That delightfully soft cardigan, those wonderfully warming socks or that sumptuous scarf which protects your neck in the frosty winter months, cashmere clothing always becomes an essential item for cold weather. But where does this perplexingly light and insulating fabric come from? The answer is a small, unremarkable and nimble creature, scrambling the chilly hills of mountainous countries like Afghanistan, Mongolia and New Zealand.
Wool from the Cashmere goat is renowned for being extremely fine, light and soft, but also very strong, making it a fantastic material for transforming into durable and comfortable clothing. The wool is collected during the springtime moulting season, mainly from the neck region of the goat where the coat is thick and soft. The Cashmere goat is actually enshrouded by a double fleece, with the fine soft undercoat being mixed with straight and coarse hair which creates a protective layer on the outside. This amalgamation of apparent fluff needs to be carefully sorted, to separate the fine undercoat from the rough intermingled hair. In America, where goats are now bred, the preferred method is combing, which completely removes all the unwanted coarse clumps and leaves pure cashmere. The bristly fibres which remain are often made into brushes, so no hair is wasted. In New Zealand, the wool is often shorn from the goat leaving quite a high content of coarse hair. The wool is ready for dying and pulling into yarns when it has been de-haired. Cashmere has been used for shawls across the Tibetan plateau for thousands of years, but it was only in the 1830’s that the UK adopted the art when a Scottish manufacturer successfully created the yarn using French methods.
Nowadays, this special wool is knitted into thousands of clothes and accessories for all ages (not just your grandmother as once thought), from cashmere sweaters to cashmere socks and cashmere baby blankets for keeping young ones cuddled up against the cold.
So why is it so popular to wear? Not only is it such a soft, light and warm material, but compared to other wools cashmere is extremely comfortable against the skin since there are no itchy fibres sticking out of the yarn.