to Unalakleet, a village with 700 people on the coast, to visit some knitters Saturday – Attend events at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Sunday – Check out the exhibits at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art

Monday – View exhibits at the Alaska Heritage Library and Museum

Tue-Fri – Go to Farbanks to visit the Large Animal Research Station and the University of Alaska Museum where we will see a musk ox skull and some hides as well as Yup’ik artwork and artifacts.

On off days, we will spend more time at the Co-op and Musk Ox Farm, and check out the local scenery.

Check back every day if you want to hear about it all and see photos.

Monday, April 05, 2004

First Thoughts

I woke up too early this morning. Alaska has invaded my thoughts and my dreams.

Dreams of the Tundra — I dreamt of sinking into the tundra as if it were a bog. I’ve read of the spongy ground but I have no idea what it is really like. I am afraid to go to Unalakleet because it will be so foreign to me. I will be a visible minority–a cossack, white skin making me stand out from the crowd–for the first time in my life.

Native Americans — Anchorage has a hint of familiarity, like so many other towns in the West. A mixture of modern conveniences, Old West gold-rush memorabelia, and Native American culture. When I grew up on Long Island, the only reminders of “Indians” were the names of places and the arrowheads hidden under layers of decayed oak leaves in the woods. I went to Comsewogue High School, shopped in Patchogue, canoed in the Nissequogue. But I never saw a Native American. We had no museums to remember and honor the original inhabitants of our islands. I knew that “they” sold Manhattan island to “us,” but I never wondered where they went. In the West it is different.

Food and Subsistence — Here’s a topic I can’t get away from. Ever since I read Coming Home to Eat by Gary Paul Nabhan, I have been painfully aware of the origin of every item I put into my mouth. I found local foods here on the tourist trap gift-shop shelves: wild berry jam and candy, local smoked salmon (some smoked and packaged in Washington state!), and local berry and rose-hip teas. I am happy to find local foods, yet I find myself wondering if the harvest of these items by commercial packagers is depriving rural Alaskans–Native and cossack–of their daily sustenance.

I have to think about this; the whole reason for the existence of the Oomingmak co-op is to provide cash to families in small coastal villages. To provide cash so they can buy gas, clothes, possibly an aluminum boat. Things that replaced, at least to some degree, dogs and sleds, fur parkas and fishskin raincoats, handcrafted kayaks. It all makes me worry, disturbs my dreams and my waking thoughts.

Why does the good of the many outweigh the good of the few? Individuality is worshipped in America, but only when the individual conforms to the majority appearance, the majority ideology, the majority consumerist values. Native Alaskans do not. And so, as has been happening since Europeans first “discovered” this continent centuries ago, the rights, wisdom, and ways of the first Americans are trampled and devalued. Is this a paradox, or simple hypocrisy?

Now that I’m awake, I may as well have a cup of coffee….

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Visiting the Muskox farm

Hi everyone! My name is Papaya. I am a baby musk ox.

I was born on May 17th, 2003, so I am not quite a yearling. My birthday is next month!

There are more pictures of me in the Alaska photo album

My grandmother is Gilda. She came from the San Diego Zoo. When she lived in California, she was hot all the time. Even with all the warm weather, the days were never long enough for her. The zookeepers thought she couldn’t have babies, so they let her retire to Alaska. As soon as she was in this wonderfully cool climate, she started having babies and so far she has ten children!

When I was born, I weighed about 20 pounds. I was bottle fed when I was a baby. Once when I was being fed, my nanny dropped the bottle on the ground and bent down to pick it up. When she put her head right in front of mine, I just had to give her a head-butt! Fortunately my horns and boss (the bony bumps on my forehead) are still very tiny and they won’t be full size until I am six years old!

Now that I’m getting bigger I also eat some hay and special musk ox food. I like plants, too. All of that food ads up, and I am already 238 pounds! I have four stomachs, and I chew my cud. Eating all that roughage gives me gas and I burp about once a minute …blep… (excuse me!)

I really like winter. When it’s nice and cool out, I run around, jump and spin in the air, chase my cousins, and have a lot of fun. Today it was almost 50-degrees out and I was getting warm! I had to lie down and take a nap this afternoon. I have no sweat glands, so it’s hard for me to keep cool. I can cool off through my tongue, like a dog, but that sometimes isn’t enough.

When it gets a little warmer out, I will start shedding and my qiviut down will be combed out for the first time. I will probably have about 2-3 pounds of qiviut. Because my down is so fluffy and my guard hairs won’t be fully grown in until I am about four years old, I’ll look much skinnier without my qiviut.

Visiting the Oomingmak Store

Alaska is a wonderful place. It still has a charm that makes it different from the lower 48. Definitely part of the West. I spoke to a cashier at a gift shop yesterday who’s lived here for 30 years. When she first moved to Anchorage, she stayed for five years before returning “home” to Chicago for a visit. As soon as she got off the plane in Illinois, she thought “What’s wrong? What’s wrong with this place? What’s wrong with these people?” That is exactly the reaction I had returning to New York after I’d moved away. The stress, the frenetic pace, the suspicion, the cynicism of the Eastern cities cannot survive in the West. I hope that never changes.

Yesterday we spent the day at the Oomingmak shop with Sigrun, Joyce, Eliza, and Marie. Sigrun is a feisty Swede. Joyce and Eliza are reserved Yup’ik. They are the sweetest ladies, I believe, that I have ever met. Joyce has lived in Anchorage for 12 years, Eliza for even longer. Their families still live in the villages where they were born. Eliza’s mother is 78 and her father recently passed away at the same age. Both ladies speak in low, steady voices, without the urgency or attention-grabbing volume of the “normal” American voice. They have no need, it seems, to draw attention to themselves.

I have pages and pages of notes from my conversation with Sigrun (contrary to advice I’ve recently received, I prefer not to record interviews)… but I sat with Joyce and Eliza for a couple of hours as they blocked nachaqs and scarves, and we spoke – slowly and occasionally – about family, knitting, sewing, and the weather (Eliza said her mother believes that every leap year winter lasts longer, a four-year cycle of cold and snow.) I’m sure I can’t remember everything they said, but I would have wanted to write or record as we were talking. It somehow would not have been natural.

Eliza (left), Joyce (right), and the back of Donna’s head


Both ladies were quiet, but Joyce was especially so. She knits Continental and Eliza knits English-style. Joyce can knit a nachaq in two nights. After work the first night, she casts on and knits one pattern repeat. The next night she completes the second repeat and binds off. She prefers knitting nachaqs to scarves because they are knit in-the-round and she doesn’t have to purl. Joyce can also knit a lace blanket in two weeks! Not a normal project sold by the co-op, but they raffle one off occasionally. She is by far a faster knitter than I am!

After meeting with Eliza and Joyce, I am a bit less anxious about going to Unalakleet tomorrow. But the pace is definitely going to be slower and the attitude more relaxed than anything I’ve experienced so far. I will be meeting with Fran Degnan, who is also an author. Her book, “Under the Arctic Sun,” (available from the Oomingmak shop or Alaska small press tells the story of her parents, Frank and Ada Degnan. So on top of knitting, family, weather – universal concerns – we will also be able to talk about writing and publishing. As I read Fran’s book, I realize that Unalakleet is every bit as cosmopolitan as New York City. Fran’s family tree incluces Yup’ik, Inupiaq, Swedes, Germans, French Canadians, Irish, and Russians. It seems that while 19th and 20th-century urban centers in Alaska were filled with prejudice, in the rural areas, the people – of whatever origins – were bound together by the experience of living off the land. The place is definitely a melting pot!

An older knitter came into the shop yesterday to drop off some finished items and pick up some more yarn. “I will NEVER leave Alaska,” she proclaimed loudly. A recent trip to Utah – “where they have no wild berries, only useless flowers” – convinced her. As if, at 90, she would have been ready and willing to pull up her roots and strike off to a new land if they did have berries!

Unalakleet Day 1 – 4/7/04

My nervous anticipation was unecessary. I was disapointed and relieved to find that Unalakleet is not an “Eskimo Village” but a typical American rural town (albeit with a lot of snow).

Outside of Brown’s Lodge in Unalakleet photo

What did I expect when I came here? Some epiphany? Some spiritual awakening? I found a small town so much like any other small town. It reminds me most of Encapment, Wyoming. The only visible signs of the Eskimo way of life, a few furs hanging on the line in one man’s back yard, teams of huskies and sleds in a few others, and log framed fish-drying houses scattered around town and along the beach.

Everyone speaks English. I only heard one family speaking Yup’ik and that was at the airport in Anchorage. Even the children playing amongst themselves in the Unalakleet library spoke English. Perhaps they speak Yup’ik at home with their parents, the way Mexican families in Colorado speak Spanish.

The town is not depressingly poor — at least not obviously — the way Peter Matthiesson described the village he visited in “Oomingmak.” But it is amazingly tiny, more rural than any place I have visited before. No paved roads, no street signs (I think the streets may move during winter as the front loaders re-arrange the snow), no signs on stores (also buried in snow), a small post-office, a general store, one Alaska State Trooper.

Most people have trucks, snow machines, and four-wheelers. And in yesterday’s 50 degF weather, the kids were out with spring fever, cruising all around town. I called Mike, the owner of Brown’s Lodge, to pick us up at the airport when we arrived. But it is only a 15-minute walk from the airfield on the North end of town to the lodge at the South end. It makes me wonder why these people need these vehicles. Certainly not for getting around town. Maybe for going out to the hills and on the frozen water for hunting, trapping, and fishing. It seems like a waste of gas and noise to me. Last night, inside with the window open, it sounded like I was on Mission Bay in San Diego, surrounded by a sea of jetskis.

I am saddned. I would have liked more Native Spirit to be apparent.

Unalakleet Day 2 – 4/8/04

From Fran’s book (“Under the Arctic Sun,” available from the Oomingmak shop or Alaska Small Press) I realized that bit-by-bit, one small decision after another, the Yup’ik and Inupiat have been slowly assimilating the white man’s ways. I guess in part it is necessary to have a political voice in our governmental system, to have their voices heard on state and federal decision making committees. In part the convenience is irresistible: electricity, running water, snow machines. Perhaps some technologies and customs were adopted to improve health. But even though Fran and others mention the health benefits on the one hand (clean water and sewer systems, access to modern medical facilities), they prefer the old, natural ways of tradition on the other (not taking drugs, eating fresh and local foods). Again, compromise. But where does it lead? Is resistance futile? Assimilation may not be instant. But is it inevitable? I wonder if these trends, like the growth of corporate power and agribusiness, are reversible.

You can’t learn very much about a town in two days. (I am just getting to know Longmont after six years.) I can only see what is on the surface. How people live, what they care about, the internal relationships of families, neighbors, and communities are hidden from the casual visitor. And most rural residents are hesitant to open up to Outsiders. This is true even in Grand Lake, and exurb of Denver. Wary of newcomers who may be transient residents, the locals a “wait and see” attitude. Making it through your first winter is a good sign, but not a guarantee of acceptance. You have to show some understanding of the local way of life. You have to build or buy and appropriate house. You have to drive and wear appropriate clothes. You have to participate appropriately in community activities. Are you really trying to belong, or are you looking for a way to exploit the community?

Unfortunately, white Christians still seem to think that Eskimo children need their guidance and help. D—, and employee of Brown’s Lodge came to Unalakleet last year to work with the church and the community’s children. They would be better off without that help, I suspect, spending the time instead with community elders learning their own culture. If I were an Eskimo, I would reject the doctrines and dogmas of the people who forced my ancestors to abandon their traditions and beliefs; I would walk away from the religion that did not respect my culture and tried to rob my people even of their native language.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Return from Unalakleet – 4/9/04

The village itself is actually besides the point. Living away from the crowds and over development of cities is part of it. Living near the natural resources that sustain life is another.

One local man trapped 15 wolverines this winter. “Amazing, since they are apparently so rare,” I was told. I am not entirely comfortable with this train of thought. What can one man need 15 wolverines for? Unless he shares the furs with the rest of the village to trim parka hoods and such. I can believe in the value of wearing fur at -50 to -80 deg F (without wind chill!!!). The fur keeps your face from freezing. Wolverine is best because snow and ice will not stick to the fur. I can see the need for subsistence living here — with the costs of basic items in the store!

Shampoo $4.50

Cheese $3.99

Crackers $4.59

Hot dogs $7.00

Eggs $2.79

Chopmeat $3.49/lb

Apple juice $4.59/quart

Milk $6.99/gallon

Sugar $6.50 5/lbs

Wash cloth $5.49

I could go on and on…

I am also concerned with conservation. I don’t <i>know</i> how many wolverines are out there. Can this village of 600 deplete the local populations? The Yup’ik say this is a free country and they should be free to live as their ancestors did. Fran eats wild bird’s eggs. What birds? Are they enangered? There are international laws to protect migratory birds’ nesting sites. Can 600 people over-hunt here? I don’t know.

The restaurant at Brown’s Lodge serves chicken-egg omelets for breakfast and hamburgers for lunch. I imagine that most of the whites who live here eat the beef, pork, and chicken packed into the freezer section of the store along side the Freschetta pizzas and Marie Calendar’s frozen dinners.

On the up side, I had a great time talking with Fran Degnan (although I was disappointed that I did not end up getting to meet any of the other knitters.) Fran is an inspiring and fascinating woman who is passionate about preserving the environment with both renewable and non-renewable resources for future generations. She lives the traditional Eskimo Subsistence lifestyle, yet seems perfectly well suited to moving into the mainstream American culture when necessary to stand up for Native rights in Alaska. Meeting her was the highlight of my trip to Unalakleet.

(Plus she is a terrific knitter!, more on that later…)

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Sunday, April 11, 2004

Anchorage Museum & Reading Materials

We went to the <a href=””>Anchorage Museum of History and Art</a> today. Another must-see for those visiting Anchorage. The museum has a great collection of contemporary art by Alaskan artsists as well as a fantastic exhibit of the history of Alaska that covers Native culture as well as Russian, European, and American activities in the state from pre-history up to the near past.

While I was in the gift shop, I discovered yet another interesting book that I haven’t found before. The local and museum shops in Anchorage are well stocked with “Alaskana” and I also found some very interesting books written by Yup’ik and Inupiat authors in the Unalakleet library. Here are a few hard-to-find titles:

Our Side of the River,” Sis Laraux

Authentic Alaska: Voices of Its Native Writers,” Susan B. Andrews, and John Creed, eds

In Two Worlds: A Yup’Ik Eskimo Family,” Jenness, Aylette; Rivers, Alice

Yupik Lore, Oral Tradition of an Eskimo People,” Tennant, Edward A., and Joseph N. Betar, eds.

Give or Take a Century: An Eskimo Chronicle,” Joseph Engasongwok Senungetuk

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Back to Anchorage for the weekend, and taking a break from bending my mind enough to understand everything. We went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. (A definite recommendation for anyone visiting Anchorage!)

The center has:

A theater showing films about native sporting, hunting, and cultural activites

An auditorium with live shows including native dances, demonstrations of traditional native sports

An outdoor exhibit area

Displays of native art, crafts, and technology

A gift shop with a selection of souvenirs, native artwork, and books about Alaska

Classes in crafts, dancing, and native language

Every week the Center has different programs. We saw the Kicaput Singers and Dancers perform, and a demonstration of various games that are part of the Native Youth Olympics program.

Yupik Dancers

I have more to post, but it will have to wait until tonight! Using a modem is getting on my nerves…

Monday, April 12, 2004

Knitting in Anchorage

After sleeping in this morning, we went back to the Co-op store today to go through their library (stored, ironically in the bathroom). More material than I can wrap my mind around. I took a lot of notes, and made a list of things I’d like to photocopy if I can later this week.

Also stopped at the Heritage Museum and Library at the main Wells Fargo building at Northern Lights Blvd. and C Street. Nice place, a good selection of native art & artifacts, and a large collection of books. Unfortunately, I was too brain dead to take in much information.

Our final stop as at The Knitting Frenzy at 4240 Old Seward Highway today. A great store, bigger inside than it looks outside, with a great selection of yarns, books, needles and other supplies.

I was pleasantly surprised to find raw qiviut fiber to spin and bought a bag for $30. I don’t know how much it weighs, but I just wanted to try it out on my mini drop spindle, and this is just enough to play with, even if I can only make a bookmark with the yarn. I think the fiber comes from Canada because it has a lot of guard hair in it, which probably means it was shaved from the hide of an animal taken in a hunt, rather than combed the way the fiber is removed from live animals at the farms here in Alaska.

They also have some qiviut yarn there, natural colored and a beautiful rasin purplish. The lady working at the shop thought both colors might be natural, but I can’t believe the darker purple color is not died. Although the Canadian sub-species is a darker color than the Greenland variation, it’s still a taupe-brown color. (All of the wild musk ox in Alaska are transplants from Greenland. The indigenous animals were hunted to extinction in this state in the 19th century when the hides were used to make robes, similar to the buffalo robes popular in the lower 48.)

At any rate, the shop had lots of other wonderful yarns ranging from economical Brown Sheep yarns and Plymouth wool-acrylic blends, to the fun and funky novelty yarns that are so popular. I also found a surprise for my mother, but I can’t say what it is in case she read this blog entry. (Don’t get too excited mom, it’s fun but not extravagent!!)

If you’re in Anchorage and you knit, you don’t want to miss this place!

Tomorrow, on to Fairbanks first thing in the morning. We are driving so we can see the interior of Alaska and may stop at Denali National Park on the way back on Thursday for a picnic. No time for more sightseeing. 🙁

I hope we can get online there and continue with the daily posts. If there’s a problem, I’ll catch up on Friday before returning home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Trip to Fairbanks

Quiet day today, a long drive to Fairbanks. Good to have a day to relax, with such a beautiful drive. Enjoyed the scenery along the way, and took a lot of pictures.

Also contacted Colleen White of The Qiveut Connection. She’s out of town right now, so we were not able to meet, but I’ll be talking with her more about working with qiveut and sources of yarn. Here’s how Colleen describes her business, “Owned and operated by Second generation and lifelong Alaskan, Colleen White in her Sheep Mountain studios, The Qiveut Collection, manufactures knits and weavings that echo the majestic beauty of Alaska. Colleen offers a wide variety of luxurious garments in a dazzling array of colors and sizes. In addition Colleen will be happy to help you with your custom orders. In case you are wondering about the various spellings of the word pronounced “kiv-ee-ute”, here’s the scoop. There is no standard English spelling, as the word comes from various Eskimo dialects. “Qiviut” is trademarked by the Oomingmak knitters co-op. “Qiveut” is the spelling the Colleen uses. And “Qiviuq” is the spelling that Wendy Chambers of Folknits uses in Canada.

(Neither Wendy nor Colleen have any relationship to the Oomingmak Co-op.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

To much to do in one day

Today was too full, and I am too exhausted to post anything. We’ll be driving back to Anchorage tomorrow, so I should be able to rest my brain enough to post a long entry tomorrow.

I am starting to feel ready to come home…..

Posted by Dominic at 8:21 AM

Sled Dogs…

I forgot, yesterday I found this neat headband made from a blend of Husky fur and wool.

This is from:

Subarctic Spinners Cooperative

An Alaskan Cabin Industry

PO Box 194

Cantwell, Alaska 99729

Click here for an interesting article about them.

If you’re interested in dogs but not knitting, Mary Shields, the first woman to finish the Iditarod, has a neat web site. She has a lodge where you can get a tour, see her dogs, and visit with her personally. While you are there, you can also watch a PBS video featuring Mary and get autographed copies of her books. If you can’t make it to Alaska right now, visit vicariously on her web site:

Thursday, April 15, 2004

About Native Alaskan Cultures

Yesterday was a full day. We spent most of the day at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks photographing musk ox bones and hides and many Eskimo artifacts.

We also had lunch with Helen Howard, who has been involved with the Musk Ox Farm and Oomingmak Co-op since they were first started in the 60s. She told us a lot of fun stories, and showed us notes on lace knitting from a workshop she attended with Dorothy Reade.

Looking through the baskets, ivory carvings, and household tools from the various Native Alsakan groups was very interesting. You can clearly tell which items come from each culture and time period because the styles of construction and decoration are so unique.

Native Alaskans are very diverse, with many different cultural and geographic groups and about twenty different languages. There are three main groups:

Eskimo — Most of the knitters in the co-op are Eskimos from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta area on the western coast of Alaska. The people towards the south are known as Yup’ik. The nothern groups are known as Inupiat. While their cultures have many similarities, these two groups speak separate languages, with many different dialects. Unlike the Eskimos in the far-north, the Yup’ik and Inupiaq people who live near the Bering Sea did not live in ice igloos. Fish are more prominent in their diets than sea mammals (especially to the south and inland), and they also eat many of the plants and berries that grow wild in Alaska. Today, many of the coastal villages are also filled with backyard gardens in the summer months.

Aleut — The co-op has had a few Aleutian knitters in the past, but they are not actively involved today. The Inupiat peoples live on the Aleutian Archipelago at the southwest tip of Alaska.

Indian — The Native Alaskans who live in the southeast parts of the state include the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Indians. The Athabascans live in the interior of the state. There are many sub groups of Athabascan including the Gwinich’in and Koyukon.

A map showing where different languages are spoken is very helpful.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Knitting…but not with qiviut

Today we took a side track to visit Charilyn Cardwell’s studio “Woofer Wearables”. Charilyn knits custom garments from dog hair. You can save the fur when you brush your dog, and send it to her. She will handspin it and knit it into a beautiful garment, accessory, or home decor item for you.

Charilyn also is working on another fascinating project. The Alaska Zoo gives her the down that their two Bactrian Camels shed every spring. She cleans it, spins it, and knits up beautiful purses and other items that the zoo sells in their gift shop.

Woofer Wearables doesn’t have a web site, but you can phone Charilyn at 907-745-4618 or send email to

Posted by Dominic at 8:36 AM
Edited on: Sunday, March 30, 2008 8:47 AM

More about MuskOx

Musk oxen–dead and alive– are everywhere in Alaska…

Musk Ox at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

The Large Animal Research Station (LARS) in Fairbanks stands at the exact site where the Musk Ox Farm was born in 1964. Originally owned by the Yankovich family, the farm was left by Mike Yankovitch to the university for the study of musk ox. The farm remained in Fairbanks for ten years before moving to Unalakleet.

John Teal, an anthropologist and founder of the Musk Ox Development Corporation, had a dream to have indigenous peoples raising indigenous animals to create cash flow which would assist them in moving more fully into the cash economy. With the musk ox herd near a large village in Unalakleet, Alaska Natives could manage the herd that provided their qiviut for knitting. But the logistics of having a farm in such a remote area proved to be a nightmare. First, the farm was situated in a prime berry-picking location, making half of the population of Unalakleet unhappy with the newcomers from the start. Then, getting enough feed to the location in the winter turned out to be almost imposssible — and outrageously expensive.

After Teal’s death, the herd was moved again, this time to Palmer where it still operates today.

LARS, with musk ox, caribou, and reindeer, ended up on the original site in College in 1980 when 16 musk oxen were transplanted from Nunivak Island. (College is part of Fairbanks. It was originally separate, but when the two were given the same zip code by the Post Office, College became a part of Fairbanks.)

Whereas the Palmer farm is a commercial endeavor and an experiment in the domestication of musk oxen, the farm at LARS is primarily a research faciilty studying the biology of large arctic mammals with a focus on nutritional, physiological and behavioral research. These studies are designed to give insights into the management of wild populations to ensure their continued survival.

LARS is also a community outreach center, providing an opportunity for grade-school and high-school students to study at the site, and providing tours to the general public to help supplement the operating budget.

The two farms complement each other in practice, and conflict in philosophy.

Both farms provide qiviut to the Oomingmak Knitter’s Co-op. LARS also sells raw qiviut for handspinners, and commercially spun lace-weight yarn:

  • One pound raw qiviut, $150
  • Half pound raw qiviut, $60
  • One ounce raw qiviut, $20
  • One ounce yarn (approx 320 yards), $50

They don’t have an order form on their web site yet, for more info call 907-474-7945 or email

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Last Blog Entry – We are Home!!!!

Alaska. I thought I would love it. To be honest, I was afraid that I’d want to move there. The last two places I lived — CA & CO — were both places I visited first. Visited and stayed in California. Visited and moved to Colorado within six months. I was afraid I would fall in love with Alaska and not want to come home. But that did not happen.

Alaska is a beautiful place. And charming. The people are the friendliest I’ve encountered anywhere. They seem to have the public friendliness of Southerners without the aftertaste of phoniness or pretention. (I lived in the South for 10 years, so I feel like I can make this comparison honestly and without over-generalizing.)

There are a lot of benefits to living in Alaska:

It’s off the beaten path — even in the biggest city

Every resident gets a $300-1000 check each year from the Permanent Fund.

No State income tax or sales tax

Nature, nature, nature…

The drivers don’t tailgate

Lots of snow

Real winters

But with all of that, Alaska doesn’t stir my soul.

The lack of state taxes shows. The roads are full of potholes and there are no visible lines to separate lanes. There is absolutely no evidence of city planning anywhere. Buildings are run down. Architecture is boring. There is litter everywhere — from Anchorage to Unalakleet — and more appears each day as the snow melts.

Nature has its downsides, too. On the way out of Faribanks, we passed a stray dog on the road. Still wearing his collar, he looked like he’d been lost for quite some time. His ribs were showing and his right ear had been torn to shreds — probably by some wild foe or a feral dog living in the woods. Not something you’d see in any of the tamer parts of the U.S.

Maybe it’s not that Alaska has let me down. Maybe it’s just that I am finally starting to feel at home in Colorado and I don’t want to uproot myself again. At forty-two am I starting to grow up? Don’t get me wrong, we had a great trip that was fun, educational, and entertaining. But maybe the grass is greenest in my own back yard.

Dorothy Reade’s Lace Knitting Tips

As promised, here are some highlights and tips from the Lace Knitting workshop that Dorothy Reade taught to Ann Shell and Helen Howard in July of 1968. The workshop was customized specifically to cover topics and techniques for the Musk Ox Project. After talking with Helen Howard about this workshop the other day, I found a written report on the workshop by Ann Shell in the Oomingmak Co-op’s archives.

Spinning qiviut–After guard hair and debris (hay, etc.) is removed, qiviut can be spun without carding (I’ve confirmed this myself.) Pre-carded merino or silk can be blended with qiviut by lightly carding them together two or three times. If you can possibly think of being able to afford a sweater made from qiviut, blending in wool or silk is a good idea because it adds strength to the yarn.

Knitting symbols–Dorothy Reade was an early proponent of using knitting charts instead of line-by-line instructions to illustrate cable and lace patterns. She only used a few stitches and symbols for her lace designs:

X knit

O yarn over

/ k2tog

\ k2tog through back loop

/\ s1, k2tog, psso

B knit in back loop

P purl

Needle suggestions–Dorothy Reade had some interesting recommendations about knitting needles, the like of which I have not seen mentioned anywhere else. I’m not sure if I agree with this, but here’s what she said:

Metal needles give the tightest, firmest texture. (I imagine she means Boyd type needles, not Addi-Turbos!!!)

Wooden neeldes give a medium texture.

Plastic needles result in a soft, flowing fabric.

Dorothy said that straight needles (10-inches recommended length), give a different texture than circular needles even if they are the same size and made out of the same materials. I can’t envision how this could be true, but I am interested enough that I will do some testing on my own.

Designing lace patterns–The basic lace design is “drawn” on a background of stockinette stitch with yarn-overs.

On the right side row following each purl row, the stitches above yarn-overs are knit through the back loop. This creates a very strong outline and accentuates the “drawing” much more than using a standard knit stitch.

K2tog is used for a right slanting decrease and k2tog-tbl for a left slanting decrease. This is <i>much</i> easier than the old-style sl1-k1-psso decrease.

I also found in doing my own swatches that k2tog-tbl maintains the knitting rhythm and makes it easier to keep track of the charted pattern than using the ssk decrease. (Ms. Reade says that k2tog-tbl is the “true” opposite of “k2tog”, but I disagree. The ssk decrease is technically more of a mirror of k2tog, but the difference is negligble. I prefer to have the ease and speed of using Ms. Reade’s suggestion.)

Well, that’s enough of a teaser. I will be covering these topics in detail, with my own refinements, in the book. So you’ll have to wait to find out more!


Monday, April 19, 2004

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Sunday, March 30, 2008


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Tuesday, May 31, 2005


I’m excited to say that Arctic Lace is written and delivered to my publisher. Now the fun continues, as my writing and Dom’s photos get turned into a beautiful book by Deborah Robson and Rebekah Robson-May at Nomad Press.

I was very surprised the other day while visiting a museum at Rocky Mountain National Park, to see tiny musk oxen looking out at me from a display case. I was looking at miniature mammoth, and next to it stood two small animals that seemed very familiar to me. It took a couple of minutes for me to realize I was looking at musk oxen. It turns out that an ancient species of musk oxen, Bootherium cavifrons once roamed my home state of Colorado. What a surprise!

Colorado is also home to JConklinDesigns, the distributor for qiviut yarn from Wind Valley Musk Ox Farm. The farm, owned by John and Diane Nash is in Palmer, Alaska. I didn’t get to visit them last year because they had just had triplets and I didn’t want to invade on their privacy during this important time of their lives.

Lastly, I’ve recently discovered a qiviut knit-along. If you want to get started knitting with qiviut, and are too excited to wait until 2006 for <i>Arctic Lace</i> to come out, check it out here:

Qiviut Knit-Along

If you would like to purchase Arctic Lace knitting book, please click here.

I have put together a page of Qiviut resources, please click here.