Monday, January 11, 2010

I Love Cashmere

“Cashmere is a great fabric because it glides over problem areas, can be dressed up or down and makes you feel good and luxurious.”  Anne Hankey

I love cashmere. I love fabrics of all kinds, but I especially love cashmere. I wondered about where cashmere comes from and why is it so expensive. And so I did what any person on the hunt for knowledge does in this information age, I hit the internet. Which then caused me to wonder if at some point in my life I knew that it is goats wool that comes from the Cashmere Goat found in Kashmir? That in the 18th and 19th century the English called Kashmir Cashmere? I am pretty sure I never knew that the fiber is also known as pashm, the Persian word for wool, or pashmina which is the Hindi word for pashm. Hello famed pashmina scarves.

So now that I know here is a little recap of all the wonderful stuff I now am sure I know about cashmere.
  • It is believed that as far back as the 11th Century, Cashmere was being woven for use in garments or blankets.
  • Usually cashmere is harvested from the goats in the spring during when they are molting through the shedding or the shearing of their down.
  • Most of the goats are raised in the cold high desert climates where the dense inner coat guards against harsh winter weather, but once seasons change, goats begin to lose the protective layer of down.
  • It is believed that cashmere originated from the West Himalayas in India. Cashmere goats are found in China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Tibet and Iran but are primarily bred in Mongolia. You can now add America to the list.
  • In some regions, the mixed mass of down and coarse hair is removed by hand with a coarse comb that pulls tufts of fiber from the animal as the comb is raked through the fleece. The collected fiber then has a higher yield of pure cashmere after the fiber has been washed and dehaired.
  • Ounce for ounce, cashmere is the warmest of natural fibers. It provides wonderful insulation from the cold and is cozy without being bulky.
  • Cashmere can also be mixed with other fibers for warmer weather items.
  • It takes one precious goat four years to produce enough wool to make just one cashmere sweater. Or four little darlings one season.
  • The most expensive cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of the goats. The fibers are longer and finer which produces softer wool.
  • Lesser grade is also taken from the goats' legs and backs. The shorter fibers from the backs and legs are heavier and less expensive, making it easier to afford a luxury garment.
  • The fibers can be woven or knitted into garments such as sweaters, shawls, capes, dresses, hats, gloves, socks, coats and blankets. No excuse not to have some cashmere. I think sleeping on cashmere sheets in a cashmere nighty would be the ultimate!
  • In the United States, you can find out the specification for the wool to be considered cashmere, under the U.S. Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939, as amended, (U.S.C. 15 Section 68b(a)(6)). If you really care. I thought I did but I don’t understand the measurement system so now I don’t.
  • Cashmere goats are either white, gray or brown. The colors you see did not come straight from the goats. The fibers have been dyed which they say is easily done.
  • Garments made of cashmere were once only available to royalty because of how rare the wool was which increased its value. Napoleon is said to have popularized the use of cashmere as shawls when he gave his second wife, Empress Eugenie, seventeen of them.
  • The 1940’s and 50’s Hollywood glamour girls brought attention to cashmere. Lana Turner was dubbed The Sweater Girl making cashmere sweaters and skirts the fashion rage.
  • Cashmere sweaters soon became high fashion. In the 1940’s at many affaires you would see evening sweaters with heavily encrusted jewels and embroidery. In the 1950’s those charming college students made the best dressed list wearing a sweater set made of cashmere.
  • Woven garments made of cashmere must be dry cleaned, but knitted articles may be hand washed. Good to know when you have spent your lunch money on a sweater.

I do have a couple favorite cashmere items. One is a vintage sweater with a fur collar. Its a beaut and I am sure it has had a great life and it is not finished yet. The highest quality piece I own is from Marshall Fields. I can put my hand in my sweater drawer when the room is dark and pick this sweater out. It feels amazing. And yes I did buy it at a thrift store and got it for a song. I have taken to rescuing cashmere items who have seen better days and probably lived a rich full life. But by putting them into a quilt made with felted sweaters I can give them a new purpose. There is nothing like curling up on the couch with a blanket and feeling cashmere on your lap.

Cashmere seems to be more popular than ever. You can find it in many different items, styles and for many different price points. I received cashmere socks one year for Christmas. Luxury from head to toe. You can get an Isaac Mizrahi sweater at Target  for under $50. You can pick up a Michael Kors cardigan for $895 at Neiman Marcus. Or you might be interested in something somewhere in between. And if by chance you aren't ready to buy, enjoy a cheap thrill. Go to the store, let this luxurious fabric sweep across your hands. The catch is you must surrender the sweater when security tells you to leave. - thank you for the picture of kel goat


  1. I can attest to the feeling of cashmere on my lap in my beloved quilted sweater blanket and can only imagine sleeping in cashmere jammies. Owning my first cashmere sweater this year has been a thrill and after this great information, I think I'll invest in a bit more. Thanks for grabbing this great info and putting it in one place with your cashmeric elegant prose!