Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The nature of luxury

I went a little mad (well, completely mad) at the end of August at KnitNation in London. I had purchased tickets for the marketplace and for the ravelry talk, but completely lost track of time amongst all those lovely yarns, and didn't even make it to the talk. Never mind, I came away with the most amazing yarn ever.

I tried to give myself a budget, but in my opinion, budgets are only a general rule of thumb, not to be applied in instances when one is given the unique opportunity to acquire a gorgeous rare wool that is not sold anywhere in the UK. I am, of course, speaking of Qiviuk, a yarn made from the underwool of the muskox (which is actually a sheep-sized animal, not an ox-sized animal, as the name would imply). Muskox only live in the Arctic circle, mostly in Canada; they were almost wiped out in Alaska and Quebec, but have been reintroduced successfully, and there are now small populations in parts of Northern Europe as well. Wikipedia says there are about 80,000 to 125,000 individuals in the world. Which is pretty darn rare, especially considering the world population of sheep, according to the New World Encylopedia, was just over one billion in 2005. (Obviously you can't necessarily believe random information you get off the internet, but the general comparison holds).

When I got to the KnitNation I did a quick turn around all the stalls, noting for future reference where the Wollmeise was (just making sure there was still some wool left), and then spent the next hour at the Qiviuk stand stroking the garments, picking up balls of wool, and chatting with the salesman. Qiviuk is sometimes called the most expensive fibre in the world. Given the rarity of the animals and the fact that the fibre is from the undercoat rather than the exterior coat, and thus can only be gathered when the animal is molting (either from objects the animals brush against or from brushing the animal directly - a bit like rabbits, but somewhat trickier!) you can see why this might be the case. But in fact the Qiviuk stall had an even more expensive fibre on display - Vicuña - from an endangered relative of the llama which can only be shorn every three years. That was £200 for a tiny ball, and even I could recognize it was completely out of my league. But the pure qiviuk (they also had a qiviuk/silk/merino blend) was a mere £58 per ball - almost contemplateable.

light and lofty Qiviuk
I decided £58 a ball was a just about affordable luxury. Unfortunately I also decided I needed a minimum of two balls for a decent sized scarf. I also absolutely HAD to get a skein of Wollmeise, because that is almost as difficult to come by as Qiviuk, as it is only sold by one shop in Germany. They do have an online shop, but apparently the wool disappears as soon as it is posted. So the two balls of Qiviuk plus one skein of Wollmeise put me £51 over my budget. And what is £51, after all? Not even enough for a nice meal out for two with drinks, and that doesn't last anywhere near as long as a beautiful scarf, besides which we never go out to eat, so there was my justification.

Wollmeise excels in saturated colours
I had been feeling pretty glum about the looming end of a glorious summer, but my red Qiviuk and pomegranate Wollmeise (for a matching pair of gloves) put me right in the mood for winter. I went around in a delighted glow for days afterward. Now isn't that worth £51? Plus I will end up with a gorgeous scarf to use for years to come.

It took me ages to settle on the right pattern - I finally went with Link, by Tabi Ferguson, because it reminded me a of Turkish pomegranate design. And the gloves absolutely had to be something by Julia Mueller because her gloves are phenomenal. After some hemming and hawing over Eisblume, I eventually settled on Bobbie.

I finished up Arctic Pomegranate over the weekend, and the Wollmeise has been taken out of stash, and is in the slow process of being wound into a ball.

softest, warmest scarf ever

detail of lace pattern