Gorgeous, luxurious cashmere! Is there anything nicer to wear? Warm and cosy in winter, yet lightweight gauges can be wonderfully cool in summer, similar to wearing a linen sweater on a cooler summer day.
There seems to have been an explosion of fabulously stylish designs in cashmere over the past three or four years. Are there really enough goats in Mongolia, China and Nepal to service an ever more voracious appetite for this lovely yarn? It would seem so.
This wonderful yarn comes from the rare fibres found in the undercoats of cashmere goats. The goats have adapted to the harsh climate they live in by developing a double fleece comprised of an outer layer which protects the undercoat from water, and an undercoat made of very fine hairs which has strong insulating properties. So, the goats are kept warm in winter and cool in the summer. This is partly why cashmere has become an all-year-round favourite yarn used for both summer and winter knitwear: wonderfully warm in winter and cool in summer, when produced in lightweight gauges.
The undercoat fibres of the cashmere goats are collected and divided into quality variants, based on their thickness, colour and length, before being spun and dyed into yarns used to create gorgeous garments for you to wear. The most respected processers of cashmere yarn have traditionally been based in Italy and Scotland, but recent years have seen production coming from China and Nepal.
Quality varies enormously, with the best producers choosing the better quality and longer yarns, mostly from the goats who live on the higher slopes of Mongolia. Producing quality yarn is a laborious process, and this is reflected in the premium pricing of top quality cashmere garments.
While you may well be able to buy relatively inexpensive cashmere, its inferior quality is often evident. It pills more, and will not last as long, nor look good for very long at all.
Why is Cashmere better than Wool?
The insulation capacity of cashmere is up to eight times higher than wool, resulting in a lighter garment which keeps you warm but does not cause you to overheat. Cashmere is soft, and resilient. It won’t shrink, when washed correctly, and good quality garments will be very durable, retaining their shape over the years much better than wool.
The very best quality cashmere garments will improve with washing, and the likelihood of its pilling reduces with time and good care. In fact, excellent quality cashmere will virtually stop pilling after a few washes, and any minor pills caused by excessive friction (jewellery, for example) can easily be removed with a cashmere comb after washing and drying.
Know Your Cashmere – What to Look For
First of all, always check the label. What many brands call "cashmere" is really just a poor blend between cashmere and wool. This can be much cheaper, but drastically inferior in terms of quality and feel, and more subject to pilling. That’s not to say that some blends aren’t good. One of our autumn/winter brands ‘Blend’ is a combination of very good quality cashmere and merino wool, resulting in a beautiful quality garment which has the feel of cashmere but a much more reasonable price tag than its 100% cashmere alternatives. Not all blends of wool and cashmere are equal.
Additionally, while a 100% cashmere label can be technically accurate, it is often extremely misleading. A jumper made with great cashmere is an investment, which will last a long time. Saving money on cheap options is a mistake that results in a less durable product, which will fall apart after a few washes.
Generally, the longer and thicker the fibres, the better quality the cashmere. While you may find this hard to assess, the better brands have a well-deserved reputation for quality, having built up consumer trust over a number of years. The best manufacturers use fibres from the neck and underbelly of the goat. Touch the jumper to see if it is soft and light and place it on your neck to test if it is itchy or not. Be aware that some cheaper brands disguise the touch by adding resin to make jumpers softer in stores, but this effect will soon disappear. Excessive initial fluffiness might mean the yarn was spun from shorter and less resistant fibres. Similarly, move your hand on it and see if fibres begin to roll up; this could be due to a high percentage of short fibres, which will likely pill more.
Contrary to wool, good quality cashmere improves with wears and hand-washes, by becoming softer and developing a slightly fluffy layer, and keeps its shape much better over the years.
Lavender Blue’s Warm & Co label is one of the best cashmeres around. The manufacturer uses the best yarns from the neck of the goat, and this brand is definitely an investment.
Similarly, Wyse Cashmere uses excellent quality yarns, with Cove running a close second, although the latter is nonetheless very good.
How to Wash Cashmere
- Cashmere can be washed in water, either by hand or washing machine, on a hand or delicates wash
- While hand-washing with cool water (30°C) is often said to be the best method, we have found that washing on a hand-wash cycle in the washing machine, on a 30 minutes cycle, is just as good. A gentle spin dry is fine, but do not leave the garment in the washing machine afterwards.
- Dry cleaning is rarely necessary, but if you do decide to have your cashmere dry cleaned, ask for a delicate or specialist cashmere detergent. Our Cove brand care label says garments should be dry cleaned only. We have found, however, that hand washing has produced good results, provided you wash your item in cool water, squeeze rather the wring out excess water and lay it out to dry flat on a towel over an airer, immediately after washing. You should, however, make your own judgement with regards to whether or not to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation.
- Always turn the garment inside out
- Use a delicate washing detergent (8+ Ph) or specialist cashmere shampoo or wool wash (like Woolite), which usually also includes some softener. However, as a general rule, fabric conditioner should not be used as it can make the cashmere fibres greasy and make their appearance less attractive.
- You can also use baby shampoo to give extra softness and maintain a soft and fluffy texture
- Do not bleach, ever.
How to dry and iron cashmere once washed
- Do not wring the garment, a gentle spin is fine. If hand washing, remove excess water by gently pressing with a towel
- Lay the garment on a flat surface and stretch it while damp to its original shape
- Never hang cashmere garments to dry, they will stretch and lose shape
- Let it dry at room temperature over an airer, on top of a towel, avoiding sunlight
- Iron at low temperature, using a pressing cloth as a divider; never iron directly on to the fabric
- For best results, invest in a steamer. Cashmere loves steam and steaming will improve its appearance and longevity.
Maintenance and storage:
- Never hang cashmere garments in your wardrobe, always fold them when storing, otherwise they might lose shape
- When not using for an extended period, place inside a dust bag or sealable garment container to protect it from moths; place lavender sachets inside
- In case of pilling remove it with a cashmere comb, which will make the garment like new; better to remove pilling after washing and drying, never on wet or damp fabric
- Protect from contact with Nylon (for instance with seat belts or inside jackets) which can damage the fibres
With good care, your cashmere garments will serve you well for many years.