Cashmere: The Ultimate Guide to the Luxury Fabric
Cashmere is a type of wool that is renowned for its softness, warmth, and durability. It is one of the most sought-after and expensive fabrics in the world, often used for high-end clothing and accessories. But what makes cashmere so special? How is it produced and processed? What are the benefits and drawbacks of cashmere? How can you care for your cashmere items and make them last longer? In this article, we will answer all these questions and more, providing you with the ultimate guide to cashmere.
What is Cashmere and Where Does it Come From?
Cashmere is a natural fiber that comes from the undercoat of cashmere goats, also known as pashmina goats. These goats are native to the high-altitude regions of Central Asia, such as Mongolia, China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey. They have adapted to the harsh climate by developing a double-layered coat: an outer layer of coarse guard hairs that protect them from water and wind, and an inner layer of fine, soft hairs that insulate them from the cold. It is this inner layer that produces cashmere wool.
Cashmere wool is collected during the spring molting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat. The wool can be harvested by hand-combing or shearing the goats. Hand-combing is a more labor-intensive and time-consuming method, but it results in a higher quality and quantity of cashmere, as it separates the fine undercoat from the coarse guard hairs. Shearing is a faster and cheaper method, but it produces a lower quality and quantity of cashmere, as it mixes the undercoat and the guard hairs together.
The raw cashmere wool then undergoes several processes to make it ready for dyeing and weaving. These processes include washing, de-hairing, carding, spinning, weaving or knitting, and finishing. Washing removes dirt, grease, and impurities from the wool. De-hairing separates the fine cashmere fibers from the coarse guard hairs using mechanical or manual methods. Carding aligns the fibers and prepares them for spinning. Spinning twists the fibers into yarns of different thicknesses and plies. Weaving or knitting transforms the yarns into fabrics or garments. Finishing involves washing, drying, brushing, steaming, pressing, and trimming the fabrics or garments to improve their appearance and quality.
What are the Different Grades and Qualities of Cashmere?
Not all cashmere is created equal. There are different grades and qualities of cashmere that depend on various factors, such as the origin, breed, age, health, diet, and environment of the goats; the harvesting, processing, and manufacturing methods; and the fineness, length, color, strength, softness, and purity of the fibers.
The most common way to classify cashmere is by its grade: A, B, or C. Grade A is the highest quality cashmere, while grade C is the lowest quality cashmere. The grade is determined by two main characteristics of the fibers: fineness and length.
- Grade A cashmere has a fineness of 14-15.5 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter) and a length of 34-36 millimeters (a millimeter is one-thousandth of a meter). It is very soft, smooth, lightweight, warm, and durable.
- Grade B cashmere has a fineness of 16-19 microns and a length of 28-30 millimeters. It is less soft, smooth, lightweight, warm, and durable than grade A cashmere.
- Grade C cashmere has a fineness of 19-30 microns and a length of 18-25 millimeters. It is coarse, rough, heavy, cool, and weak compared to grade A or B cashmere.
Another way to classify cashmere is by its color: white, brown, or grey. The color depends on the natural color of the goat’s coat, which varies according to its breed and region. White cashmere is considered the most desirable and valuable color, as it can be dyed into any color without losing its quality. Brown and grey cashmere are less desirable and valuable colors, as they require more processing and bleaching to achieve different colors, which can affect their quality.
What are the Benefits of Cashmere?
Cashmere has many benefits that make it a luxury fabric and a great choice for clothing and accessories. Some of these benefits are:
- Softness: Cashmere is one of the softest fabrics in the world, thanks to its fine and smooth fibers. It feels gentle and comfortable on the skin, without causing any irritation or itchiness.
- Warmth: Cashmere is up to eight times warmer than regular sheep’s wool, thanks to its high loft and air pockets within the fibers. It provides excellent insulation and retains heat well.
- Breathability: Cashmere is a breathable fabric, thanks to its natural moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating properties. It absorbs and releases moisture from the air, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable in different climates and seasons.
- Durability: Cashmere is a durable fabric, thanks to its strong and resilient fibers. It can withstand wear and tear, and resist pilling and shrinking if properly cared for. It can last for years, or even decades, with minimal signs of aging.
- Versatility: Cashmere is a versatile fabric, thanks to its wide range of colors, styles, patterns, and weights. It can be used for various types of clothing and accessories, such as sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, socks, coats, blankets, and more. It can also be blended with other fabrics, such as silk, cotton, wool, or synthetic fibers, to create different textures and effects.
- Elegance: Cashmere is an elegant fabric, thanks to its rich and luxurious appearance and feel. It adds a touch of sophistication and class to any outfit, whether casual or formal. It also drapes well and flatters different body shapes and sizes.
What are the Drawbacks of Cashmere?
Cashmere also has some drawbacks that make it a challenging fabric and a costly investment. Some of these drawbacks are:
- Price: Cashmere is one of the most expensive fabrics in the world, thanks to its limited supply and high demand. It takes about four goats to produce enough cashmere for one sweater, and each goat can only produce about 150 grams of cashmere per year. The price of cashmere also depends on its grade, color, quality, and brand. A high-quality cashmere sweater can cost anywhere from $200 to $2000.
- Care: Cashmere requires special care and maintenance to preserve its quality and longevity. It should be washed by hand or dry-cleaned with mild detergent and cold water, and laid flat to dry. It should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place, preferably in a breathable bag or box, with cedar balls or lavender sachets to prevent moth damage. It should be ironed with low heat and steam, or steamed with a garment steamer. It should also be brushed regularly with a cashmere comb or sweater stone to remove any pills or fuzz.
- Sensitivity: Cashmere can cause allergic reactions or skin irritation for some people, especially those who are sensitive to wool or animal fibers. Some symptoms include itching, redness, rash, hives, or swelling. If this happens, the wearer should stop using cashmere and consult a doctor.
How to Choose the Best Cashmere?
When shopping for cashmere items, there are some tips and tricks that can help you choose the best cashmere for your needs and preferences. Some of these tips are:
- Check the label: The label should indicate the percentage of cashmere in the item, the country of origin, the grade, the weight, and the care instructions. The higher the percentage of cashmere, the better the quality. The country of origin can also indicate the quality of cashmere, as some countries have stricter standards and regulations than others. For example, cashmere from Mongolia, China, or Scotland is generally considered superior to cashmere from other countries. The grade can also indicate the quality of cashmere, as explained earlier. The weight can indicate the warmth and thickness of cashmere, as well as the seasonality. For example, a lightweight cashmere sweater (around 2-ply) is suitable for spring or summer, while a heavyweight cashmere sweater (around 6-ply) is suitable for winter. The care instructions can indicate how to wash and store cashmere items properly.
- Feel the texture: The texture of cashmere should be soft, smooth, and silky to the touch, without any roughness or coarseness. It should also be lightweight and airy, without any heaviness or stiffness. It should not feel too thin or too thick, but just right for its weight and ply. It should also have some elasticity and bounce back when stretched slightly.
- Look at the appearance: The appearance of cashmere should be consistent and uniform in color, style, pattern, and weave or knit. It should not have any holes, tears, snags, or loose threads. It should also not have any fading or discoloration due to dyeing or bleaching. It should also have some luster and shine without being too glossy or dull.
- Try it on: The best way to judge cashmere is to try it on and see how it fits and feels on your body. It should be comfortable and flattering, without being too tight or too loose. It should also not itch or irritate your skin, or cause any allergic reactions. It should also keep you warm and cozy, without making you sweat or overheat.
Cashmere is a luxury fabric that has many benefits and drawbacks. It is soft, warm, durable, breathable, versatile, and elegant, but it is also expensive, delicate, sensitive, and requires special care. It comes in different grades, colors, qualities, and styles, and it can be used for various types of clothing and accessories. It is important to know how to choose the best cashmere for your needs and preferences, and how to care for it properly to make it last longer. Cashmere is a great investment that can enhance your wardrobe and your lifestyle.