What is Cashmere?
Pure 100% cashmere is a prestigious and fine quality wool with the best being produced by particular types of goats from very cold regions of the world. The finest is recognised as originating in Mongolia. Cashmere is the fine and soft undercoat that is found beneath the course outer guard (protective) hair of these goats. During the spring the goats moult and it is only then that the hair is collected ready to be processed into yarn. Only about 3-4 ounces can be collected from each goat per year so you can appreciate that it will take several goats to produce enough hair to make a jumper. The yarn made from this is precious and should be treated as such.
What determines a top quality cashmere yarn?
The most important factor in the quality of cashmere yarn is the length and fineness of the fibres. Garments made from yarn with long thin fibres pill less and any pilling that may occur will form longer thinner bobbles which are easy to remove by hand. Poorer quality cashmere will form a lot of small round bobbles which are more plentiful and difficult to remove, so a comb would be useful.
If cashmere is extremely soft and fluffy initially it is a sign of over-milling, and it will wear quickly and badly. It could perhaps be compared with buying a pot plant or a bouquet of flowers, in that if all the flowers are already in full bloom at the time of purchase the initial impact is lovely but the flowers will die in a shorter time than if they were still buds when bought.
What about the terms "ply" and "count"?
2/28 or more properly written 2/28NM refers firstly to the ply and secondly the fineness (count) of the yarn. Most of our garments are made from 2 ply meaning that 2 single yarns have been spun into 2 plies. Two-ply yarn is better than single ply because the ply twist offsets the torque inherent in a single yarn. Additional plies add weight and colour options, but the extra plies add no extra quality. Added weight means extra cost as cashmere is purchased by the gram.
The 28NM means that 28 metres of single ply yarn weighs 1 gram. Following on 36NM indicates that the yarn has been spun longer than the 28NM to make 36 metres weigh 1 gram, making a finer yarn. The higher the count the more expensive the yarn will be. The industry standard yarn that most manufacturers use is 2/26NM.
What about the manufacturing process, doesn't that matter too?
Good quality knitting machines are very important. Loosely knit, limp fabric is the hallmark of a cheaply made garment. It should spring back into shape after being pulled. ILC's garments are hand finished by skilled people.
How is cashmere fibre graded?
By industry standards cashmere fineness runs from about 14 microns to 19 microns and must be at least 1-1/4" long. The lower the number, the thinner the fibre means the better the quality. A micron is one-millionth of a meter, so each fibre is very, very fine. By comparison a human hair can range from 17 to 181 microns in diameter. Cashmere fibre is naturally crimped and therefore it has what is known as "loft" which enables garments made from it to provide warmth without weight.
What is the difference between pure cashmere, cashmere/silk blends and cashmere/cotton blends?
Several things; silk blends very well with cashmere and gives garments a glorious sheen and drape. Silk is a "harder" fibre when blended with cashmere so the silk & cashmere blended garments do not feel as soft as 100% cashmere. Silk is less expensive than cashmere so a garment made from a silk cashmere blend should be cheaper than the 100% cashmere garment. Cashmere blended with cotton will produce a lower priced, cooler garment with some of the characteristics, luxury and softness of cashmere.
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