There’s nothing like the feeling of cashmere against your skin.
Whether burying your face into a silky pashmina or snuggling down in a sumptuous sweater, the soft caress of cashmere will have you smitten. But despite its luxuriant status, cashmere hails from humble beginnings. We’re going to investigate how cashmere is made.
The Cashmere Goat
Cashmere wool is made from the hair of the cashmere goat. The goat takes its name from the Kashmir region of South Asia, where it was first discovered in the 14th Century. There are many different breeds of cashmere goat found in areas spanning Mongolia, China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Iran, Afghanistan, Australia and New Zealand. Cashmere goats grow a double fleece consisting of a fine, downy undercoat and a straighter, coarser outer coat of ‘guard hair’. Cashmere wool is made from the soft, downy undercoat, and is usually taken from the goat’s neck, back and shoulders.
Much like us, when the harsh, bleak winter is over the cashmere goat casts off its cold-weather coat and embraces the springtime sun. The spring moulting season is when the goat’s hair is collected for the production of cashmere wool. Traditionally, the down and guard hair are removed together with a coarse comb which pulls out tufts from the goat’s fleece. The goats can also be shorn of their fleeces; this is a less labour-intensive method, but it results in a lower yield of pure cashmere and a higher coarse hair content.
This is a key stage in how cashmere is made. After the hair has been collected, the soft down is separated out from the greasy, coarse guard hair. This is a mechanical process called ‘de-hairing’. If poorly executed, the resulting fibre may contain dark, wiry hairs which have to picked out after the fibre has been knitted into fabric.
After de-hairing, the fibre is ready to be dyed. This is a delicate process – it can cause the fibre to harden if not done correctly. The colour has to be rich and deep, and fast so that it doesn’t bleed, fade or rub off when faced with rain, sun and human perspiration (yum). Whilst the fibre starts life in colours ranging from white to brown, it can be dyed into a rainbow of jewel-bright colours.
The fibre is now spun. This process involves laying all the hairs in the same direction and twisting them into a fine yarn. The hair is usually spun at a weight of 36 grams per kilometre, after which the two ends are twisted together to create a two-ply yarn at a weight of 72 grams per kilometre.
The yarn is now ready to be knitted into scarves, jumpers, socks, hats and gloves, or woven into fabrics which can be assembled into garments such as jackets, coats, trousers and blankets. After the fabric has been knitted, it’s washed to remove any remaining oil or loose dye and pressed.
The Finished Garment
It’s been on an incredible journey to reach you, but there you have it: your beautiful, silky cashmere garment. Well-made cashmere products, if looked after carefully, can last a lifetime, and should get softer with wear. Yay!
It’s a question I’ve often asked myself: where would we be without goats?
If you want to find out more about how cashmere is made, or would like information about our scarfs, don’t hesitate to get in touch.