Buffalo Gold #11
Cecil Miskin and his son Ron may not be knitters (although Ron admits to casting on a pair of Maine Morning Mitts once), but they are genuinely passionate about making the very best possible yarn they can out of American bison fiber.
A lawyer by trade, Cecil moved to Texas some 30 years ago and bought a ranch. After raising all sorts of animals, Cecil became particularly intrigued by the American bison (commonly but unofficially called "buffalo"—true buffalo are from Africa or India and produce no usable fiber). Every spring, these animals naturally shed their heavy winter coats, and Cecil began collecting the fibers. On a whim, he posted a four-pound batch of those fibers on eBay and they sold for $240. And that's when his real fiber journey began.
Bison were long a keystone species of the Great Plains before being hunted to near extinction by the 1870s. Careful preservation and reintroduction efforts have brought the American bison population back to near 400,000 today—of which some 55,000 animals per year are slaughtered for the thriving bison meat industry.
Cecil noticed that the bison meat industry was not as interested in the hides. In fact, those hides (with their delicate down fibers) were often simply destroyed.
He made it his mission to transform that waste into gold, consulting everyone from research scientists to leather experts as he developed a gentle and effective way to remove hairs from the hides. Once he had the fiber extraction part figured out, he started consulting yarn experts, slowly and steadily experimenting with different processors and mills, twists and plies, in his quest for a perfect yarn.
Every time I'd run into Cecil or Ron at a festival, they'd pull me aside and show me their latest experiment. With each skein, I could see clear improvements. And although I admired their perseverance, I still held back on a review. Finally, I touched their Buffalo Gold #11, an ethereal two-ply lace-weight that was dehaired and carded by the only equipment on the planet that's delicate enough to do the job right, and I knew they'd made it. The yarn is not only ready for a review, it is leaping off the shelf and begging for a run on my needles.
The chocolate brown color you see in the above photographs is exactly as the animal grows it. This yarn has not been dyed or bleached and is not available in any other colors.
But this is the first time I have encountered a skein that didn't even have tied ends—they just wrapped the ends around the hank a few times and then tucked them underneath. (They did add a few cross-ties that were easily popped off.)
The fiber in this yarn has been processed with great care. In only a few cases did I spot a slightly longer, more unruly hair sticking out. The yarn had no qualms about being asked to knit stockinette, producing even stitches with nary a snag to be found. But it really wanted to work lace, which it did with absolute ease. (Sorry, I can't tell you what I'm knitting—it's a surprise!)
Blocking / Washing
My swatches blocked back to a perfect shape, with no change in gauge whatsoever. And best of all, the fibers had bloomed beautifully without overpowering or concealing the stitches underneath—which is ideal for lacework where you want a halo but you don't want to lose the open architecture of your stitches.
Since most of us don't use lace in rugged, high-wear projects, I don't see this as much of a show-stopper. But it's something to keep in mind if you happen to be wearing your Buffalo Gold shawl and accidentally brush up against a splintered fence post while out checking on your bison herd.
In terms of touch, this yarn is extremely soft and lightweight, with excellent insulating qualities.
The yarn's high price—$84 per 400-yard skein—reflects its best-of-breed processing choices. After skirting and scouring the fibers themselves in Texas, they send the fibers to Peru to be dehaired and carded at the same facility that processes qiviut, guanaco, and vicuna fibers for Jacques Cartier. From there, the fibers go to Italy to be spun, and are then returned to Texas for final inspection before making their way out to stores.
All that travel does leave a bit of a carbon footprint that may concern some knitters. Buffalo Gold #11 has more stamps on its passport (and costs more) than the other Buffalo Gold yarns, which are produced in Canada (Buffalo Gold #5), Michigan (Buffalo Gold #4 and #7s), and Connecticut (Buffalo Gold #6).
While far less than qiviut, Buffalo Gold #11 is still a bit more expensive than, say, your average cashmere lace-weight yarn, but cashmere processing is much more streamlined, which reduces costs. In terms of American bison fiber, Cecil and Ron—and another person I'll introduce next week—are pretty much figuring it out as they go along.
I'm willing to pay a little more for the experience of knitting with such a skillfully created yarn—even if for just one truly memorable shawl. I also like being able to put faces to the people who harvested the fibers I'm knitting—and to know that they really do care whether or not I'm happy with the results. But ultimately I admire the ongoing commitment and persistence that Cecil and Ron have demonstrated in striving to make a better product. It makes me wonder where they'll take us next.
Buffalo Gold #11
100% American Bison down
Average retail price
Where to buy online
Weight/yardage per skein
50g / 400 yards (365m)
Country of origin
American fibers skirted and scoured in Texas, dehaired and carded in Peru, and spun in Italy. Whew!
Manufacturer's suggested wash method
Wash like fine delicates.
Color used in review
n/a (the color is natural)