It is not often that something totally floors me. Usually I take things in stride. I cope. I deal. I have a witty comeback, and then I get on with life. But sometimes, life serves up something so completely out of the blue that I am struck speechless, thrown for a loop, left something of a gibbering mess as I struggle to adjust my worldview to this new reality. Last night was one of those times.
You see, I have a friend, whom I call The Pessimist. We are not close friends, but we have been friends for a number of years, and I am fond of him. He travels a lot on business, going all over the country and overseas. Sometimes he likes to bring back presents for his friends. For example, when he went to Rome he brought back rosaries. On another trip he brought back holy cards with third class relics attached. So yesterday when I saw him at Theology On Tap, and he told me he’d brought me back something from Alaska, I didn’t think much of it. I smiled, and took the plastic grocery store bag he handed me. When I opened it, I initially saw that it contained a little kit with a set of Brittany DPN knitting needles (very nice ones), a few flyers, and a cake of yarn. Then I glanced at the tag, saw the word “Qiviut,” and I sortof, well, spasmed. I’m not sure how else to describe it. It was a sort of whole body jerk of startlement, as if I’d suddenly been briefly plugged into an electric outlet. And that’s when the gibbering started.
You see, Qiviut is one of the most rare natural fibers in the world. Qiviut yarn is spun from the downy undercoat of arctic musk oxen, gathered when they shed their coats in the spring. It is mostly produced in Alaska, though there are a few herds in Finland and Russia. It is eight times warmer than wool, and softer than cashmere. In Alaska, the native women knit cowl-like garments that they call smoke rings. They’re open, lacy tubes that they wear around their necks and pull over their head like a very, very pretty version of a balaclava. I have been told that they save them to wear on only the coldest days, because otherwise they are too warm.
Because Qiviut is so rare (you try combing a musk ox!), it is incredibly expensive. Sometimes you can find yarns spun of qiviut blended with silk, merino wool, or other less expensive fibers, which brings the price down to merely heinously expensive rather than completely exorbitant. Among knitters, qiviut has an almost mythological status. Even those who think nothing of knitting entire sweaters from, say, cashmere, whisper in hushed tones about the woman who knit not one, but two shawls from qiviut. Until last night, I had never actually seen qiviut anywhere besides a web page, much less touched it. As far as I know, I’ve never even been in a store that had it for sale. I never really expected to ever see any, and I certainly never imagined that I would one day walk into a bar and be handed some in a plastic grocery sack.
And yet there it was. In my hand. One soft, compact skein of yarn containing 2 oz. of 100% pure Qiviut. There. In my hand. My mind reeled. I spent most of the next two hours staring at it, cuddling it to me, and petting it over and over. It was like it wasn’t quite real, like if I let it out of my grasp it might disappear or evaporate. In fact, I still feel a bit like that. When I went upstairs to bed last night, I took it upstairs with me and set it on my night stand while I slept. Today I brought it in to work. Sure, I told myself it was so that I could show it to my knitting friend, but really I think I just couldn’t bear to let it out of my immediate proximity.
People keep asking me what I plan to make with it. My immediate answer was that I had no earthly idea. I mean, this isn’t something that you plan for. It’s sorta like saying, “Well, when Captain America (note: not Chris Evans) shows up at my door and asks me to be the mother of his children, I think we’ll name the first one Peter.” (Except I can imagine sitting around with my friends being silly and doing exactly that. So I need a better example. But you get the idea.) However, after some enthusiastic Ravelry browsing last night, I’m leaning heavily towards a Tidewater Cowl. What do you guys think?
Also, how am I ever going to say thank you to The Pessimist? Do you think a pair of hand-knit socks would be enough? Maybe a sweater too? Except I’m horrible at finishing sweaters. Maybe some mittens…