June 2006

What is cashmere?

Cashmere is the downy fleece of goats living in the high plateaus of Asia, east from China and Mongolia to the west in Iran and Turkey. The name Cashmere comes from the Kashmir region in India where in 1800s, Europeans first encountered the goats. The harsh winters of this mountainous part of the world cause the goats to grow a coarse outer layer with an inner layer of very soft fleece.

The softness of the fiber is not only a genetic trait but also the harsh living environment of the goats has a major role. Studies in Australia and United States show that when the goats are moved into a commercial environment, they do not produce the same soft fleece as they did in the wild.

Cashmere was first introduced to Europe as a fleece for the royalty. Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugenie (Napoleonís second wife) were the first women who enjoyed wearing cashmere shawls in Europe.

Cashmere is very soft and warm. It is luxurious and very expensive, as it takes at least four winters to have enough down from one goat to make a sweater. Cashmere has the same characteristics as wool, but is much softer. Cashmere fibers naturally come in gray, brown or white and are 1-1/4 inch to 3-1/2 inch long. Short fibers tend to pill, but longer fibers spun into yarn can be used for hand-knit sweaters, shawls, socks etc., or woven into fabric to make outerwear jackets.

On commercially-made cashmere items, dry cleaning is recommended. However, if a cashmere sweater is treated the same way as a wool sweater, it can be washed and dried the same way without any problems.
For more information about cashmere check out: www.capcas.com/History_of_Cashmere.html
and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_goat.

Nazanin S. Fard

Needlecraft University

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