By JENIFER VANPELT Monitor staff January 16. 2005 Angora is so yesterday. Sheep’s wool? No thanks. Qiviut is the fiber of choice for Kelly Bridges, a knitting enthusiast from Gilmanton, and it doesn’t come from a rabbit or a sheep. It’s spun from the under-fur of a much larger and more unlikely beast: the musk ox. Pronounced KIV-E-UT, the fiber is believed to be the warmest in the world. It’s as soft as cashmere, and, according to Bridges, it’s eight times warmer than wool. It’s a lot easier to deal with, too. Unlike wool, qiviut doesn’t scratch and won’t shrink when washed. It’s hard to come by, though, and as a result it can be pricey. Not for Bridges, however. She collected hers straight from the source. Bridges, 26, has been the manager at The Elegant Ewe, a fiber arts store in Concord, for two years, but she fell for qiviut in 2003 while on a research trip to study air/snow exchange chemistry in Greenland through the Climate Change Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. She and her colleagues stayed at Summit Station, a science camp high atop an icecap. In Greenland, Bridges collected clumps of fur she found on the ground, in bushes or blowing in the wind. Her fellow researchers helped, too. Each musk ox sheds about 5 pounds of qiviut per year, and collecting it in the wild from the animal itself is out of the question. “If one of those is coming at you, you just clear out,” Bridges said. The ugly truth Musk oxen aren’t pretty. They look a little prehistoric . . . and they are. They coexisted with the mastodons and mammoths and are built to live in the harsh arctic climate of northern Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway and Siberia. As a result, they’re covered with 24-inch-long hair all over their wooly qiviut undercoats to protect them from frost and to provide insulation. They have large, humped backs and can grow up to seven feet long. They weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and both the males and females have long, curving horns. It’s hard to believe a fiber as soft as qiviut comes from an animal like this. For Bridges, foraging for qiviut in Greenland was productive. At the end of her trip, she had amassed a hefty pile of brown fur. That’s when the work began. Before her qiviut could be spun into useable yarn, all the guard hairs had to be removed – by hand. “(It) took me about two months (to clean and spin it),” Bridges said. In the end she had about half a pound of yarn, which she used to knit two hats, a scarf and a wimple (a tube that can cover the head, neck and shoulders). Despite the hard work, it was a bargain. According to online shops, two ounces of qiviut – about the amount needed to knit a scarf – could cost $120. The amount of sheep’s wool needed to make the same scarf would set a knitter back about $10. Those who don’t knit can expect to pay anywhere from $230 to $330 for a qiviut scarf and up to $1,100 for a sweater. Though Bridges says qiviut takes dye well, she chose to leave hers natural. The qiviut is a rich cocoa brown, but because some of the tufts she collected had been out in the sun longer than others, their color is faded. This variation in hue gives a soft, random gradation to her knitted projects. A call for help During a second trip to Greenland, Bridges hit the qiviut jackpot. A local man working with her research team noticed that she and her colleagues were collecting the fur and told her he had a garage full. He later sent over two boxes that weighed in at about 20 pounds. It didn’t take Bridges long to figure out that it would take her a lifetime to remove the guard hairs from 20 pounds of qiviut. With a little research, she found Mini Mills, a mill on Prince Edward Island, Canada, that specializes in qiviut, buffalo and other unusual fibers. For $600, the mill processed the 20 pounds of raw qiviut into 10 pounds of cocoa brown, three-ply yarn. Some weight is lost in the cleaning and de-hairing process, and some of the fur just isn’t long enough to spin. Unwilling to waste any of the precious fur, Bridges had the mill use the short fur to fill a down comforter. “It’s so warm,” she said. Bridges doesn’t have plans to return to Greenland any time soon, but thanks to a few big, hairy, Arctic mammals she’s weathering the New Hampshire winter just fine. And she’s got enough qiviut to keep her busy for quite a while.[/one_half] [one_half_last] I have some great patterns in my latest books Arctic Lace and Successful Lace knitting for Qiviut lace projects.