Interview with Vivian Osborne from Arctic Qiviut Yarns

Way back in January, I had the pleasure of meeting Vivian Osborne  in real life at Vogue Knitting Live.  As the President of Arctic Qiviut Yarns, she was busy selling in the marketplace, so I contacted her for an email interview later.  (And if you’re new to qiviut, as I was, Vivian’s website tell us that it is pronounced “kiv-ee-ute.”)

Vivian Osborne at the Arctic Qiviut booth at a trade show.

Underground Crafter (UC): What are your personal favorite fiber crafts? How did you get started with these crafts?
Vivian: I admire all fiber crafts. Two of my grandmothers taught me to crochet. As a teenager, I crocheted show horse blankets and braid reins. I set up shop at horse shows and made a bundle. My focus now is to create beautiful luxurious yarn out of the downy underwool of the Arctic Muskox – “qiviut.” It’s such a soft, exotic fiber that’s perfect for heirloom creations.

UC: What inspired you to make yarn out of the underwool of a musk ox?
Vivian: I was running my nonprofit organization, Just For Kids, Inc., as part of the Choosing A Safe Camp For Your Child Program.  Someone donated one pound of raw qiviut fiber, stinky and complete with guard hair and vegetation, and matted in a sheet.  It was an absolute mess.  Some local Boy Scouts helped me, and we spent a year hand cleaning the raw musk ox fiber.  I learned how to use a drop spindle at the local guild.  It just grew from there.  (UC comment: Wow, that is some start!  It makes me want to learn to use my drop spindle even more, just in case I unexpectedly receive some awesome, mystery fiber!)

Vivian cleaning those guard hairs, about 12 years ago.

UC: You’ve had the opportunity to visit various fiber events to promote Arctic Qiviut Yarns. Tell us about some of your favorite experiences at these events.
Vivian: My first event was the NW Needle Market wholesale show in Seattle. Everyone was so excited about what I had to offer. They liked that I’m from North Pole, Alaska; that I use the underwool of the arctic musk ox to make 100% qiviut yarn and 5 exclusive qiviut yarn blends; that my yarn has a beautiful twist; and that it is available in 28 incredible hand dyed and hand painted colors. I have also exhibited my yarn at TNNA wholesale tradeshows in Long Beach and Columbus,  Knitters Connection, and at Vogue Knitting Live in New York. People love learning about qiviut. Vogue Knitting Live was fun because I met the knitters, crocheters, and weavers. They truly enjoy touching the yarn and seeing all the colors. They liked meeting the manufacturer – me! They liked that I manufacture something different not found anywhere else in the world. My qiviut sock yarn was a hit at all the shows.  (UC comment: As one of the crocheters who was visiting Vivian’s booth at Vogue Knitting Live, I can tell you that the yarn is really amazing to feel and that people did respond very well to the colors!)

UC: Not many crocheters and knitters are familiar with qiviut fiber. What are some of the properties of your yarn that you’d like people to know about?
Vivian: Qiviut is truly an amazing fiber. It is the delicate underwool of the Arctic muskox. It is one of the most sought after fibers in the world because of its rarity, softness, and warmth. Qiviut is softer than cashmere and is light as a feather. It’s an insulating fiber and is comfortable to wear in any climate.

Qiviut is the only fiber in the US that is an heirloom fiber that can be treasured for generations. The value goes up over time. Qiviut yarnwear or yarn is a unique gift for yourself or that special person. Only the best delicate underwool of the Arctic muskox is used to produce Arctic Qiviuts’ yarn. We offer 100% qiviut and qiviut blends. We only use the highest grade, finest quality German angora, cashmere, baby alpaca, cultivated Bombay silk, superwash merino, bamboo, and nylon in our blends.

A musk ox.

Muskox is a very old species they have been around since the time of the woolly mammoth. Most live in the Arctic, in Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. Qiviut is not another term for the muskox but refers to the soft, downy undercoat. A mature male produces around 6 to 8 pounds of muskox raw fleece fiber. After processing the raw fleece fiber you will yield about 2 to 3 pounds of cleaned qiviut ready for spinning into yarn. It is one of the lightest and warmest of all the natural fibers. Qiviut feels wonderful next to the skin.

Some of the characteristics and properties of qiviut:

  • It is 8 times warmer than wool,
  • Very light weight,
  • It is comfortable in any climate,
  • It doesn’t shrink, felt, or inch,
  • It is safe for people who suffer from wool allergies,
  • It is softer than cashmere
  • Wild muskox averages from 16.5 microns in yearlings to 18.2 microns in adults,
  • The undyed color is gray-brown, but qiviut dyes easily, and
  • The staple length is 3.5–7 cm (1.5–3 inches).

UC: What are your plans for 2012? Will be you be at any other events?
Vivian: On May 24, I will be meeting and greeting passengers from a knitting cruise ship in Anchorage, Alaska at the Quilted Raven. I’ll be at TNNA from June 21 to 25 in Columbus, Ohio and at the Twisted Thread Knit and Stitch Tradeshow at Alexander Palace in London, England from October 11 to 14.

UC: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Arctic Qiviut?

Vivian: I am the exclusive manufacture of hand dyed and hand painted 100% Qiviut yarn and 5qiviut yarn blends. I only sell my yarns wholesale and at special events like wholesale and retail tradeshows. I also do trunk shows at retail shops that sell my yarns. On my website, you can find a worldwide list of shops that sell my yarn, properties of all fibers used in Arctic Qiviut yarns, more information on qiviut, free patterns including one designed by Alaskan designer, Beverly Shannon, and patterns using 1 skein of Arctic Qiviut yarns that you can purchase directly from the Alaskan designer, Nancy Davidson. On my website you can see all the beautiful hand dyed and hand painted colors of our yarns. Our slogan is “Experience the journey of the qiviut, from the muskox to your fingertips.”

Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Vivian, and for sharing so much about the qiviut fiber with us!

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