History08 Feb 2011 07:49 pm
Cashmere wool, usually simply known as cashmere, is a fiber obtained from Cashmere and other types of goats. 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 the use of cashmere as shawls or wraps when he gave his second wife, Empress Eugenie, seventeen of them. Victorian England prized the famous “ring shawls” woven in the Indian State of Kashmir.
Despite the glamour associated with cashmere, it hails from humble beginnings. Cashmere 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.
There are five primary steps to cashmere production:
• Sorting, scouring
• Weaving or knitting
The finest cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of the goats, but a lesser grade is also taken from the goats’ legs and backs. Longer fibers from the belly and throat area make the wool especially soft and cause less “pilling” when the fibers are woven into garments such as sweaters, shawls, capes, dresses, and coats for both men and women. The shorter fibers from the backs and legs are heavier and less expensive, making it easier to afford a luxury garment. Cashmere comes naturally in white, gray and brown, but the wool is easily dyed, which explains all of those Ann Taylor cardigans in assorted Easter egg colors.
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