What is cashmere?
This special yarn comes from rare fibers found in the undercoat of cashmere goats who live mainly in China and Mongolia. A region of wide temperature fluctuations, with winters of -40 degrees, cashmere goats, also known as Mongolian Kashmir goats, have adapted to grow an overcoat and undercoat. The overcoat is wiry, relatively thick and waterproof. While the undercoat is ultrafine and gives extra warmth. The cashmere is combed from the undercoat.
How is cashmere graded?
The most important factor in the quality of cashmere is the length and fineness of the fibers. Long fine fibers pill less, maintain their shape better and feel exquisite to the touch. Color also impacts the quality of cashmere as naturally white hair means less processing and dyeing, for a softer result.
There are three grades of cashmere:
Grade C cashmere is the lowest quality, measuring around 30 microns wide, per hair.
Grade B cashmere is intermediate, at around 18-19 microns wide per hair.
Grade A cashmere is the finest, with as low as 14 microns wide and up to 36mm long per hair
While China and Mongolia lead the cashmere production process in terms of numbers, it is well known that the finest cashmere comes from the Inner Mongolia of China by local mountain dwelling communities. The harsher winter conditions and diet of the Kashmir goats makes for finer, denser, more pure white color undercoats, producing the highest quality raw fibers. Due to limited, handmade production, these are very expensive garments.
Is it good quality cashmere?
There are several tests you can do to measure the quality of a cashmere garment.
The Touch Test
Cashmere should feel soft and not scratchy against your skin. Higher quality cashmere is soft, but not overly soft to touch – it softens over time. Some companies increase the softness by treating the cashmere with chemical additives and softeners or by over washing it, which reduces the life of the fibers.
The Stretch Test
Gently stretch out a piece of the cashmere and see if it springs back into shape. If it does then the quality if good. Also stretch it and look through it. The tighter the knit, the better quality. It will retain its shape and be less susceptible to holes.
The Pilling Test
Rub your hand over the cashmere. If little balls start forming it is a sign that the cashmere used contains an excess amount of shorter hairs, which means lower quality. All cashmere will pill over time, but if it pills immediately, it’s a sign of low quality.
The Look Test
Hold the cashmere at eye level and look across the surface. A small amount of fluffiness, between 1-2mm, means longer hairs were used so less pilling will happen. If it’s fluffier, then shorter hairs have been used, which can increase softness but decreases longevity.