A lovely reader wrote to me recently and asked if I was planning on reviewing the latest Zealana yarn, Air. Her note reminded me that I did indeed have a ball of this gorgeous yarn that had been kindly given to me by Woolyarns (manufacturer of Zealana yarns) a while before it was released. I’d been waiting for it to come out before I did a review, and then things got a bit busy, and well… here we are!
After a day of playing with this amazing yarn, I’m a little embarrassed that it has taken me this long to write a review!
Zealana Air is something very special. It is 40% cashmere, 20% mulberry silk and 40% dehaired possum. What do I mean by dehaired possum?
Let me show you. Below is a staple of raw possum fibre – usually all of this goes into making possum yarn. There’s a soft, downy undercoat (that’s the whiter fur) as well as the outer coat fur. It is so soft and light that all you feel in your hand is softness and warmth. If you blow on it, it floats off your hand just like a dandelion puff.
Here’s a closer picture of the outer coat (the darker fur). You can see that it is just a little bit thicker than the pale undercoat fibres. It looks heavier than it actually is. This is because possum fur has a hollow core. This makes it exceedingly light, and very warm.
This is a regular possum yarn (merino/possum mix) that contains both the undercoat and the outer coat:
This is Air:
Can you see how Air is so much finer than the other possum yarn? There’s a gentle softness around the yarn, more of a haze. This photograph also manages to capture the inherently soft quality of the yarn.
I took these photos against the light so you can see just how soft the halo is:
See that very gentle halo around the knitting? See how the fibres have filled in the gaps between the lace, creating a very light, almost invisible haze?
A “dehairing” process has been developed by Woolyarns, which somehow separates the longer outer coat of the possum fur from the soft, downy undercoat. This undercoat is the fibre that has been blended into Air. Now, as I have just said, ordinary possum yarn is already very soft, and very warm, and not scratchy or itchy. However, Zealana has taken luxury to a new level by using only the finest, softest and warmest fibres from the possum – the undercoat – in Air.
To use Zealana’s words, their aim with this yarn is “To engineer a high-performance, light, and warm yarn blend that is as soft as 100% cashmere.” I do have a pure cashmere cardigan, and I compared the two for softness and found no difference at all. However, I would say that Zealana may even have surpassed its goal.
Air is a very appropriate name. This yarn is so light, and so airy. It is also incredibly warm, and so very, very, soft. It is very easily the softest yarn I have ever felt. Perhaps you may say it’s like cashmere, but I’d say that Zealana have cleverly engineered the exact floaty weight, warmth and feel of pure possum fur in a knitable format, without the denseness that the addition of wool normally contributes to the yarn.
How does this yarn present? It’s labelled a laceweight yarn. It’s not super fine though. I’d personally call it a light fingering weight. It comes as a 25g ball, and there are 191 yards, or 175 metres per ball.
There are currently four colours available: Charcoal (black), Tuscan Red, Slate Blue and Natural (the colour you see in this post). More information is available on Zealana’s website.
To give you an indication of suitable gauge, I used 4mm needles for the lace project below. You’ll want to drop down to a smaller needle for non-lace.
Look up Air on Ravelry and you will see that it has been treated as a light fingering by knitters – including in a very pretty Ishbel.
There’s a free fingerless glove pattern for this yarn by Nathalie O’Shea, using just one ball – the link to this pattern is here. It uses 2.75mm (US 2) needles. I also used 3.25mm (US 3) needles to knit another swatch, which produced a tension of 28 sts x 40 rows to 10cm, and feels fine for a non-lace project. I would say that you could use a needle range between 2.5mm and 4mm, depending on the project you have chosen.
Air‘s construction is very interesting. Most possum yarns I have seen so far have been spun using a form of felting to blend the wool and possum fibres together before plying two or three strands of single spun to create the yarn. This is not so for Air.
With great difficulty, I managed to prise a strand apart, and found that it’s a sophisticated cabled spin of 2 plys of 2 ply (ie four strands of yarn). As Zealana rightly claims, this yarn definitely has more than a bit of special about it. The resulting yarn is strong, with a lovely, rounded feel, and does not split during knitting. The fine fibres of possum, cashmere and silk have meshed during the plying process so that the strand does not separate even if you’re like me and have a tendency to twist the plies apart whilst knitting.
If you have knitted possum yarn before, you’ll also know that it blooms significantly during wet blocking, and indeed, it is important to block your possum projects as this is the final ‘finishing’ of your knitting, so to speak, when the softness in the yarn is fully enhanced and the yarn ‘set’ into final fabric form. As a last step, I soaked my sample in lukewarm water with a mild wool wash to see what it would do:
I can always tell how robust a yarn is when I block it. After soaking it and squeezing it in a towel to remove most of the water, I could shake this piece into shape, and spread it out, and it did not stretch or distort. It dried very quickly, and by this morning, it was dry. It’s a good yarn. Not only is it beautiful and a total sensory experience to knit and wear, but it will also perform very well.
The blooming is relatively minimal for this yarn, which is a good thing. To me, this yarn screams “lace”, and if it blooms too much, you’ll lose the stitch definition you need to show up the pretty stitches.
One of Zealana’s other claims is that this yarn is pill resistant. I did a pill test, rubbing it vigorously against jeans. And yes, there was no pilling at all. If you knitted this yarn into a cardigan, you might find some small fluff balls in the areas of major wear (like the underarms). However, you’ll be able to pick or brush those bits of fluff off, and the cardigan will look like new (just like you might with a pure cashmere cardigan).
Air is pricier than normal possum yarn. However, for that little bit of luxury, and that beautiful, floaty warmth, I’m beginning to think I may have to invest in a ball or two! Sigh. And I said I didn’t need any more yarn. Famous last words huh?
(Newer readers may not be familiar with my possum series in which I explain that the New Zealand brushtail possum is not the American opossum. It is a completely different animal. Have a look at the link for further information.)