A yarn store is full of promise. Each shelf is brimming with texture and color: the soft squish of cashmere Nob Hill, the round wooliness of a ball of Geilsk, the smooth shine of Hayden. The customers of Knit Purl see each and every yarn for its potential, and consider the weight of each skein in their hands, reminiscent of a potter seeing both the simplicity and possibility in a lump of cold clay.
We often tend to extol the virtues of wool, and celebrate the animals from whence it came as fiber mascots of sort. Sheepy figures are seen everywhere related to knitting — perhaps because so much American ancestry comes from countries where sheep were raised as the primary fiber animal. But occasionally a yarn comes along and reminds us that there are many other creatures out there, great and small, that produce some fantastically lovely fibers.
This month, we’ve been celebrating some of our store’s favorite offerings, and mYak, a down yak wool, was near to the top of our list. Tibetan pastoralists gather this wool from the animals they raise on the Tibetan Plateau, a region separated from the world by two of the largest mountain ranges in China (1). This isolated alpine tundra has long been home to many nomadic tribes (2). Since traveling across the tundra is necessary for survival, many of these tribes have adapted livestock for multiple needs. In Tibet, the yak serves as a source of labor for travel, food for families, and one of the most important requirements of all — excellent, long-lasting, and warm fiber for clothing.
It is believed that the yak is a possible ancestor of the American Buffalo, though many animals today are often compared to cattle or steer. Gentle, plodding and easily trainable, yak have been raised by families in Tibet for thousands of years. The most common color for yak fiber is a rich shade of brown, though occasionally other variations are seen. (3) Knitters seek out yak fiber because it is simultaneously lightweight and warm, with a soft halo that lends character to even the simplest of stitches.
mYak purchases the down fiber combed from the underbelly of the yak for use in their yarns and fabric goods, which are then spun in Italy. While the Tibetans have been nomadic for thousands of years, their way of life is changing, and they require more than the yak can offer to insure survival. Farmers are able to sell a portion of their yaks’ down to mYak for a fair price, giving them a source of income — and knitters a high quality, ethical source for this unique fiber.