Thursday, October 18, 2012 1:21:14 PM Europe/London
Cashmere is a fine hair which comes from Capra Hircus goats. These goats live in the wild expanses of China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Iran. They produce different types of fibre ranging from the finest and most expensive light Chinese, through to coarser, darker, Afghan and Iranian.Cashmere fibre is a rare natural commodity so fibre prices are subject to market fluctuations. It is estimated that Global production is about 6,500 tons which on average yearly production per goat is 150 grams (about 1/3 lb). The finest cashmere hair is from China, the fineness a result of poor dietary grazing, continual herd movement and extremely harsh climate. Fibre price is determined by several factors:
Average Fibre Thickness. Grade A cashmere is 14 microns (14 millionths of a metre) thick but fibre can go up to 30 microns. The finer it is the more expensive it is but the softer it feels.
Average Fibre Length. Grade A cashmere is 34mm-36mm, the longer fibres giving higher tensile strength when knitting and better product durability.
Colour. Very light Chinese cashmere is the rarest, finest and most expensive cashmere fibre. It is used mainly for white yarn and for pale colours.These light coloured yarns are more expensive. The more common darker cashmere cannot be used for light coloured products.
Purity. While Grade A cashmere is pure, some cashmere fibre can become unintentionally mixed with other course fibres through poor processing. Cheap cashmere is almost always made with a lot of cheap courser fibres to increase short-term margin or maintain low retail price points for High Street and Supermarket distribution. Our products only use Grade A cashmere.
Once harvested, the fibre has to be processed through several stages.
De-hairing. This removes the greasy, coarse, outer hair called “guard hair” from the fibre. Poor dehairing will leave guard hair and black hairs in the fibre which have to be picked out once knitted into fabric. Dyeing. Has to be done in such a manner so as not to harden the fibre but has to be full, deep, level colour. It also has to be “colour-fast”. Spinning. This is where the dyed hair is first carded which gets all the fibres lying in the same direction in a web. The web is then cut into strips called slubs before being put on a spinning mule where the slub is drawn out and twisted into yarn. Fine cashmere is spun at a count or weight of 36 grams per kilometre (after which two ends are normally twisted together giving a yarn weight of 72 grams per kilometre
Most knitters buy dyed spun cashmere yarn from reputable spinners to ensure purity and quality. The fibres are tightly twisted together or spun, to give the yarn tensile strength allowing it to be pulled through needle beds at the knitting stage without bursting. It has oil in it which is necessary at the spinning stage and which also helps the knitting process. There is also quite an amount of loose dye as well. So, cashmere yarn and unwashed cashmere panels do not feel soft, in fact, they feel hard and feel greasy!
These can be split into knitting and finishing. Knitting converts the yarn into knitted pieces or panels and finishing joins them together, washes them, and adds any trims.
KNITTING. This is the process which converts the yarn into knitted pieces or panels on knitting machines. The gauge of machine is the main factor in determining the stitch density of the fabric and, apart from a few exceptional circumstances, the weight of yarn used and weight of resultant knitted fabric as well. Traditional flat bed machines use needles set in a block of lead. So if a needle broke the operator would remove the old “lead” from the machine and fit a new one with new needles. The gauge is expressed in the number of needles per lead and a lead was 1.5 inches. So, a 21 gauge frame, expressed as 21gg, has 21 needles per lead which is 21 needles per 1.5 inches which is 14 needles per inch. The other main gauge for traditional knitting frames is 15gg, which is 15 needles per lead, or 15 needles per 1.5 inches which is 10 needles per inch.
FINISHING (PRE-WASHING) This includes linking and tacking. Linking is where the end of a quality scarf is secured or where the panels of a sweater are joined together. It is a stitch for point operation where a skilled operator picks each sequential stitch of knitted fabric onto the points on the dial of a linking machine and then the machine makes a linking chain, using cashmere yarn, along the line of the stitches. The ends of the linking chain are then hand tacked to stop it from unravelling and the pieces are now ready for washing.
WASHING. Washing is critical and is done with carefully formulated soap in soft Scottish water at carefully controlled temperatures. If you live in a hard water area you will know how difficult it is to get soap to lather. This is where cashmere processors Worldwide cannot compete as they do not have access to the soft Scottish water. (Many have installed elaborate and expensive water treatment plants to emulate soft Scottish water with mixed results!) The soap has a scouring agent in it which acts as a detergent and chemically removes the oil that is in the yarn. The first rinse removes the oil, loose dye and any loose fibre from the wash. On the second stage, with fresh warm water and fresh soap, the cashmere pieces start to mill and get rubbed together. This action allows the tightly twisted fibres in the yarn to begin to open up and expand. Once carefully dried, the cashmere piece will have the gorgeous feel that makes it so desireable. It is easy to 'overmill' cashmere which makes it appear matted and felted. There is no recovery process for this and the pieces have to be scrapped. A well-made cashmere product should feel soft and this should get better and softer as the piece is worn and washed. If it is too soft in the shop, it will pill and deteriorate rapidly. A good indication is to hold the cashmere piece up at eye level and look along the top surface. There should be a fuzziness above the fabric. If it is around 1mm then it should be fine - anymore and it will pill with minimal use.
FINISHING (AFTER-WASH) Hand-linking, inspection and packaging are all costly processes.
LABOUR COSTS. Obviously the labour content is large so the cost is significant.
WHAT IS TWO-PLY CASHMERE? Originally, there was single weight knitted fabric, made on a fine gauge machine from one-ply cashmere and there was double-weight knitted fabric, made on a coarser gauge machine from two-ply cashmere. One-ply cashmere fabric suffered from two problems, firstly, it was difficult to get a one-ply yarn even in terms of thickness and secondly, anything knitted from it was twisted by the natural twist of the one-ply yarn. At the turn of last century most yarn spinners addressed these problems by spinning yarn even thinner at half weight and then twisting two ends together. This made the overall eveness better and, because the twisting of the two ends together (an S twist) negated the twist of the original yarn (the Z twist) the knitted panels were straight and negated any spirality. From a technical point of view this is a two-ply yarn as there are two ends twisted together BUT it is still a single-weight fabric.
Two ply yarn is not double-weight nor is is two layers or knitted fabric.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR CASHMERE
When you first wear your new garment you may find small balls of fibre or ‘pills’ forming on the surface. These are not a fault or indication of inferior quality but are simply loose fibres tangling together where the garment has been rubbing. They can easily be removed by hand, with a cashmere comb or a de-pilling device. Once removed, your garment will actually consolidate and become softer.
HANDWASHING AND DRY-CLEANING
Cashmere knitwear can be hand washed or dry-cleaned. We recommend hand washing your knitwear following these simple guidelines and dry cleaning woven items such as scarves or blankets.
Hand wash in luke warm water (not more than 35°c) using cashmere shampoo. Gently squeeze the suds through the fabric, taking care not to rub the garment too much as this may cause shrinkage and increase pilling. Rinse the garment in cool clean water, squeezing gently without twisting or wringing. A short light spin in a spin dryer will help remove most of the water.
Smooth the garment back into shape, gently coaxing any facings or trims back to the correct size, and dry naturally away from direct heat such as radiators and sunlight. Ideally the garment should be dried flat on a clean towel. When dry, press lightly with a cool iron.
Under no circumstances should the garment be tumble-dried.
Following these instructions, your garment will preserve its shape and luxurious touch for many years - the hallmarks of the very best cashmere.