Fiber Feature -- Yak

Today's featured fiber is Yak! I'm pretty excited about this one because it is one of the softest, yummiest fibers for knitting and we now carry three Yak yarns!!!
Yak down is a fairly new fiber to the western knitting market but has been used for thousands of years by the nomadic peoples in the heart of Asia.

Photo from Reywa Fibers
So, what are Yak? Yak are a type of wild cattle native to the high Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau of the central Asia. The average altitude of this huge plateau is over 14,800 ft. It is a harsh, cold environment of mainly grasses and rocks with few if any shrubs or trees. Yet people and animals have lived there for tens of thousands of years. The largest creatures living there are Yak. Wild Yak are huge creatures, with males weighing in up to around 2000 lbs! They are few in number and are a protected species. Beginning somewhere around 10,000 years ago, the native peoples of the plateau began to domesticate yak. One source I read says that the yak trade in China began as far back as 4500 years ago. Domestic Yak are hybrids between yak & other types of cattle. They are typically about half to two thirds the size of their wild brethern. Domestic yak, also called "grunting oxen," are said to be friendly and easily tamed. They are an important animal to the native populations supplying not only food (meat, milk, butter, & cheese), fibers and hide but also provide as transportation (riding), hauling, and plowing. Even their dung is highly valued as the main source of fuel for household fires in a land without trees.

Yak produce two fibers, a soft downy undercoat and a long, course outer coat. The yak outer coat is much like the hair of a horses tail, shorter on the body and growing into a long "skirt" on the lower parts of the bodies. This hair is used for weaving things like belts and rope.

From International Yak Association
Yak down is what we're mostly interested in. Yak down is short, about 1 1/2 inches long and very fine - ranging from 15-20 microns, so it's very similar to the very finest merino wool, qiviut, angora, alpaca, and cashmere. The fewer the microns, the finer the fiber. It has no lanolin and no odor, is non-allergenic, and quite warm. The down is shed out each year and can be combed off the animal or collected after being shed. Once collected the long guard hairs are removed and the down is carded into batts for spinning into yarn.

In researching for this post I found several website with tons of interesting information. The most comprehensive is a publication by the Food & Agriculture Organization of the U.N., The Yak Second Edition. Pretty much anything you want to know about yak can be found in this paper.

Another interesting site is The International Yak Association. After reading this one I'm all for finding some pasture land and raising yak! Having raised fiber animals in the past the yak looks perfect for a low input, sustainable, niche farm!

Bijou Basin Photo
Which is just what the folks at Bijou Basin Ranch are doing! Bijou Basin is a small family owned farm in the plains east of Denver, Colorado. They raise full blooded Tibetan Yaks and produce lovely soft yarns which are then dyed by Lorna's Laces. We are currently carrying Bijou Bliss,a beautiful 50% Yak and 50% Cormo sheeps wool yarn. Bijou Bliss has a suggested gauge of 6 stitches to the inch on US #4 (3.5mm) to US #5 (3.75) needles putting on the heavier side of sport weight/light side of DK weight. It has a nice lofty twist with a bit of elasticity so it's perfect for projects that need some memory like hats, gloves/mitts, and sweaters.

Our newest yak yarn is 100% yak from a fairly new company Reywa Fibers. Please go read the 'About' section on their website, it's very exciting what they are doing. It is another small, family operated business. The income from the sales of their products is reinvested directly into the Tibetan communities that raise the animals, providing education and environmental preservation to the nomadic peoples that raise the yak. Their first yarn is called Embrace. This yarn is also right between a sport & dk weight. I wish I could adequately describe how this yarn feels! Think soft like baby alpaca but smooth like cool butter. This is the perfect yarn for next to the skin! Think cowls, turtleneck sweaters, camisoles, and luxury mitts. You simply must touch this yarn!!!!

The third yak yarn we carry is Tibetan Cloud Fingering by Lotus Yarns. It is also 100% yak. The name is a bit deceptive as I would call this a 2 ply lace weight rather than fingering. The colors are lovely, it's wonderful for knitting light and lofty lace shawls.

I think a project made from one of these exotic yarns would make a fantastic holiday gift for someone special! I'm off to start planning mine!

Please send any comments or questions to askTerry (at) jimmybeanswool (dot) com.



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