What Is Cashmere and What's so Special About It?
Cashmere is one of the most precious and valuable natural products. It has a smooth silken feel, is gentle and luxurious to the touch and is characterized by its fine, soft fibres.
Excellent quality cashmere is expensive and enjoys an appreciable status making it highly desirable for use in high end fashion garments.
It is a renewable and natural resource, providing feather-light warmth without bulk.
It is usually a delight for you to wear against the skin as it tends not to have the “itchy” feel of wool and is snug, soft and wonderfully warm.
Where is cashmere found?
Cashmere goats in the northern hemisphere grow an under layer of fleece from around the summer solstice until the winter solstice, June 21st to December 21st.
This under layer or under down of luxurious cashmere insulates and keeps them warm throughout the freezing winters experienced in their natural environment.
Colder weather increases cashmere fibre growth.
The top fleece is a much straighter and coarser outer hair which guards the underlying cashmere.
These goats are kept in small herds and also found in nomadic herds in China, Iran, Afghanistan and Mongolia.
There are significant differences in the fibre the goats produce which is governed by their geographic location.
Cashmere fluctuates from the premium and most luxurious “white for white” Chinese fibre, to harsher fibre which is more suitable for natural weaving.
The finest cashmere fibre comes from China and is a biological consequence of the goat’s environment.
When is cashmere collected?
Around April or May the goat naturally sheds the underdown which allows them to stay cooler during the summer months.
This natural event allows the cashmere to be captured without any harm to the goat.
To protect the integrity of the fibre and allow commercial recovery the cashmere is combed from the goat just as the spring moult commences. The under down is combed out from under the coarser outer hair.
This is a rare natural harvest and fibre prices are subject to market fluctuations as they are a transacted commodity.
A single goat only provides 200 grams (0,4 lb) of the prized underdown.
This means that the production of a single large shawl can require the annual yield of two to three goats.
Cashmere fibre is very compliant and easily spins into yarns and light to heavyweight fabrics.
A Grade cashmere is 14 millionths of a metre (14 microns) thick. It is 34mm-36mm long, with the longer fibres giving better strength for knitting and substantially better garment wear.
The finer the cashmere fibre the more expensive it is, but this slenderness results in the most luxurious softness.
Very light “White for white” Chinese cashmere is the scarcest, supreme most expensive cashmere fibre.
It is utilized mainly for light pastel colours and white yarn.
Hand weaving a Cashmere and Silk Scarf
A uncomplicated technical description
For a straightforward technical description, a plain English summation of the United States labelling regulation, serves well.
A garment may only be labelled cashmere in the US if the following conditions are met.
- It comes from the fine, dehaired undercoat fibres grown by the cashmere goat.
- The cashmere fibre average diameter must not exceed 19microns
- The overall weight content of the garment fibre cannot be more than 3% of cashmere with an average diameter of 30 microns.
A simple test to check quality
Cashmere.com, a company that sells 100% cashmere clothing says that one test to identify good cashmere is to hold it at eye level and look across the surface.
If you can see a minor, say 1mm fluffiness rising out from the fabric it should be worthwhile.
If the fluffiness rises higher than this it will have a tendency to pill from the outset.
Well-made cashmere will get better and softer as it is worn and washed.
Price can also offer a gauge, excellent quality cashmere is expensive.
“Cashmere” scarves range from $10 to $5000.
With world demand for excellent cashmere strong and fibre prices being controlled by the fact that they are a traded commodity cheap 100% pure cashmere is not a reality.
It would appear that many items being sold as “Cashmere” are really a blend of very tiny amount of cashmere and lots of wool.
Some cashmere mixes contain as little as 5 % cashmere.
When low end cashmere marketers are squeezed by high cashmere prices they often respond by lowering the cashmere content on their products rather than raising prices.
Is a cashmere sweater worth the money?
Good cashmere products that are well made are wonderful and superb.
You cannot replace the softness, warm and cuddliness of cashmere.
It’s out on its own.
When you experience the joy of owning and wearing well made, good quality cashmere, you will have difficulty living with less desirable fabrics.
With care, a cashmere scarf, shawl, stole or wrap is an investment which will enjoy for many years.
Please care for your cashmere.
It’s truly a luxurious product that can last you a lifetime if you take good care of it.
Pay attention to how you wash and dry it and how you store it. See our page on washing and dry-cleaning.
© 2016 Darko Atanasov
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