The complete guide to cashmere
Author: Nicholas Yiannitsaros
One of the greatest pleasures when the weather turns chilly is picking out the collection of knitwear, scarves and gloves that will get you through the coming months. But is opting for cashmere the right way to go?
Not to be confused with sheep’s wool, cashmere is sourced from a different species of animal entirely. Made from the hairs of a particular goat native to Northeast Asia, it’s one of the most luxurious fabrics money can buy renowned for its incredible softness.
So if this famous fabric’s reputation alone isn’t enough to convince you, we’ve compiled a cashmere masterclass to discover just why this king of knitwear is so suited to take on plummeting temperatures and elevate your winter wardrobe for years to come.
What is the origin of cashmere?
Introduced to the West in the fifteenth century, cashmere first arrived to the British Isles as opulently-decorated shawls transported from the Kashmir region of India, where the fabric was woven and now takes its name.
Predominantly enjoyed by royalty and the upper classes in Britain and France, the highly desirable yarn remained a symbol of exclusivity all through the Victorian era.
When knitwear became part of the everyday style vocabulary in the 1920s, thanks to a relaxing of dress codes and advanced knitwear production techniques, cashmere was naturally a top choice of material because of its silky smooth finish against the skin.
How is cashmere made?
T.M.Lewin sources its cashmere from Mongolia, one of three key areas that the Cashmere goats thrive. They produce a thick, double-layered fleece to handle the harsh winters with lows of -40 °C and it is the under layer of fine, insulating hairs that go into making a cashmere garment.
We only use the particularly thin and long hairs from the chest area, which are highly-prized for weaving a stronger, more durable, and indulgently plush fabric. The best quality fibres are up to 42mm long and as thin as 15 microns (compared to a human hair which is 50 microns).
It’s only in the spring, when the herd begin to shed its winter coat, that the animals are combed to gather the precious strands. They are never sheared as this tangles together the sought after hairs with the coarse outer layer for an inferior result.
For just one cashmere jumper it takes the coat of 2-3 animals to craft, which makes it rarer and more labour intensive than its woolly cousin.
Why choose cashmere?
Simply put, cashmere is a joy to wear. From slipping your hands into cashmere-lined leather gloves, to wrapping yourself in a generously-sized scarf (available in four colours to suit every coat), the richness speaks for itself when someone accidently brushes against you and remarks on the quality.
Not only does it feel sumptuous against the skin, but the ultra-fine threads produce little heat-trapping air pockets that keep you warm while staying lightweight. Whether as a pure cashmere jumper or a decadent silk blend cardigan, cashmere’s natural breathability is ideal for layering with a cotton shirt to keep your commute comfortable.
In our single-breasted overcoats, which have to be harder-wearing, we’ve blended our cashmere with merino wool to combine a high-end finish with natural resilience.
How to take care of cashmere?
Investing in the real cashmere will pay style dividends for years to come. Should you look after it, that is. The main thing to consider is how you wash it.
Never dry clean or put 100% cashmere in the washing machine. Instead, handwash it in warm water, no hotter than 30 °C, as this increases the risk of shrinkage. Use a small amount of a specialist cashmere soap (or baby shampoo works just as well) and be sure to not vigorously rub but gently submerge it. After rinsing, lay it flat on a clean towel, especially jumpers that can easily lose their shape when hung up, and blot dry.
Unlike other garments, washing can actually improve the quality of your cashmere and increase its softness.
A word to the wise, pilling on cashmere is perfectly natural in places prone to wear and friction, i.e. under the arms or around the neck. An inexpensive cashmere comb to carefully brush away the bobbles will maintain a smooth, like-new look.
What is the best way to store cashmere?
For all cashmere goods, fold and store flat in a drawer to avoid misshaping (except coats of course which can be hung up).
When packing your cashmere away for the season, store them inside a breathable, zip-up plastic or cotton storage bag to protect them. Pop in a couple of cedar wood balls to deter hungry moths then tuck it away in a cool, dark place away from damp until the weather calls for them again.