Cashmere, the Noble Fibre
by Rose Mary Roche
“I do not believe in God. I believe in Cashmere.” Fran Liebowitz.
If there is one word that is synonymous with luxury, it is cashmere. Cashmere knitwear is a staple of JUJU's collections and we are in love with this precious fibre, which is so soft, cocooning and tactile. Cashmere is perceived as an Autumn Winter staple, but is something that we wear year-round in Ireland, thanks to our erratic and damp climate. Now in early spring when frost, chilly winds and scattered showers can all occur in quick succession, cashmere is perfect to transition between seasons. It has been called the “Noble Fibre” and we can appreciate why: not only does cashmere have long associations with royalty, it also makes the wearer feel like they are indulging their inner princess.
Cashmere is named after the Kashmir region of India and Pakistan, where it has been manufactured for thousands of years. It first enjoyed popularity in Europe in the 18th/early 19th century in the form of Kashmir shawls, which were coveted intensely by fashionable Parisian women. Cashmere is obtained from the goat, (Capra hiricus laniger) whose coat is technically defined as wool, but is finer, stronger, lighter and softer than sheep’s wool as well as three times more insulating. These qualities have ensured that cashmere has always been coveted as a luxury fibre that not only delivers supreme softness but also excellent warmth and comfort.
What gives real cashmere its softness? Simply, it’s the fibres’ extremely fine diameter ― less than 18.5 microns but also the shape of the fibres themselves. Cashmere isn’t a straight fibre, it’s bumpy and these bumpy fibres all cling to themselves so nothing sticks out to itch you. Straight fibres like wool can protrude and cause irritation, while cashmere simply caresses you.
Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that is made up of a fine, soft under-coat or under-down of hair mixed with a straighter and coarser outer coat of hair known as guard hair. For the fine under-coat to be used for cashmere garments it must first be de-haired, usually by a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from their finer counterparts. Only after this sorting is the finer cashmere ready to be dyed and made into garments or yarn.
Cashmere is collected during the spring moulting season (March to May) when the goats naturally shed their winter coats. China is now the largest global producer of raw cashmere with Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey and Kyrgzstan also significant producers.
A single cashmere goat does not yield a lot of hair, perhaps between six and eight ounces, but once it’s processed this may be as little as four ounces. So, it can take approximately four goats to make one sweater. Put simply, it is a very finite resource. Like diamonds, gemstones or gold, it is rare and is therefore priced accordingly, and that’s why pure cashmere is expensive.
Once harvested, the pure cashmere can be dyed and spun into yarns and knitted into jumpers, hats, gloves, scarves, socks or woven into fabric and made into items such as coats, jackets, trousers and blankets. It has long been considered that the best cashmere is manufactured in Scotland and Italy, where heritage companies with established expertise and skilled design pedigree, make the most beautiful cashmeres. One such company is JUJU supplier, Johnston’s of Elgin, who use the finest yarns from Todd and Duncan and Loro Piana and have over two hundred years of luxury expertise.
When shopping for cashmere bear in mind the following:
Ply: A high ply means a weightier feel to the garment and makes it more expensive. Ply refers to the number of strands twisted together to achieve a certain thickness. Most cashmere comes in 1 ply or 2 ply strands of yarn, which is then knitted into various garments.
Thickness v's Thinness: The thickness of a knit doesn’t affect the quality of the cashmere. You can have a thick sweater in one ply that is cheaper than a thin knitted sweater in two-ply. Sometimes very fine garments are woven with silk, so check the composition to gauge if it’s 100% cashmere. Pashminas are always woven with around 30% silk, which makes their weave stronger.
Colour: Cashmere can be dyed in virtually any colour but the darkest colours are generally harder dyes, or have been dyed twice to get a very dark shade. These garments may not feel as soft as lighter hued pieces. This is the reason that cashmere is very often made in soft neutral tones of grey, camel, ivory and taupe.
At JUJU, we pride ourselves on our selection of beautiful cashmere brands including Sphere One, Sian Jacobs, Jumper 1234, Duffy, 360 Cashmere and Cocowai. All these brands utilise the highest-grade cashmere which they fashion into enduringly beautiful and versatile garments which are loved and worn repeatedly by our customers. This season we are adding to this range with new German cashmere brand, Henry Christ, who emphasise contemporary design and the highest quality to celebrate individual beauty.
Warning: we have noticed that once a woman discovers cashmere, she is ruined for humbler fibres. In Mongolia the cashmere merchants observe that, cashmere is like gold or opium: once sampled, a customer never forgets. Nothing is as cossetting, calming and indulgent as pure cashmere – it envelops the wearer like a knitted hug and not only adds to their physical warmth, but also their sense of calm and well-being. Buying a cashmere knit is the ultimate act of self-care and self-love.
If you love your cashmere then it will love you back. Good quality cashmere can last a decade with appropriate TLC and taking care of your cashmere isn’t as difficult as people perceive. After wearing a new cashmere garment the first few times you may see small balls of fibre forming on the surface. These small balls or “pills” are caused by some of the loose fibre tangling together as areas of the garment are rubbed during wear. Pills can be easily removed by hand or by gently using a de-pilling knitwear comb. If you lavish care and attention on your cashmere, and remove the pills and launder carefully, the garment will consolidate and soften in handle and touch. Like fine wine and good women, cashmere will improve with age if cared for properly.
Ideally cashmere should be gently washed after it has been worn a few times. It can be hand-washed, sometimes machine-washed on a knitwear cycle or dry cleaned. When hand washing, follow these steps:
The cashmere knit should be hand washed in lukewarm water using a specific cashmere shampoo or a mild detergent. Wool and natural fibre detergents are available widely. Woolmark-approved own brand products are good as are Woolite and Ecover Wool Wash.
Gently massage the suds through the knit, being careful not to rub, wring or stretch the garment.
Rinse thoroughly but carefully in clean lukewarm water. Saturated garments should not be lifted before water has been gently squeezed out as they may stretch. We recommend a quick, light spin in a washing machine to remove excess water.
Smooth the garment back into its original shape and place flat on a towel - dry naturally away from direct heat such as radiators or sunlight. Never tumble dry.
Once dry, press lightly with a cool iron.
If a cashmere has a machine wash symbol, follow these guidelines:
Wash on a wool program, using a non-bio detergent at a maximum spin speed of 600 rpm. Many biological detergents contain wool-eating enzymes. Never use them or stain removers on wool, silk or cashmere fibres because the enzymes will literally digest the fabric.
To increase the life-span of cashmeres, use a slow spin (600 rpm or less) and a low temperature (20° max.) to avoid stretching, shrinking and matting of the fibres.
To dry safely, avoid direct heat. Cashmere should be reshaped and allowed to dry naturally. Keep it supported to maintain shape, simply lay flat, ensuring you rotate it.
Once dry, press lightly with a cool iron.
Due to cashmere’s delicate nature, it is also best to exert caution and avoid rubbing from handbags, belts and jewellery and to be mindful of sharp abrasive surfaces when wearing it.
To store cashmere:
To ensure that knits keep their beauty never store on a hanger. You risk creating permanent indentations on the shoulders and its weight could make it stretch. To avoid damage, fold the knit into three parts lengthwise, keeping the arms straight and smooth, and finally fold it in half. If cashmere is to be stored for a long period, tuck some tissue paper or a piece of fabric between the folded garment to avoid creases.
During summer season: keep it in a sealed fabric garment bag (old pillow cases are ideal) and use cedar balls or lavender to dissuade moths from munching down on your precious pieces.
Always store away cashmere freshly laundered – moths prefer soiled or stained knits.
It is hard to find a genuine lover of style who doesn’t cherish her cashmere collection. There is something very intimate about the fibre – it comforts us, by re-assuring us that its feather-light caress will always deliver luxury and style. There is now cashmere at every price point but for quality that will last it is necessary to invest accordingly. Cashmere is enduringly chic, goes with everything from ripped jeans to a sleek pencil skirt, delivers warmth without bulk and is the perfect option to dress up virtually everything. It is impossible to look bad in cashmere as its indulgent softness leads to a happy glow. And as Coco Chanel observed: “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
Shop JUJU’s cashmere collection at https://www.juju.ie/shop-online?category=Knitwear