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Friday, June 8, 2012

Claudia of Yarn Sisters Inc. - Possum Yarn Enthusiast - Shares her Stitch Red Story

Claudia is one of four Yarnsisters (who run Yarnsisters Inc.), a group of ladies who were brought together by possum yarn. Heart disease is close to her heart, so when the opportunity came up to help raise awareness she knew she couldn't pass it up!

Why did your company choose to get involved with the Stitch Red campaign? What does the Stitch Red campaign/fighting heart disease mean to you?

Heart disease has made a huge difference in my life over the last three years, and I had to get involved, doing something to fight it. My husband, Don, mentioned one day that he was having trouble breathing, so we stopped to see his doctor while we were out shopping. We didn't think it was any big deal, and really thought the doctor was overreacting when he sent him straight to the hospital. It was Congestive Heart Failure, and I lost him a year later. He had never had a heart problems in his life.

Sheep farm near Wellington
Then last Thanksgiving my Mom had a major heart attack. Again, it seemed like nothing - she was just extra tired all of a sudden. Dad couldn't get her to go to the doctor, so he called 911, which saved her life. Less than 1% survive the kind of heart attack she had, and two more minutes would have made all the difference.

Heart disease doesn't run in my family and neither my husband nor my mother had the usual warning signs or symptoms. Sometimes we have to rely on our instincts when we feel something is wrong, or someone else does. After Don died, I had a tendency to skip meals and then eat a quart of ice cream or a bag of chips at midnight. My cholesterol was off the charts. I really didn't care. Then Mom scared us all into eating healthier (more vegetables and complex carbs, less salt and smaller portions) and exercising. I have lots of work to do and it helps to have the support of friends in this industry - and Mom who is 88 this month and still trying to get us to eat veggies! 

What product did your company create for the Stitch Red campaign? What was the inspiration behind it?

The Heart of Hearts Scarf Kit was designed by Nathalie O'Shea, one of the Yarn Sisters, right after Mom's heart attack. It comes in a red burgundy bag with Zealana's Rimu Fingering in Toto Red. We are also having a Zippered Cardigan designed by Zealana's Heron in Red Chilie, but it's still in tech-editing. I love the extra warmth and comfort of these yarns and the classic patterns.

Do you have a heart healthy tip and/or recipe you would like to share?

I don't do much cooking, but I love to put a few frozen chicken breasts into the crock pot with a jar of good salsa. After it cooks for a few hours, I shred it up and use it for tacos, enchiladas, and on salad or rice. A few slices of avocado and some cheese and olives, and you have a healthy meal with little effort. There is also time to go for a walk after dinner!

 What gets your heart racing?

Possum-free Sanctuary near Opotiki
New Zealand gets my heart racing! Since my first trip there in 1994, I've loved the unique beauty and remoteness of it - the breathtaking, natural landscapes and opportunities for adventure. Of course, my main interest in going there was yarn, but I found the wool industry to be far more complex than I could have imagined. Woolyarns, Ltd. has been at the technical edge, while demonstrating a commitment to preserving the islands and their natural resources. I was smitten. When they introduced their hand knitting yarn, Zealana (in 2006), I had needles ready!

Because wool is such an important industry (second only to dairy in New Zealand), great efforts go into producing the best. For such a small country to compete in a world market, they have to be #1. I was surprised to have my hiking boots sterilized by customs officials when I arrived at the airport, but it makes sense. The Kiwi's have plenty of experience dealing with invasive species. A centrury ago, brushtail possums were brought in from Australia and became an environmental disaster, destroying entire forests and native bird populations. Enterprising New Zealander's discovered the fur of these animals had amazing qualities of warmth and softness, while the hollow fiber made it incredibly light. "Possum Merino" became another product unique to New Zealand.
Possum fur being weighed

Concerns over government methods of brushtail possum control resulted in the formation of the New Zealand Fur Coalition. Dedicated to humane conservation methods and utilization of this precious resource, they have built an industry around merino possum yarns, helped re-establish many endangered species of birds and saved countless forests. Endorsed by the World Wildlife Fund, these efforts keep the number of possums under control without eradicating them and without harm to other animals or plants. Possums are never farmed for their fur. Companies such as Zealana donate a percentage of their profits to wildlife sanctuaries for the reestablishment of native species, such as the Kea and Kiwi. It's exciting to know that by knitting with possum yarns, we can make a difference and protect something so beautiful. It makes my heart race!

As if we weren't already bit by the international travel bug - we sure are now! A trip to New Zealand would be absolutely amazing. Little did we know, possum fur makes wonderful yarn! We thank Claudia for sharing her Stitch Red story. We hope, as always, that the stories of our partners will inspire you and your loved ones to find a healthy balance in your lives.

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