Here in the offices ofPieceWork, we come across yarns made with a myriad of fibers. But even with our proximity to the Rocky Mountains, we’ve yet to come across yarn spun with bear fur! But people do spin bear fur. In the January/February 2008 issue of PieceWork, Elena Chevalier introduces us to “Maxine Tyler: Official Bear Knitter.”
Seventy-nine-year-old Maxine Tyler is the Official Bear Knitter at Clark’s Trading Post in North Woodstock, New Hampshire. Not many people can claim that title.
“She’s a wonderful knitter,” says Maureen Clark, a bear trainer at the Trading Post. “Everyone loves her work.”
Now, it is true that Tyler, of Benton, has knitted at least thirty Irish Knit sweaters. “So far,” Tyler adds. It’s also true that in 1969 she won second place in the National Grange Needlework Contest for a knitted hooded toddler sweater and leggings. And it’s true that there’s hardly a knitting or crocheting pattern she can’t conquer (Tyler’s mother, Kate Goodwin, another skilled needleworker, taught her to crochet and embroider, but it was her grandmother, Gertrude Goodwin, who taught her to knit and tat more than sixty-five years ago).
These are noteworthy achievements, but they were merely the preparations for the most distinctive challenge and privilege of Tyler’s knitting career—knitting with yarn made from bear hair. Since the summer of 2006, Tyler has knitted more than six pairs of mittens, three hats, and a toddler sweater from the chocolate brown yarn furnished by the bears at Clark’s Trading Post.
The best time to harvest the fiber, [Maureen] Clark says, is from May through August, when the bears are shedding their soft undercoat. The collected fiber is labeled with the donor bear’s name and sent off to be cleaned, washed, and spun into yarn.
Elena Chevalier lives with her husband and their children in the White Mountains of New Hampshire where wild bears occasionally visit. She works for the Journal Opinion, a weekly newspaper based in Bradford, Vermont. A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007, issue of the Journal Opinion.
We don’t advise harvesting your own bear fur, and unfortunately, Maxine’s knitted bear fur items are not for sale. To read the rest of the article “Maxine Tyler: Official Bear Knitter” by Elena Chevalier, pick up a copy of PieceWork’s January/February 2008 issue.