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Putting my two cents in.

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Location: Belmont, New Hampshire, United States

Born and bred in a small New England town, I am convinced that I know something about everything, and that my opinion matters. If only to me. Well, you'll see what I mean. And I love to knit, so you'll see what kind of things I'm doing when I should be vacuuming the living room.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Everything You Wanted to Know About Possum Yarn

...but were afraid to ask!

Nessa wants to know "I heard once that someone made some yarn out of possum fur. Given how violently opposed possums are to being handled, how do they GET the possum fur to be spun into yarn?"

Easy Nessa, THEY KILL THEM.

No, really, they do. But these aren't the US opossums that we in the states are familiar with. The possums they make into yarn are a rather pesky nuisance.

Read all about it!

What is possum yarn?
Possum yarn is a natural fibre derived from the fur of the New Zealand Possum. Every year, the New Zealand government spends around NZ$50 million culling this animal. Until 1997, the carcases were incinerated. However, by 1998, new techniques had been developed, and the result was the rich sumptuous fibre which underpins our yarns and our knitwear. Even today, all possum fibre is recovered from culled pelts. No animals are killed simply to produce possum fibre.

Why is there an annual cull?
The New Zealand Possum, despite its name, is not native to New Zealand. It was introduced to the islands by a group of businessmen in the last quarter of the 19th century. Their aim was to farm Australian Brush Tailed Possums for the Empire’s fur trade, and they captured and imported around a hundred animals for this purpose. The Australian Brush Tailed Possum has one of the softest furs in the world, and they probably felt assured of success. Unfortunately for them, their tanning skills were poor. The process they used caused the fur to fall out. As a result, their business failed. Their final act was to release the remaining animals into the New Zealand countryside. Now, the country is home to 3.5 million people, 50 million sheep - and 90 million possums. To date, this animal is responsible for 70% of all New Zealand’s extinctions, and every single night tucks into eggs, young chicks and around 21,500 tonnes of fresh new shoots and leaves. Ironically, due to the cooler climate, the New Zealand Possum now boasts a fur coat considerably thicker and more luxurious than its Australian ancestor.

Why has the Possum been so destructive?
Before the coming of Europeans, New Zealand had no hunting mammals; no cats, dogs, badgers or foxes. Instead, its forests, islands and mountains were home to what was then the largest variety of birdlife on the planet. Without predators, these birds largely nested on the ground. Early reports suggest that they were so trusting that, if a bird was shot, others would remain standing around in confusion, rather than run away. This was the countryside into which the Possum, sharp of tooth and long of claw, was released. The result was an avian apocalypse.

What is so special about Possum fibres?
The fibres which make up a Possum’s fur are hollow, a characteristic which they share with only one other animal; the Polar Bear. Ironically, although both animals have evolved to live at opposite climate extremes, in order to survive, both need to control heat. While the ice bound Polar Bear uses hollow fibres to trap heat, the Brush Tailed Possum uses the same means to dispel the burning heat of Australia’s deserts. The fibres are too short to make yarn by themselves, but we make use of their remarkable adaptive ability by blending them with other high quality natural yarns such as merino lambs wool and silk which act as carriers or frameworks. The resulting garment displays all of Possum’s best qualities; exquisite softness, a tendency to feel cool in warm weather, to feel warm in cold, and to dry quickly after rain showers.



These are American Opossums, by the way. Not killed for fur, but good eatin' in a stew, depending on where y'all hail from.



Now, Nessa, aren't you glad you asked!

In non-fur knitting news, I finished a cotton toddler sweater I started eons ago but didn't like once I got to the armpits. Yesterday I frogged the bit I didn't like and started over, adding bands of color with eyelets and bobbles. I'm not sure cotton yarn does a bobble justice, but I don't hate the effect enough to go back and change it.

I still have a crapload of Shine Sport left and I think I'm going to make a tank top for one of the girls. Don't know which girl yet, but I think the Bug is due for a new handknit from Mama, since Bobo got the multi-colored merino one.

And I know I said I'd take pictures of the fingerless mittens today when they were washed, but the weather is not conducive to drying today, so I may wait for the next sunny day to come around again.

Here's hoping it's not in July.

5 Comments:

Blogger Bezzie said...

Now wait a minute!! Caribou fur is hollow too! It helps insulate them from the cold and get this, it keeps them buoyant when crossing rivers. Ha ha! I'm gonna go knit me a caribou yarn life jacket with possom trim!!!
I grew up on Caribou Avenue. In Alaska it's required you learn about what animal your street is named after. I always felt bad for the kids on Wombat Boulevard.

11:40 AM  
Blogger bradyphrenia said...

thanks for the lowdown on possum yarn. it was fascinating. the thought of wearing a possum garment still freaks me out though--no matter how nice the yarn is.

12:45 PM  
Anonymous Cole said...

I am still a little "green" in the area where a lot of fibers come from so this post was very interesting to me. I never knew that possum fur was used in yarn. Thanks for the information!

2:43 PM  
Blogger Penny Karma said...

Did you make that shit up? That's just icky.

Bezz, get a job as the person who scoops possum carcass off the highway - and then you'll always have yarn.

5:12 PM  
Anonymous Jenneke said...

Good story about the possums. I always wondered how possum fur was 'harvested'. I might try some Possum yarn one day. It sounds good for a nice warm sweater.

greatings Jenneke

6:58 AM  

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