Wednesday, November 30, 2011

And Now a Word About Cashmere...

Head to your favorite clothing retailer’s online store and take a peek at the sweaters they offer. Specifically, look at the names some copywriter in New York or L.A. gave these sweaters; titles like “Sunset Sails Cardigan” or “Autumn Equinox Turtleneck.”  Chances are, the names you see will be unrelated to the fiber content of that cardigan or pullover you’ve been eyeing—unless that cardigan or pullover is made of cashmere.  Cashmere is the epitome of luxury fibers, so downy soft that its mere presence in a piece of clothing or skein of yarn is a substantial selling point.  It’s hard not to touch a skein of yarn that says “cashmere” on the label, and even harder to put it down and walk away.

Cashmere has been used in garments for more than a millennium, and the cashmere industry began as early as the 15th century with the wool’s production for use in Persian weaving.  Western European colonists learned to appreciate the wool in later centuries, and eventually began weaving the fashionable and comfortable Middle Eastern and Asian shawls in—where else?—Paris.  Given cashmere’s lengthy record, it makes sense that such an ancient fiber comes from a species whose history is equally long: the humble goat.  While sheep’s wool such as merino or blue-faced leicester comes from a very specific variety of sheep, any breed of goat that has a winter undercoat (the soft down which grows underneath the coarse outer coat) produces cashmere.

Cashmere Goat in Australia (thanks Wikipedia for this image)
The Jade Sapphire's 4-Ply Mongolian Cashmere comes from the Inner Mongolia Cashmere Goat; the cashmere present in other blends may originate with a variety of goat grazing in Australia or in a Chinese province.  Unfortunately for fiber enthusiasts everywhere, the common goat’s ability to grow cashmere does not translate into a near infinite volume of cashmere yarn.  Since goats only grow their soft, coveted undercoats for added insulation in the winter, cashmere production is limited: the average goat produces only a third of a pound of cashmere per year.

Our November Honorary Bobbin pattern- The Cashmere Twist Cowl
Although the yarn industry has no shortage of cashmere, the average goat’s limited production abilities mean that the luxurious feel of cashmere fiber is clearly reflected in its price. Fortunately, 100% cashmere yarn isn’t always necessary; a yarn containing a smaller amount of cashmere is entirely capable of creating a soft, silky, and equally desirable product.  Shalimar Yarn's Breathless, at 15% cashmere, or sweetgeorgia's Cashluxe Fine at 20%, could easily knit into a scarf or shawl that would rival the beauty and texture of a 100% cashmere item, and would be much kinder to your budget.

While there may be less cashmere in the world than knitters would prefer, there’s no need for serious concerns about being deprived of the luxurious texture cashmere could contribute to your next project.

This blog post was written by Miss Kate...isn't she great? Pin It

1 comment:

CrochetBlogger said...

Great overview of cashmere yarn. I recently did a post on my blog about the ways in which young fashion designers in Scotland are reinventing how cashmere is used for a more hip style and discovered that it's truly a fascinating industry.