It all started when I went for a visit to Pirinoa Station in the Wairarapa where my daughter, son in law and three grandchildren live.
Jono aged 12, and his friend Ben were setting traps for possums at night and clearing the traps early in the morning. I heard about the value of the possum fur and how much pocket money the boys were hoping to earn. Everybody in New Zealand knows that the Brushtail possum is an introduced pest that systematically destroys large areas of native forest and subsequently bird life. Possums need to be eliminated. It is a bonus that the fur is a product that can be used.
As a yarn producer, it dawned upon me that maybe I could buy the fur from the boys at the market rate and use it in a yarn. My yarns have been made by Graham and Jacqui McLaughlin at Wild Earth Yarns in Christchurch for 6 years.
Planning the Yarn.
Graham assured me that that he would be able to make a woollen spun yarn that would secure the fine possum fur fibres. We decided that 15% would be a good amount of possum to blend with the merino cross wool. Jono and Ben didn’t have enough, so I approached a buyer in Timaru who was able to provide the additional amount. The market rate on the day was $140 + GST per kg. Ouch!!!
Preparing the Fibre
I had to wash the fibre and get it dry before taking it to the mill – not exactly something I’d be keen to repeat. Possum fur is dirty and smelly, and not that easy to get dry after washing. Graham and I decided to make a DK weight yarn and include 10% natural coloured Polwarth wool which I already had for my Rough Ridge yarns.
The final blend was to be 75% white merino cross wool, 15% possum and 10% coloured Polwarth.
I left Graham to work his magic and after several weeks received word that the yarn was ready.
The Excitement of Collecting the new Yarn
It happened that Jane, a young French “wwoofer” was staying at our house to help out and learn about my work. Jane and I drove 2 hours to Christchurch to collect the yarn which was in 500g hanks ready to be washed and dyed. I couldn’t wait to get it home and try it out. It was late when we arrived back. Jane took photos of the opening of the bale of yarn in the darkened garage.
The next week was all about experimentation. It was great to find out that the fabric was very soft and quite drapey for a woollen spun yarn, and that 100g was about 260m!
Naming the Yarn and Choosing Colours
We decided that the yarn would be named “Save the Trees”. I’ve dyed several colours and given them names of native flora: Tarata (lemonwood) – green, Horopito (Pepper tree) – dusky pink, Harakeke (flax) – pale aqua, Lacebark – light grey, Kowhai – yellow, and Mahoe blue/purple. The natural undyed colour is a creamy/fawn.
The first thing I knitted with the yarn was a cosy hat each for the two young possum trappers to wear late at night when they are setting the traps and in the morning when they retrieve the possums.
Best Use of a Possum Blend Yarn
Do you know somebody who always feels cold? A woollen spun yarn containing possum fibre is super warm. Make them a hat and some mitts, or a cosy wrap.
I think a full fitting garment would be too warm for most active people and for children, unless the garment was loose fitting like a poncho or a wrap, or without sleeves like a vest.
“Save The Trees” is listed as a ravelry yarn. Have a look at it here: https://www.ravelry.com/yarns/library/maniototo-wool-save-the-trees
At the time of writing this blog the possum yarns are not yet listed in the website SHOP. You can email me at email@example.com to order it. The yarn is $35 per 100g. I look forward to your responses.