Qiviut is an extremely soft fiber harvested from the coats of musk oxen, arctic mammals named for the distinctive musky odor carried by males. Qiviut is prized by knitters, because unlike wool, it does not shrink when exposed to water and temperature changes. In addition, qiviut is very light, strong, insulating, and warm. Pure qiviut can be used directly next to the skin because of its extreme softness, although the fiber does not hold a knitted shape well. As a result, qiviut is often blended with cashmere or like wools to create sweaters and other similar garments.
A single musk ox will shed between five to seven pounds (two to three kilograms) of qiviut, which is the soft under layer of wool, in a year. Musk oxen can exceed 440 pounds (200 kilograms) and stand approximately five feet (4.7 meters) at the shoulder. They are bulky, sturdy beasts and can be found roaming the arctic in herds ranging in size between ten and 200. Musk oxen can also provide meat to enterprising hunters, although they are not used for milk, as most are not domesticated. Musk oxen have existed since the Pleistocene era and can be found in Alaska, Russia, Sweden, and Norway.
Many musk oxen are wild, and their qiviut is collected in the spring as they shed it in large sheets. Some farms raise musk oxen, and the qiviut is collected by combing in the spring as the oxen shed. Qiviut is never collected by shearing, as the coats of the musk oxen take a long time to grow back, and shearing would expose them to the winter elements.
Several collectives have been established in arctic regions to steward musk oxen and collect their qiviut. Musk oxen tend not to do well in more southern areas, because they have adapted to the extreme weather conditions in the arctic, and therefore, qiviut is generally sourced from the arctic. Qiviut has been used by the Inuit and other arctic peoples for centuries, because of its insulating properties, warmth, and versatility. It is often worn as an under layer, because it keeps the wearer warm while wicking moisture away from the body.
Qiviut makes light, floating scarves and shawls, and it is often spun very fine to make lacy yet insulating over garments. Integrated with other fibers, it's knitted into sweaters, hats, and socks as well. Many collectives that harvest raw qiviut also sell knitted qiviut goods made from their product. Most qiviut collectives have been established to support native peoples, and the majority of their earnings are returned to the village of origin for improvements.