Sunday, May 2, 2010

What a Yarn - Knit & Crochet Blog Week Day 7

What a Yarn

There’s one love that we all share: yarn. Blog about a particular yarn you have used in the past or own in your stash, or perhaps one that you covet from afar. If it is a yarn you have used you could show the project that you used it for, perhaps writing a mini ‘review’. Perhaps, instead, you pine for the feel of the almost mythical qiviut? You could explore and research the raw material and manufacturing process if you were feeling investigative.

I've enjoyed all of the week's topics, but this subject was the only one that I knew immediately what I was going to write about. My copilot and I honeymooned in New Zealand last August, land of 10 sheep for every person (Score! Also, I feel like I have a few new readers. Here's where the whole copilot thing originated.). At the first B & B where we stayed, our hosts let us know that it would get below freezing at night, but assured us that we could snuggle under the warm blanket of possum fur. We exchanged a look. In the states, what we refer to as a 'possum' is the Virgina Opossum, and it looks like this:

Eep! & Eww.

Those suckers are mean, stupid, and their fur isn't particularly nice. The blanket we found waiting in our room, however, was brown and wonderfully soft. The plot thickens. We found out the next day on a nature hike that what Kiwis call 'possums' are not even in the opossum family, but are these adorable buggers:

From Eww to Aww!

Don't let that cute face fool you, though. These guys were introduced to New Zealand but European settlers to try to start up a fur trade, but when the popularity of fur waned, the population exploded. They're scavengers who will eat just about anything, including native NZ plants and wildlife; they're also carriers for tuberculosis. Since 1996, the government has encouraged clothing manufacturers to incorporate possum fur into their fabrics. The incarnation we encountered was called merinomink, but also goes under the monikers of eco-possum, possumdown, eco fur or possum wool. It's wonderfully soft and very warm. The fur fibers are hollow (unlike sheep's wool), so the fabric produced is surprisingly light.

We were lucky enough to run across the home base of a yarn company, Touch Yarns while passing through a tiny town in Central Otago. The proprietor informed us that they are the only producers in the world of wool-possum blend yarn. I proceeded to wander around the shop, fondling all the gorgeous hand-painted (and also reasonably priced) yarn. Behold a sample:

Ahh, lovely.

This was transformed into this. A little tippet scarf for a friend. I made one for my mom as well, they both reported back that they always get compliments when they wear them!

While we were in the shop, we had a close encounter with a real live kiwi trapper. I was browsing around, my copilot was trying to look interested, and a rustic looking dude came in with a big, full burlap sack. The proprietor came out to meet him, and exclaimed "Oh great! I can show you what we start with!" to my copilot and me. She went in the back and we eyed the bag dubiously. "Are the....corpses in there?" I asked. He looked a little uncomfortable and replied "Well, just the fur. We leave the rest. Tastes awful, but something will enjoy it." He showed us the furs, and the proprietor came back and showed us how they worked the fibers. Awesome...I've still got a little bit left, and I can't bring myself to use it.

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  1. Wow, that's so cool! I tried to see what the other colours are but the website doesn't have great pics, which is kind of a bummer. Cool looking yarn though! :)

  2. You learn somethinhg new everyday! I wish I could touch that lovely yarn

  3. Cute little scavenger. I think alpaca is a hollow fiber also, making it light and very warm.

  4. That's a cute little animal. That's a very interesting story behind the gorgeous yarn.

  5. You're right. They are much cuter in NZ. Yikes! I almost jumped out of my chair when I scrolled down and saw the first possum.

  6. Hello AC,
    Unfortunately reading through your comments regarding Touch Yarns, you have been grossly misinformed. The Central Otago Mill that produces Touch yarn is one of three mills in New Zealand that produce Possum/Merino yarns and they are probably the smallest. A Woollen spinner called Woolyarns in Lower Hutt is the largest and produces a Handknitting brand called Zealana. Woolyarns pioneered the product over 15 years ago and supply most of the New Zealand market in hosiery and apparel. There hand knitting brand Zealana is reasonably new and is available in NZ, USA, Canada and Europe.

  7. I was wondering if anyone would write about possum yarn... Still not convinced! :P