This is a Common Brushtail Possum, of the sort native to Australia. Marsupials are not exactly the kind of critter we think to invite into a yarn stash. But looks don’t tell all. This possum was introduced to New Zealand by European settlers in 1837. They thought it would be nifty to start up a fur industry with a non-native species. There are no possum predators in New Zealand. Since then, possums have achieved serious pest status in New Zealand, both from a conservation standpoint and because of the agricultural damage they cause.
So it’s all out war on the possums in New Zealand. That’s where us knitters come in, though certainly it’s not a concept without some controversy. My way of thinking about it is that these possums are being trapped and killed and if we can get some good out of their sad story I’m in favor of it. I draw the line at learning to knit with yarn made out of Cane Toads, but possums I’m OK with. Hand plucking is the best way to avoid destroying the buoyancy of the hollow fur shafts. When possum pelts are properly handled, the fur can be successfully spun with merino wool. The yarn that results is super soft, resists pilling, has a slight halo, and has wonderful heat retention qualities.
The first time I knit with possum was the last time: the now discontinued Furlana. It was 30% possum, 70% merino wool. It was hard to find in the states. But the yarn was wonderful to work with. It had a little problem that I’m sure the industry has licked by now. Until you gave the yarn a thorough bath it stunk something awful when it got wet. My son was about 7 when he came in from the snow and we had to wash the hat, as well as his hair. But I’m thinking of helping out the New Zealander’s conservation effort by trying possum yarn again soon. There are some great yarns, spun with as high a possum content as 40%. Check out Supreme Possum Merino, or Touch Yarns. Or if you are in a hurry to try possum fibre, check out the ready-made lines at Merinomink or New Zealand Nature.
Here are my hats knit in Furlana. Still being worn, still warm, about 12 years after I knit them.