What is cashmere?
Cashmere… it even sounds soft when you say it — but what is it?
A beautiful cashmere goat
When someone mentions cashmere, there’s a kind of reverent hush that gently settles over the conversation. An understanding of luxury causes the raise of an eyebrow followed by a sage nodding of heads, because most people know cashmere to be the softest, warmest, and most expensive of fibres. But do you know where it comes from?
Cashmere is made from the downy undercoat of a goat. Although there is a specific cashmere goat breed, many different types of goats can be used to produce cashmere, as long as their hair and down is of the correct micron measurement. (In case you’re wondering, microns are thousandths of a millimetre.)
The goats moult every year, and their coat is combed out, or shorn off, and then the soft down is commercially removed from the hair strand. The resulting fibre is exquisitely fine: the best cashmere in the world has a micron count of under 16 in diameter. (For comparison, merino wool can be between 18-24 microns, and to put it into perspective, an average human hair is between 50-75 microns.) Once collected, the fibre is cleaned and made ready to be spun into commercial yarns, or added to blends.
Most of the world’s cashmere comes from China and Mongolia, but it is also produced in Iran, Afghanistan, the US, Australia and New Zealand. It is said that the finest cashmere comes from the goats who are raised in the most inhospitable terrain — and that pampered goats will not produce as much down as goats who really need to and live in the cold!
Historically speaking, cashmere production is as old as the hills. Cashmere has been produced in Mongolia, Nepal and Kashmir (which is where the modern name cashmere comes from) for thousands of years, and there are records dating cashmere production back to the 3rd century BC. In the last 500 years, its popularity soared in Europe, where it was shipped and spun: in short, it has always been a treasured fibre.
Goats in Mongolia
Cashmere is an expensive fibre because its production is labour intensive, but its benefits far outweigh its costs. It is far warmer than sheep’s wool, and far softer than merino — and it’s long lasting. A cashmere garment shouldn’t pill, and should, if you look after it, last as long as you do. So what is the best way to incorporate cashmere into your every day knitting?
Knitting with pure cashmere: make something small to begin with; a fabulous lace weight shawl, or a pair of hand warmers, special socks, or a fine knit wrap. Cashmere yarn knits make wonderful gifts — just adding those magic words “it’s cashmere” will bring forth a gasp of wonder from the recipient.
Pure cashmere yarns to try:
Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere yarns – 100% finest Mongolian cashmere gives these yarns a luminescence and softness you just won’t believe!
Schulana Cashmere Naturalino has a glorious natural halo and is sumptuously soft; a wonderful yarn for a fine knit cropped cardi or wrap.
Lang Yarns Cashmere Big is a breathtaking 100% cashmere super chunky yarn, luxury at its chunkiest in 21 shades! A dream for fast luxury accessories and oversized jumpers.
Choose a blend: even 5% cashmere in a blend brings glorious softness and warmth. Blends are far more affordable and yarns with cashmere added can bring a knitter an extraordinary amount of joy at the softness added, in addition to the hardwearing qualities and warmth! These blends can be perfect for baby kits (or knits for you) and, in some cases, are even superwash!
Cashmere blends to try:
Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino: surely the most famous of all cashmere blends, the Debbie Bliss cashmerino yarns come in 57 shades, in sport and aran weights and are machine washable. 12% cashmere adds a dash of luxury that contributes to garments being softer and lasting longer. The aran weight comes in 44 shades.
Dream in Color Smooshy with cashmere: this delicious variegated semi-solid yarn is a dream for shawls or socks! 3ply weight, and with a great yardage, it has 20% cashmere blended with merino wool and a dash of nylon that will help to keep your socks in shape, and your stitch definition sharp.
Hand Maiden Casbah: 9% cashmere keeps this hand-dyed dreamy yarn soft and super warm — combined with merino wool for a bouncy finish. The shade palette is enough to make a grown knitter weep.
Add some luxury into your knit and purl! Try a cashmere yarn!
Last updated: July 25th, 2017.