41 of 51 Yarns: New Natural Yarn

This post is part of a spin-along through 51 Yarns by Jacey Boggs Faulkner, in the Wool n’ Spinning community. For other posts in this series, check here.

The next chapter in 51 Yarns is called “Into and Out of the Box.” So we are abruptly transitioning from in-depth studies of different fibers in their purest form, all of which have broad realistic applications and interesting histories, to the completely novel. These yarns are play: impractical, wackadoo experiments; explorations into the possible.

The assignment to make a “new natural yarn” is pretty wild: just go outside and find something that could be yarn in some way! Well, I wasn’t sure what would qualify in my unusual landscape, but sure enough, something came my way.

A few months ago, my friend Lorraine found me a muskox hide at the dump. It was both disgusting and amazing: it had tons of qiviut, but the skin was damp and rotted and full of maggots. This turned out to be a really crazy blessing in disguise. The rotted skin released all the fibers super easily. All the hair, qiviut, guard hairs, and all, peeled right off. (This is in contrast with the usual method of harvesting qiviut. Muskoxen shed this undercoat naturally, and it can be combed through the guard hairs at the right time of year, either off a domestic muskox, or off the pelt of a harvested wild muskox.)

I took the clumps home and laid them in the yard overnight, qiviut side up, where the maggots were either eaten by birds or turned into flies and left. I don’t care which; they were gone. Then I sat in the yard and pulled the majority of the guard hairs out, as easily and enjoyably as separating the tog and thel of an Icelandic fleece.

Being of a thrifty disposition, I saved the guard hairs, as you see above. I just stuffed them in a bag, threw them under the bed, and forgot about them. But how pleased I was to find them last week!

There was so much of it that I figured it would be plenty for two experiments. I separated it into “pure” guard hairs, to be spun alone (left), and clumps of guard hair still stuck to little bits of qiviut (right). I then carded the mixed pile into rolags, just so it would blend a little better.

The guard hairs I spun right out of the bag. The spinning itself was surprisingly easy and even. I guess it was technically a “cloud”, though it was hardly light and fluffy. The hairs themselves were perfectly straight and smooth. I had to spin them tightly to prevent the singles slipping apart.

Ok to be honest, it was really strange. The spinning was easy and fast and fun, but the actual texture of the guard hairs really grossed me out. They were wirey, prickly, just a little dirty. I had to do the heebey-jeebey dance afterwards to deal with it.

They plied up beautifully and made a sort of twine. I’m not willing to knit with it, but I thought it would make some very interesting woven fabric – perhaps a sort of scrubby?

Not even! Do you know what this screams to me? RUG! Make me a rug out of this stuff, backed with some non-stick matting, and it would be a great doormat. I’m reminded of horsehair, not that I know if horsehair is anything like this. It’s just so fabulously structured. The fibers just don’t want to bend, even in the finished product.

The mixed rolags were much more pleasant to spin. The qiviut blended well in the rolags with the guard hairs. The qiviut fibers are in every way the opposite of the guard hairs: fine, full of crimp, happy to twist and bend. They smoothed down and trapping some of the prickly bits of the guard hairs. The resulting yarn is still wirey and prickly, and looks like an animal with mange, but I’m much more willing to touch it.

It’s hard to imagine the guard hairs not falling out eventually. Between the two yarns, I wonder which one would shed more? Anyway, I can’t really imagine using this for anything other than tapestry weaving. Maybe I could weave an image of a muskox with it.

This experiment was super different and fun. I am so thankful to live in the central arctic, where muskoxen roam.


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