The acquisition of some Zealana Tui for my Clasica Coat made me think about possum yarns. And it occurred to me that there are actually quite a few New Zealand brands that produce possum yarns. I have had varying experiences with them. Some of the yarn I’ve acquired is soft, cuddly and exactly like what you’d get in a possum garment that you purchase. Other possum yarns have been a tiny bit scratchy, weak, or over-fluffy.
Possum fur is a very short, fine fibre. You cannot spin it into a yarn on it own. It must be blended with a fibre that acts as a binder. This is without exception so far, merino. Some yarn producers also add small quantities of other fibre into the mix, including nylon, silk and alpaca.
The mill that produces a vast proportion of possum yarn in New Zealand is Woolyarns, although all three major mills have spun yarns with it for their clients. In my opinion, Woolyarns does it best, having appeared to have perfected the technology to produce a yarn that holds the possum fibres in the yarn, produces a lovely angora-like halo and retains the strength of wool.
Some readers may need a small explanation about why I am supporting a fur yarn. Kiwi readers will know all about it. In short, possums (brushtail possums) are a pest import from Australia – the end-result of a foolish attempt by early European settlers to establish a fur industry in New Zealand. Unfortunately, the responsible individuals weren’t very good at producing quality fur skins, so the operation failed. And instead of destroying the remaining possums, they let them loose into the bush, with disastrous consequences – in the absence of natural predators, and the run of New Zealand rich in plant and bird life, these possums very quickly multiplied. Their numbers are now estimated to be anywhere between 30 – 70 million. They cause extensive damage to the entire cycle of the eco-system, eating birds’ eggs and nestlings, invertebrates, as well as fruit, flowers and plants. They are also said to be responsible for the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
One way to control these pests is to use their fur, which is incredibly warm. The thermal properties of merino and possum combined, create projects that are much more windproof and warm than wool alone. The fur also prevents the wool from pilling, so you get a fabulous garment that stays nice looking.
I’ve listed below the brands that I know of that carry possum blend yarns. It’s interesting that there is a bit of variety in the composition of the yarn. That itself lends a different character to each.
The Wool Company, (Utiku) 30% possum, 70% merino, 100g ball, 8 ply, (DK or light worsted), 220 metres.
Touch Yarns, 30% possum, 60% merino, 10% nylon, 100g hank, no ply specified, but recommended needles are 3.75mm (a visual and “feel” comparison with other 4 ply makes me think this could be a 5/6 ply weight, sport or light DK), 420 metres.
Supreme Possum Merino, 40% possum, 50% merino, 10% silk, 50g ball, 4 ply and 8 ply available, 210 metres in the 4 ply ball.
Millspun, 40% possum, 60% merino, 50g ball, 8 ply, knits as DK or light worsted, 125 metres.
- Rimu, 40% possum, 60% merino, 50g ball, available as 4 ply (fingering) or 8 ply (DK, light worsted) weight, 128 metres in the 8 ply ball.
- Tui, 15% possum, 70% merino, 15% cashmere, 100g ball, 12 ply, knits as chunky. 111 metres.
- Kiwi, 30% possum, 40% merino, 30% organic cotton, 40g ball, 2 ply or 4 ply, lace or fingering weight. 198 metres in the 2 ply, 136 metres in the 4 ply.
- Kauri, 30% possum, 60% merino, 10% silk, 40g ball, 4 ply, fingering, sport or baby weight, 153 metres. Also available as a 10 ply, or worsted weight.
- 2020, 20% possum, 80% merino, 50g ball, 8 ply, (DK or light worsted) and 12 ply (chunky). 130 metres in the 8 ply and 66 metres in the 12 ply. (I don’t think this yarn is available in New Zealand yet).
- Karamea, 10% possum, 75% merino, 15% alpaca, 50g ball, 8 ply or DK weight, 104 metres.
- Waikiwi, 10% possum, 20% nylon, 15% alpaca, 55% merino, 50g ball, 4 ply, or sock weight, 181 metres.
Jamie Possum, 20% possum, 80% merino lambs’ wool, 50g ball, 4 ply (fingering) and 8 ply (DK), 200 metres in the 4 ply ball.
Merino Possum, 35% possum, 50% merino, 15% nylon, 50g ball, 8 ply (DK), 160 metres.
So far, my experience is limited to Merino Possum, The Wool Company and Zealana’s Tui and Kiwi. But over the next few weeks, I’ll be knitting with each of the above yarns and will write about my experiences with them.
Of my current experiences:
Merino Possum is a funny one. It’s produced by WEFT Industries, and I’ve only ever found it in the Bay of Plenty area (Tauranga and Napier). It’s not your typical fluffy possum yarn. In fact, it’s not fluffy at all. The finished project was positively ‘crisp’! You need to give it a good wash to soften the fibres, and before the fluff begins to appear. I’ve knitted two scarves with this. The yarn was a bit weak, and broke if I pulled too hard, which happened a couple of times. I guess the spinning process needs some improvement. Here’s a close-up of one of the scarves:
It knits to a tension of 22 sts x 30 rows on 4mm needles. I’m ambivalent as to whether I’d buy it again given the weakness factor, but the colours are very nice, and if you do want a possum yarn that isn’t overly fluffy, this is a good choice. The blocking process seemed to help bind things together a bit more – the resultant project became much more agreeable, and soft. It’s times like these that I think I’d really like to enrol in a commercial spinning course, as I’d love to know more about how yarn is produced (and no, hand-spinnng is not the same thing to me!)
I believe the The Wool Company’s merino possum is spun by Woolyarns. It’s meant to be 8 ply, knitting up 20 sts x 30 rows on 4mm needles. However, you could happily knit with 4.5mm needles for this yarn. It’s quite a “chunky” DK. I got 12 wraps per inch in it, which according to standard knitting lore means that it’s actually worsted, or a 10 ply weight. Knitting a sample in 4.5mm needles, I got a very pleasing fabric with 18 sts x 28 rows per 10cm.
My project in this yarn, Fleet, by Kim Hargreaves, is my standard cold day pullover.
This pullover was my constant companion last winter, but it hasn’t pilled at all. I love it so much that I’ve got another garment lot of yarn sitting around waiting to be made up into something… when I get around to it! I really should knit a pullover for my little boy in it too. It’s the yarn you expect to buy when you think of possum. Fluffy, soft, and cuddly. And it comes in such lovely colours!
These are some of last year’s colours – there are more. See this link if you’d like to view the current range.
In terms of Zealana, so far, I’ve knitted with the fingering weight of Kiwi, and as you know, I’m also knitting the Clasica Coat in Tui. I’m loving every minute… it’s soooo yummy! I’ll talk more about Zealana in my next post on this subject.
In the meantime, I leave you with more pretty possum: