Born in Inuvik, Tanis Simpson has spent most of her life working with qiviut yarn, which comes from the undercoat of a muskox.
At this month’s Great Northern Arts Festival, Simpson returned from Edmonton to Inuvik to demonstrate how she produces the yarn and uses it in products ranging from boots and gloves to headbands.
In 2019, Simpson opened a fibre mill where she processes the yarn and makes the likes of scarves, neck warmers, toques and fingerless gloves.
The processing of qiviut yarn takes around eight weeks, she said, starting with the combing-out of fibres.
“I use a fork, which is what my grandparents used. I’ve tried other tools, but that’s what works best,” she said.
Simpson then washes the wool to begin the processing. A carting machine straightens out the yarn and produces a yarn roving – a long, narrow bundle.
A pin drafting machine converts that roving into a coil of yarn, which takes around two days. Spinning and plying turn that coil into something closer to the finished product, and then the yarn is dyed before it’s ready to use.
“People are really surprised at how long it takes,” Simpson said of festival visitors learning about the process.
“It’s nice to educate them on the processing, because it’s just amazing fibre.”