Cashmere is a luxuriant wool that many a fashion-conscious woman has dreamed of wearing against her skin. Its silken feel, feather-light weight, and appreciable status make it highly desirable.
Despite the glamour associated with cashmere, it hails from humble beginnings. It is the wool or fur of the Kashmir goat. Kashmir goats are primarily raised in Mongolia, but many are bred in Iran, Tibet, India and China. American herders have also joined the international cashmere production market in recent years.
Cashmere is harvested from the goats during their annual molting season through the shedding or the shearing of their down. In the frigid high desert climates where most of the goats are raised, the dense inner coat guards against harsh winter weather, but once seasons change, goats begin to lose the protective layer of down.
The finest cashmere usually comes from the back and shoulders of the goats. Fibers from the belly and hind area may be usable because they are fine fibers, but they are usually too short to make quality wool. They can be mixed with other fibers though to make quality material, just not quality cashmere wool. Shorter fibers have a tendency to "pill," whereas longer fibers are easier to spin and don't pill as easily when they're woven into garments. The fibers come naturally in white, gray and brown, but the wool is easily dyed.
Garments made of cashmere were once only available to royalty because the rarity of the wool increased its value. Napoleon is said to have popularized its use for shawls or wraps when he gave his second wife, Empress Eugenie, seventeen of them.
In more recent years, Old-Hollywood glamor girls graced the silver screen, bringing cashmere to the hearts of people everywhere. The "original sweater girl," Lana Turner, created a phenomenon when she wore a tight cashmere sweater in a 1937 film called, They Won't Forget. Similar sweaters of all description soon became haute coutre; evening sweaters with heavily encrusted jewels and embroidery became popular during the 1940s, and the famed sweater set of best-dressed college coeds ruled the 50s. Avid collectors are now frantic to snatch up those fine examples of vintage cashmere sweaters.
Woven garments made of cashmere must be dry cleaned, but knitted articles may be hand washed. Home weavers and knitters cherish the yarn for its soft hand and practical warmth; the wool is available for home projects at yarn shops or online via Internet craft and knitting sites.
The quality and feel of cashmere will leave you longing for more. Owning a garment made of of this fabric is a fashion treat to be truly treasured — after all, it takes one little goat four years to produce enough wool to make just one sweater.