The Process of cashmere
In theory any animal can produce cashmere grade hair, but climatic conditions seem to have a very important impact. It is for this reason that we find the finest grades of Cashmere located in extremely cold high altitude climates such as Mongolia. The goats naturally produce two layers of hair for themselves, an outer courser layer, and a softer under layer (under down). It is this inner layer which is most prized and between May to June carefully hand combed from the animals before being washed of dirt and sent off to market. The very finest hairs are found under the nape of the neck and the herder can take up to 3 days extracting the precious material from a single goat. The longer hair is then removed shortly afterwards.
At this stage all work is carried out by hand in Mongolia as it requires a skilled touch and patience, with only 150g or so of underdown being extracted per goat. This means that a single jumper can require the hair of up to 3 goats. China in comparison to Mongolia clips its animals by machine from the start and sorts the grades of hair later. To connoisseurs in the know, this mechanisation caused a coarser end result.
Once the hair has been collected it is sold at market to middlemen who transport it to the capital or borders where it is either processed and woven locally or sent overseas for processing. Like other yarns cashmere can be died a wide range of colours to suit, but by undergoing this treatment, some of the important softness is lost. Therefore if you want the very softest items around, the natural undyed colours are the best.
Cashmere threads are made through a multi-step process that involves collecting and processing the fine hair from the Cashmere or Capra Hircus goat.
Shearing or Molting: Cashmere is typically harvested from the goat's undercoat. This can occur through shearing the goat or by collecting the hairs when the goat naturally molts, shedding its winter coat.
Sorting and Selection: After harvesting, the collected hair goes through a sorting process. Skilled workers carefully separate the coarse outer guard hairs from the soft and fine cashmere fibers, ensuring that only the high-quality cashmere is used.
Cleaning: The selected cashmere fibers are cleaned to remove any dirt, grease, and impurities. This is usually done through a combination of washing and combing processes.
Dehairing: In some cases, the cashmere is further processed to remove any remaining coarse guard hairs, leaving only the soft, downy cashmere fibers. This process is called dehairing and is crucial for ensuring the quality and softness of the final product.
Carding: The cleaned and dehaired cashmere fibers are then carded. Carding involves brushing the fibers to align them in the same direction, creating a fluffy and uniform fiber mass. This step prepares the fibers for spinning.
Spinning: The carded cashmere fibers are spun into yarn. This can be done using various spinning methods, with different numbers of threads (2-ply, 3-ply, etc.) resulting in different thicknesses of cashmere yarn.
Dyeing (optional): If colored cashmere is desired, the yarn may be dyed at this stage.
Weaving or Knitting: The cashmere yarn is used to create fabric, either by weaving on looms or by knitting using specialized machines.
Finishing: The finished fabric is carefully inspected and may undergo additional processes to improve its texture, softness, and appearance. These finishing touches can include steaming, pressing, and other treatments.
Quality Control: Quality control checks are performed at various stages to ensure that the cashmere meets the desired standards for softness, color, and overall quality.