I often get emails from knitters about to visit New Zealand, looking for advice on where to find New Zealand yarn. I love getting those emails! Keep them coming! It’s such a buzz to get a follow up email from the knitter after she has visited this country, thanking me for enhancing her S.E.X. (Stash Enhancement eXpedition). It’s quite a giggle to hear about groaning husbands and bulging suitcases. 😀 It makes writing this blog even more worthwhile. Thank you!
Lately the trend has been enquiries about possum yarn. The latest email (thanks Martina!) prompted me to think that it might be useful to try to do a summation of what’s out there in terms of this unique fibre and my experiences of knitting with the yarn, including pictures of projects I have completed in these yarns, which I hope may be helpful as an indicator of how it knits up.
On where to get possum yarn.
Most yarn stores in New Zealand stock some form of possum yarn these days. My yarn tour posts about the North Island and the South Island give some details on where to find these yarns. This is not an exhaustive list. There is also an excellent forum on Ravelry (New Zealand Yarn Shops Group) that contains more information. The yarn brands I mention below also have stockists listed on their websites – have a look for a yarn store closest to where you will be travelling!
A little bit of history.
Once upon a time, quite a few years ago, there were about two brands out there that sold possum yarn. They were basic mixes of 30% possum, 70% merino wool. The yarn was usually spun three ply, it came as a DK weight, and it was very nice and very warm, but there wasn’t much to differentiate the brands. Also, the yarn was often a little stiff – you had to wash it quite a few times before it fluffed up. And even then, it wasn’t quite the “same” as the merino possum garments in stores.
Here’s an example of one of these yarns. It’s actually made of recycled possum (manufacturing waste, pre-consumer). I wasn’t so sure about it when I first got it, but after having used the cowl I knitted in it a lot, I really like it. It has a denser quality to most possum yarns, and produces a different fabric texture that is at once squishy but has substance. I would like to see if I can find more of this brand, but I haven’t seen it for several years:
I believe Supreme was one of the first brands to create a “different” possum yarn: a four ply spin, merino/silk/possum blend that initially came in two weights – labelled 4 ply (fingering) and DK (although it’s actually a worsted weight). A third, 12 ply weight has since been added. It made the yarn feel and look exactly like the possum garments you bought in the shop! Lofty, so fluffy, so soft!
Then Woolyarns (major New Zealand mill) decided to launch its own brand, Zealana featuring a wide range of possum yarns, and variety was born!
Zealana’s launch and active presence in the US and in Europe definitely enhanced the global awareness of possum yarn. I believe this has also encouraged other yarn brands to launch their own possum yarn lines. There is quite a bit of variety out there now, although I would say that Zealana leads the pack in terms of the huge range of possum yarns and weights that they produce.
I’m pleased to see that possum yarns have now entered mainstream knitting choices, and is increasingly less of the oddity yarn that it once used to be.
It is interesting to note that although the fibre has been proven to be many times warmer than pure wool, possum yarns are not suffocatingly warm. Despite working with this yarn on a hot summer day, the natural properties of the possum yarn kept it cool in my lap. I kid you not! Possum yarn is even more “cool in summer, warm in winter” than pure wool!
As of the time of writing this post, I am aware of the following readily available New Zealand yarn brands that include possum in their range (in alphabetical order):
- John Q (house brand of the Knit World chain)
- Mohair Craft
- Naturally NZ
- The Wool Company
- Touch Yarns
I have not listed indie dyers who include possum yarn in their ranges mainly because this post is about yarn you can find in yarn stores (most indie dyers still sell online or at market events only).
Finally, a note about possum content: I understand that it is not possible to get 100% possum yarn. The fibres are too short to spin on their own. Any retailer who tries to sell you a 100% possum yarn is likely to be misled. Currently, the highest ratio of possum yarn is 40%. Any more than that, and the strength of the yarn is severely compromised.
And now to the yarns!
I struggled a bit with how to define all the different yarns out their in a concise manner, but I think by weight will be most sensible.
This is Zealana Air.
Air has a beautiful, gentle haze and is extremely soft – a blend of “dehaired” possum (40%), cashmere (40%) and silk (20%). It’s pure luxury to feel and knit with.
A completely different experience is Zealana Kiwi.
Its more like a wool/cotton blend in feel and in the way it knits up. It’s a heavy lace weight (40% merino, 30% cotton, 30% possum – 199m per 50g ball). It’s amazing that despite the 30% possum content, you can barely see the possum yarn, except that it makes its presence known in the form of a silky softness in the final knitted product and the fact that the yarn is very warm for its weight.
The laceweight by Skeinz I have not tried. It is 55% merino, 15% alpaca, 10% possum and 20% nylon. As I am not fond of nylon in yarn, I will not be trying this product personally. However, the factory shop is well worth visiting if you are up in Napier. It’s extra bag territory. Be warned! 😉
Zealana Rimu – Rimu is a traditional blend of 40% possum, 60% merino. There are two weights for this yarn – fingering and DK. The fingering comes in a 40g ball, with 153m per ball. I have not yet knitted with this weight as it has not been fully stocked at my local yarn store.
Zealana Kiwi fingering has the same properties as the laceweight Kiwi, but just heavier. I actually use it as a light DK weight. 124m per 40g ball.
You might remember the Autumnal Cardigan that I knitted in this yarn.
Here’s also the Woven Checks Gansey I knitted for my mother about four years ago, that still looks as good as new:
You can see that Kiwi is not at all fluffy.
Zealana Kauri is a beautiful blend of 30% possum, 60% merino and 10% silk. 153m per 40g ball. It’s a lofty yarn, with a beautiful lustre and drape. Perfect for shawls and hats.
Look at the shimmer of Kauri in the sunlight:
Supreme 4 ply: 40% possum, 50% merino and 10% silk, I have yet to knit a garment in this weight.
Waikiwi – the jury is still out on this yarn for me. It’s a New Zealand sock yarn that contains 55% NZ Merino, 20% Nylon, 15% Alpaca, 10% Possum. It should be lovely. The available colours are gorgeous. I’ve got a couple of balls in my stash. Every so often I pull them out and think I should knit them into socks. But the noticeable squeak of the nylon under my fingers makes me put them straight back in the bag… Others love this yarn. It’s an entirely personal experience. You can find Waikiwi in most yarn stores around the country. It’s a brand by Naturally.
John Q Earth Ware Sock – This is one example of a recycled possum yarn that is readily available (85% recycled possum merino blends, 15% nylon). John Q is Knit World‘s house brand. I have a couple of balls but have not knitted with it yet. It feels good, despite having 15% nylon in it. I like its gently heathered tones. I definitely have socks in mind for this yarn.
Touch Yarns (in most yarn stores around the country – stockist list here) does a possum blend (60% merino, 30% possum, 10% nylon). At approx 420m per 100g, it’s more like a sport weight yarn. It works well for socks as there is nylon in it for durability (without being obviously ‘nylon’). I’ve only ever knitted the grey that you see in the picture below – this link shows you what’s available – there’s a nice range of colours in both solid and hand-dyed. My yarn made a pair of fine fingerless gloves that look great and wear beautifully. The only mystery to me is the price – the website price is reasonable. The price I have seen it for in stores is not. I will try to order some directly if I can, the next time I want to buy this yarn.
Zealana Rimu. 128m/50g ball. 40% possum, 60% merino. It is similar to other standard possum yarns. It comes in a delightfully wide range of colours. Highly recommended.
In Auckland, there is a shop called Mohair Craft which stocks a possum merino cashmere blend. This is it:
Very light, very soft, a DK weight. I designed my Quilted cowl in this yarn. It’s one of the lighter possum-content yarns at 20% possum, 20% cashmere and 60% merino. You can see its haze and softness against a pure wool cardigan. It is less fluffy than most possum yarns, and the cashmere has added even more softness and lightness to the yarn. It’s delightful!
Travellers who drive through the North Island will inevitably end up on SH1. This will take them through the Central Plateau, home to one of my favourite yarn meccas – The Wool Company, based on the side of the highway, in Utiku about 5 minutes drive from Taihape.
The Wool Company stocks 4 ply 100% merino, 8 ply 100% Corriedale wool and possum merino. (A short note in case you are a regular reader and confused: the pure wool used to be Perendale, but it seems there was a recent switch to Corriedale instead).
The possum merino yarn is my “go to” for everyday DK/light worsted knitting because it’s one of the more economical possum yarns out there, and it performs very well. It’s the traditional blend of 30% possum, 70% merino. It is also remarkably durable (unless you’re going to do something abusive to it like knit boot socks). Here’s the Striped Cardigan (pattern by Debbie Bliss) that I knit last year for my niece using this possum merino yarn:
As well as a vast assortment of mittens and hats. I won’t show them all to you here.
I have also seen a possum yarn from Shepherd in yarn stores. I have to say that I do not recommend this yarn because it is very expensive for what it is. It is only 15% possum, and yet priced like one of the higher content yarns. I do not support the pricing model on this one.
If you are after a bulk amount of “naked” possum (ie natural colour), then this deal by Skeinz is worth looking at. Again, this is a 15% possum content, and if I remember what I have seen of it, it is not as soft and snuggly as the higher content possum yarns that you have seen above. However, if you want high stitch definition, and only just a small amount of possum presence, this might be the yarn for you.
Zealana Heron and Kauri. Ooooh, so soft.
Kauri – see the description under ‘Fingering’ for Kauri, only this is a 10ply/heavy worsted weight. It’s extremely soft, quite fluffy and really lovely to work with. 86m/50g ball.
Zealana Heron is a 2 ply spin that looks like a single spun. Lovely heathered shades, very lofty yarn. It’s 20% possum, 80% merino which means that despite its lofty spin, it still has the strength of wool to make it great for anything: sweaters or jackets, hats, cowls, or mittens! The best thing in my opinion is that because of the possum content, it is pill resistant! I traditionally shy away from single-spun type wool because it rubs after a while, and creates unsightly pills that are very difficult to separate from the garment without harming the fabric. This yarn does not do that.
I knitted my daughter the Garter-Stitch Boyfriend Cardi in Heron:
My Steampunk mittens.
The Evelyn cowl.
Also in this category of worsted weight, I would add Supreme, despite its 8 ply label.
Supreme has silk in it too (40% possum, 50% merino and 10% silk). It has the same fluff as Kauri worsted. The difference between the two is that Supreme is a lighter weight than Kauri – more like a true worsted. Supreme is spun 4 ply, which has given the yarn more spring and bounce and lightness than Kauri, which is a 3 ply, and a slightly heavier yarn.
Supreme is stocked in a lot of yarn stores. There is a stockist list on their website.
The Market Jacket in Supreme:
Naturally NZ used to manufacture a worsted weight called Karamea. It is no longer listed on their website, so I assume it is now discontinued?
Zealana Tui. This is a 12/14 ply weight. It is like Heron in its spin – a two ply that looks like a single spun (so it’s nicely balanced), but Tui has also been designed to have a slightly handspun look with gently thick/thin yarn. There is a lovely halo around this yarn, but it’s not what you would call fluffy. I LOVE working with it. 111m per 100g ball.
Again, because of the possum content, you do not get nasty rubbed pills with this yarn. The tiny fluffy balls that sometimes appear sit on top of the possum fibres in areas of heavy friction are very easily brushed off without any harm to the fabric.
You might remember the Clasica Coat I knitted a couple of years ago:
It still looks as gorgeous as the day I finished it. I hope we get some decent winter weather this year so I can wear it!!
Supreme also makes a 12 ply weight – see their website for colours and detail. It is an amazing 100m/50g ball – great meterage! I have not yet knitted with this yarn, but I would assume that it is just as lovely as the 8 ply that I am currently knitting.
The only other chunky possum yarn I know of is Wooli. I have never yet seen it in stock, but as it’s still online, I assume that Nikki Gabriel must be planning to continue to make it. I have seen blog posts from others that rave about this yarn. One day I will get me some!! If you are visiting Napier, her shop seems like a nice one to visit.
Ok, that’s about it folks! I can’t promise this is an exhaustive list, but I do believe it captures most of what’s on offer. I hope this has given you some information about what kinds of possum yarns you can find in New Zealand, and where.
If you have knitted with possum yarn, please do leave a comment and let us know what your experiences were like knitting with it, and where you got it – so that others can find it too! Thank you.