The Nelson Island scarf is hand knit by members of the Co-Op who are from villages located on Nelson Island. The design based on a traditional parka trimming representing the packed ice breaking up around the island in the spring and flowing out to sea.
All the items made by the Co-Op members are as comfortable to wear on cool days in a warm climate as they are in chilly weather.
A unique northern gift of exquisite Qiviut items, brought to you since 1969 by Oomingmak, the original Alaskan Co-operative. The Co-Operative is owned by approximately 250 Native Alaskan women from remote coastal villages of Alaska who knit each item by hand.
The Musk Ox Producer's Co-Operative is owned by its approximately 250 Native Alaskan members, and is served by an elected Board of Directors. Each member pays a yearly membership fee, and in return she has the right to receive the Qiviut yarn and the copy-righted Co-Op pattern, the only thing she has to provide is her own knitting needles. Each member can then knit at their own pace and in their own time making the items in patterns that belong to her area. Once she has finished several items, she will bring them in or mail them to the Co-Op headquarters at 604 H Street in downtown Anchorage.
What is qiviut?
Qiviut (pronounced "kiv-ee-ute"), the downy-soft underwool from the Arctic musk ox, is shed naturally each year during the spring months. Eight times warmer than wool and extraordinarily lightweight, Qiviut is one of the finest natural fibers known to man. Unlike wool, Qiviut is not scratchy and will not shrink in any temperature of water. It can be hand-washed in any mild detergent and will last for many years.
Qiviut is actually so grease-free and clean to work with that it could literally be hand spun off a willing musk ox's back (if you could get one to stand still!). For the Co-Operative hand spinning did not prove practical due to the equipment needed, time involved and quantity of yarn needed. The Co-Op must collect a minimum of 600 to 1,000 lbs as required by a speciality cashmere company, before we can ship the fiber. The fiber is then scoured in a four bowl system using a mild detergent, and ready for dehairing after it has dried. Dehairing is a special procedure that untangles and separates all the fibers. The fine down is caught, while the courser hairs, dust and 5th debris are spun out.
The dehaired fiber is then sent to a spinning mill where it is blended with oils to lubricate and open the fibers for carding. Card settings are similar to those used in processing cashmere. After carding the rovings are spun on spinning frames. There is a speciality cashmere company in the east that we contract with for these services, since they have the knowledge and connections to get the work done for us at the highest quality and the best prices. It can take more than a year before the yarn is returned from the souring, dehairing and spinning process, so the Co-Op has to plan well ahead to ensure that we have enough yarn available for our members to knit.
Qiviut closely resembles cashmere in its hand, luster and microscopic appearance. It has few and smooth scales, and consequently can withstand temperature shock and agitation without shrinking or felting. A finished garment is so wonderfully warm, soft and lightweight that the wearer is barely conscious of having it on. The naturally soft color is complementary to nearly every skin tone, while the soft feel can be appreciated by people of all ages, from babies to senior citizens.
Generally it takes several years before enough fiber is collected to send to processing, so we only have enough yarn to satisfy our members.
When the knitting is received at headquarters, it is checked over for quality and entered into inventory. The knitted items are then washed, blocked, labeled and packaged so they will be ready for sale. The member is paid a set price for each individual item with a check that is issued the following day.
The items knitted in our traditional line are 100% Qiviut and natural in color. Each village has a signature pattern for the scarves, stoles and smoke-ring. These patterns are derived from traditional aspects of village life and the Eskimo culture, such as ancient artifacts, skin sewing or beadwork design.
The check is always appreciated by the members who live in the remote villages of Alaska, where there are few jobs available. Some of these villages are small, with 100-200 people, most are located in coastal Alaska, where the only way to get in and out is by plane. To fly from one of these villages to Anchorage can cost well over $500 for a round trip. All goods are brought into the village by barge in the summer or by plane in the winter, which means that the cost of living is many times higher than Anchorage, and certainly than other areas of the United States. The income received by knitting helps the members and her family with the costs of such things as electricity and heat and other modern expenses. Most of our members live a subsistence lifestyle, hunting, fishing and gathering berries and other plants for their food. Even this lifestyle requires the extra money for fuel for boats or 4-wheelers and the cost of the equipment to get the necessary food.
The members take an active part in their Co-Operative by electing the Board of Directors, who set the policy for the organization. At the end of each year the Board of Directors determine the amount of profit to be distributed to the members as a dividend based on the knitting they have done during the year.