Give Possum a Try and Knit for New Zealand!

I think most people living in the U.S. would agree, the possum is not an animal that springs to mind when they think of a source for either fiber or food. (Pic source)

I have seen many a possum in my life and until recently had no idea there is more than one kind of possum (103+ species). Nor did I know possums are destroying New Zealand’s ecology! My education started a few weeks ago, and I have learned a lot.

En route to the Sierra Nevada mountains, my fiber pal Summer and I stopped at Filati Fine Yarns in Rocklin, California (an amazing button selection there, by the way), where my fingers touched a wonderful fiber. I picked it up and saw the label read “Rimu” by Zealana. My eyes were drawn to the small print: 60% New Zealand merino, 40% possum. In my mind’s eye I saw a possum peering at me from behind a garbage container in the dark and was stunned. Well of course I just had to buy the yarn.

As I walked to the counter, the clerk hurried to inform me that the possum isn’t “ordinary” possum but, rather, New Zealand possum. She said it in such a way I thought it was some sort of southern hemisphere exotic marsupial. I like to know what I’m knitting with, so I did a little reading.

The Common Brushtail Possum (pic source) of New Zealand is not exotic. Indigenous to Australia, it was introduced for pelt and food in the first half of the 19th century by European colonists/settlers.  Today New Zealand’s possum population is estimated to be over 30 million! In New Zealand, it has no natural enemies and is, at best, considered a pest. At worst, it has been extremely destructive to the ecological balance and environment of New Zealand and, further, carries bovine tuberculosis. (Read more about this problem at New Zealand’s Department of Conservation).  According to Wikipedia, its fur has been used commercially in clothing since 1996 and is also used to trim jackets and make gloves.

I mentioned this to New Zealand blogger ordinarygoodness, who confirmed that this possum preys on native trees, plants and unique bird life of her country. She is pleased that fiber folks can make good (very good) use of the possum fur!

I admit I wondered if the fur we are knitting from comes from a possum ranch in New Zealand. (Yes, I hear the snorts and howls of laughter from our southern hemisphere bloggers.) I suggested to Thor perhaps we should look into it. (He was not supportive of the idea.) No, they are not ranch raised; the fur made into yarn comes from the wild-caught possums.

As this animal is ecologically devastating to New Zealand, I think our knitting and crocheting with Rimu is our small contribution to helping New Zealand’s ecology. (I am sticking to that story when Thor sees my possum yarn cache. 🙂 If you haven’t yet worked with possum, give it a try!

Karen Berthine, now a devotee of possum fur!

P.S. Did you know that the Virginia (O)possum was once widely hunted and consumed as food in the U.S. and that it is still a popular food in Dominica, Grenada, and Trinidad!? (If you are served manicou and think it tastes like rabbit or chicken, you’ve got yourself a plate of possum.) The tails are eaten in Mexico to improve fertility; look for “tlacuache” or “tlaquatzin.” I was curious whether Americans (in the state of Virginia or otherwise) still eat possum. Apparently they do. Take a peek at The Possum Cookbook. (I have a hunch that Thor may start closely inspecting dinner for a while!)

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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35 Responses to Give Possum a Try and Knit for New Zealand!

  1. Pingback: Returned to Sock Knitting | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  2. Pingback: KIP | The Sweaty Knitter, Weaver and Devotee of Other Fiber Arts

  3. I am more comfortable with that cook book being at joke-level than a “real” cookbook … but food choices are so culturally embedded I wasn’t sure … 🙂

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  4. Thank you for sharing these sites! I’ll visit them soon!

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  5. Brian says:

    Glad you have found a love for this Eco friendly product!

    Two sites I think might be of interest.. One as it sells mohair yarn, the other as it sells possum clothing.. Not quite on the mark but maybe they’ll get some possum yarn soon!

    http://www.mohair.co.nz
    http://www.nzpossummerino.com

    Happy knitting!

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  6. Okay, I didn’t think of the “snarling” part … now I’m REALLY laughing at the imagery!

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  7. caityrosey says:

    Possum curling. Makes me giggle. A snarling, furry ball careening across an ice rink.

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  8. Whoa – that must have been one angry (or rabid?!) possum. Usually they’re not aggressive (at least from what I read). I agree; they’re not the animal that comes to mind when you think of a warm and cuddly animal you could keep on you lap and brush! (The possum fur spun into yarn comes from the trapped and dead animals.)

    Sent from my iPad

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  9. Curls & Q says:

    A few years ago I purchased opossum yarn in natural, red and blue. Very soft! I love the halo around the yarn. Good info.

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  10. caityrosey says:

    What springs to mind when I think of knitting with possum fur is: I don’t want to die, thanks. One of those bit off the end of a broom handle once. Can’t imagine getting close enough to retrieve any fur. It might get some of mine, though.

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  11. ordinarygood says:

    Here is a link to Possum stew in amongst a raft of iconic New Zealand favourites.
    http://www.kiwianatown.co.nz/kiwiana-recipes.html

    And for a raft of wild foods at the annual West Coast NZ festival ( hugely popular) go here and see what we can eat “down under” when the global food shortage bites harder…
    http://www.notquitenigella.com/2010/03/25/worm-sushi-huhu-grubs-grasshoppers-hokitika-wild-foods-festival-new-zealand/

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  12. Not knowing if I am qualified to speak for the Commonwealth of Virginia (After-all, I was transplanted here from Wisconsin when I was just 2 years old.), I will venture to answer your question. Let me also state that I live in relatively urban Northern Virginia, which some Southern Virginians have been known to say is really part of Washington, DC, I have heard of country folk, in Virginia and in West Virginia eating ‘Possum during hard times, but have not heard of anyone so indulging in recent times. But then I had not heard of Opossum yarn either. With so much unemployment, perhaps Possum eating will resume. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Possum Cookbook is a joke, also including recipes for road-kill groundhog.

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  13. “Possum” is just the colloquial version of “opossum.” I think we’re so used to the former, that if we said “opossum,” people would think we were callin in a pet for dinner – “Oh, Possum!”

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  14. That first guy looks a right riot. I didn’t know that a possum’s fur could be made into yarn, very curious. Like bananas, I guess. (I swear I heard of that recently). I’ve never worked out the difference between a possum and an opossum. Nor I am sure where an Old Possum comes into it. They look very different to each other in your photos though, one’s fairly cute even (it’s not the first one). 😉

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  15. ordinarygood says:

    Perhaps there could be a line of curling “stone” covers made from possum skin?

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  16. ordinarygood says:

    And wait here is another great website :http://www.merinopossum.co.nz/index.htm It contains some technical detail about the history of the yarn and why possum works.

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  17. 🙂 The Humane Society would probably get involved.

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  18. ordinarygood says:

    Zealana website here with lots of information:http://zealana.co.nz/index.php
    The Wool Company website here:http://www.thewoolcompany.co.nz/Products5.aspx?CategoryId=5
    Not just soft but very, very warm too! I have possum fur socks, handwarmers and there is a family member here with a yummy possum zip up cardigan…..snuggly and as you say it reduces the pest to our precious eco-system:-))

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  19. ordinarygood says:

    Possum “curling” on the ice could be a new twist for those in the deep south of our country, at this time of the year. Curling is popular for those in the area where the lake freezes over. Not here where I live thank goodness.

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  20. Clearly if I ever visit New Zealand I will need to bring an extra suit case for yarn …

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  21. I read “possum culling” in your reply as “possum curling” and had a quick image of a possum flying across the ice. 🙂

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  22. I got mine at Filati Yarns in Rocklin, California, and I saw it at Anna’s Yarn Shop in Elk Grove, California. Are you in the US? See blogger ordinarygood responses to this post for other ideas. Also try The Yarn Sisters in Colorado – http://theyarnsisters.com/ … and Cambria Yarn in California http://www.cambriayarn.com.

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  23. minaandme says:

    I’ve heard of possum yarn before when another blog friend of mine from New Zealand did a post proclaiming the glories of using the very soft possum fibers. Good for the needles and good for the environment. That’s my kind of yarn! I would LOVE to use Zealana but I’ve never seen it anywhere and don’t know if I can order it online. Any suggestions?
    ~Lacey

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  24. ordinarygood says:

    There are various and vigorous initiatives to reduce possum numbers and to establish sanctuaries to protect the native species.
    As possum fur becomes even more popular to both knit and buy ready made products possum culling will become a bigger industry,
    See here for a wide range of ready to buy possum goodies:
    http://www.nzpossummerino.com/

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  25. ordinarygood says:

    Rabbits are an even bigger pest here in NZ. They ruin our precious grass growth and burrow into the soil.
    Clever NZers have combined possum, merino and cashmere: http://www.mohair.co.nz/shop/POSSUMMERINOCASHMERE+BLEND.html More divine yarn.

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  26. Rabbits aren’t indigenous to New Zealand either? Oh dear. And I think you’ve hit on a good mix: possum, angora and a wool would be a good combination. Know anyone at Zealana you could suggest this to?! 🙂

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  27. New Zealand’s experience is a great (but tragic) example of what can happen when people introduce non-native species into an environment. That’s happened in the U.S. of course too … I know several lakes and rivers have had problems because people have “stocked” it with non-native species which eventually – either because it eats a food supply or carries a pest – adversely affects the native species!

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  28. The Brush Tail possum is cuter, I think, than its U.S. possum cousins. If you see some wool-possum yarn, give it a chance. It’s pretty nice!

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  29. Oh, I didn’t mean to startle anyone … or their cats! My daughter said she had heard of people eating possum; I hadn’t. Having seen enough of those critters scurry around at night does not make me interested in tasting them. Yarn from their fur is lovely, though!

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  30. I’ve never heard of knitting with cat fur! Have you tried it? A friend of mine spun the hair of her dad’s dog and then knit him a lap robe from it.

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  31. Fascinating. I’ve seen a few books about knitting with cat fur!

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  32. That first picture nearly leaped off the screen at me when I was scrolling through my blog reader. I think I may have scared the cat – what a startling thing to see unannounced! I know people do still eat (Virginia) possum out in the mountains west of here, but locally we tend to see them more as pests that get into the trash and are aggressive toward small pets. I have not yet been lucky enough to knit with New Zealand possum, but I might go hunt some up now!

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  33. streepie says:

    I met the brush-tailed possum in person – on a visit to Australia! But I have not yet considered knitting it.

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  34. ordinarygood says:

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for a great post about New Zealand possum/merino yarn. Zealana is a wonderful brand.

    My knitting blog: http://koruknits.wordpress.com will give more knitting information from wintery New Zealand. The post entitled “Yarn sale” features possum yarn to knit socks with.

    There is also a great link on my blogroll to http://kiwiyarns.wordpress.com/. This New Zealand blogger has done a lot of research into our wonderful yarns here “down under” and she has a lot of posts and pattern advice re using possum yarn.

    Possum stew is considered a great meal in some quarters in New Zealand but I’ve not tasted it…..yet!?!

    As Karen says possums run rampant in our country, wrecking havoc and spreading disease. So knit up people around the globe! We will love you for it and so will our fauna and flora.

    We have had our possum-merino gear on today and it is a real warmer!

    Thanks again Karen

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  35. What a great idea. Coming from NZ I can attest that possum is indeed a very big pest down under, and also that the fur is rather soft. Maybe we could combine some rabbit fur in the mix as well as they are another pest. I have never tried eating one though, yuck! 🙂

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