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Cashmere wool, usually simply known as cashmere, is a fiber obtained from Cashmere and other types of goats. The word cashmere derives from an old spelling of Kashmir. Cashmere is fine in texture, and strong, light, and soft. Garments made from it provide excellent insulation.
Cashmere is characterized by its fine, soft fibers. It provides a natural light-weight insulation without bulk. Fibers are highly adaptable and easily spun into yarns and light to heavy-weight fabrics. The original undyed or natural colors of cashmere wool are various shades of grey, brown and white.
In the United States, under the U.S. Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939, as amended, (15 U.S.C. Section 68b(a)(6)), states that a wool or textile product may not be labeled as containing cashmere unless:
The average fiber diameter may be subject to a coefficient of variation around the mean that shall not exceed 24 percent.
Cashmere wool fiber for clothing and other textile articles is obtained from the neck region of Cashmere and other goats. Historically, fine-haired Cashmere goats have been called Capra hircus laniger, as if they were a subspecies of the domestic goat Capra hircus. However, they are now more commonly considered part of the domestic goat subspecies Capra aegagrus hircus. Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat or underdown of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called guard hair. For the fine underdown to be sold and processed further, it must be de-haired. De-hairing is a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair. After de-hairing, the resulting "cashmere" is ready to be dyed and converted into yarn, fabrics and garments.
Cashmere is collected during the spring moulting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat. In the Northern Hemisphere, the goats moult as early as March and as late as May.
In some regions, the mixed mass of down and coarse hair is removed by hand with a coarse comb that pulls tufts of fiber from the animal as the comb is raked through the fleece. The collected fiber then has a higher yield of pure cashmere after the fiber has been washed and dehaired. The long, coarse guard hair is then typically clipped from the animal and is often used for brushes, interlinings and other non-apparel uses. Animals in Iran, Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Australia are typically shorn of their fleece, resulting in a higher coarse hair content and lower pure cashmere yield. In America, the most popular method is combing. The process takes up to two weeks, but with a trained eye for when the fiber is releasing, it is possible to comb the fibers out in about a week.
China has become the largest producer of raw cashmere and their clip is estimated at 10,000 metric tons per year (hair in). Mongolia produces somewhat more than 3,000 tons (2,721 tonnes) (hair in), while Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and other Central Asian Republics produce significant but lesser amounts. The annual world clip is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 tons (13,605 and 18,140 tonnes) (hair in). "Pure cashmere", resulting from removing animal grease, dirt and coarse hairs from the fleece, is estimated at about 6,500 tons (5,895 tonnes). It is estimated that on average yearly production per goat is 150 grams (about 1/3 lb).
Pure cashmere can be dyed and spun into yarns and knitted into jumpers (sweaters), hats, gloves, socks and other clothing, or woven into fabrics then cut and assembled into garments such as outer coats, jackets, trousers (pants), pajamas, scarves, blankets, and other items. Fabric and garment producers in Scotland, Italy, and Japan have long been known as market leaders.
In the United States, the town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts was an incubator for the cashmere wool industry. It had the first power looms for woolens and the first manufacture of "satinets". Capron Mill had the first power looms, in 1820. It burned on July 21, 2007, in the Bernat Mill fire.
Cashmere shawls have been manufactured in Nepal and Kashmir for thousands of years. Famous shawls are the jamavar with the famous paisley pattern. The fiber is also known as pashm (Persian for wool) or pashmina (Persian/Urdu word derived from Pashm) for its use in the handmade shawls of Kashmir. References to woolen shawls appear in Mughal texts between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD. However, the founder of the cashmere wool industry is traditionally thought the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Turkestan.
In the 18th and early 19th century Kashmir (then called Cashmere by the British), had a thriving industry producing shawls from goat down imported from Tibet and Tartary through Ladakh. The down trade was controlled by treaties signed as a result of previous wars. The shawls were introduced into Western Europe when the General in Chief of the French campaign in Egypt (1799–1802) sent one to Paris. The shawl's arrival is said to have created an immediate sensation and plans were put in place to start manufacturing the product in France.
Trading in Commercial quantities of raw cashmere between Asia and Europe began with Valerie Audresset SA, Louviers, France claiming to be the first European company to commercially spin cashmere. The down was imported from Tibet through Kasan the capital of the Russian province Volga and was used in France to create imitation woven shawls. Unlike the Kashmir shawls, the French shawls had a different pattern on each side. The imported cashmere was spread out on large sieves and beaten with sticks to open the fibers and clear away the dirt. After opening, the cashmere was washed and children removed the coarse hair. The down was then carded and combed using the same methods used for worsted spinning.
In 1819, M. Jaubert, at the expense of M. Ternaux and under the auspices of the French government, imported several Tibetan and Tartary cross goats into France. Edward Riley (nephew of Alexander Riley) saw the herd in 1828, and described it as a mixture of colors from brown to white, covered with coarse hair, with an average of three ounces (84 grams) of down underneath the hair. Mr Riley also saw M. Polonceau's herd. Polonceau selected from the Ternaux herd and crossed his animals with a selected fine Angora buck. In 1831 Mr Riley went back to France and purchased ten females in kid and two bucks from Mr Polonceau and sent them to Australia. At the time, the average production of the Polonceau herd was 16 ounces (500 grams) of down.
By 1830, weaving cashmere shawls with French-produced yarn had become an important Scottish industry. The Scottish Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures offered a 300 Pound Sterling reward to the first person who could spin cashmere in Scotland based on the French system. Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane collected the required information while in Paris and received a Scottish patent for the process in 1831. In the autumn of 1831, he sold the patent to Henry Houldsworth and sons of Glasgow. In 1832 Henry Houldsworth and sons commenced the manufacture of yarn, and in 1833 received the reward.
Dawson International claim to have invented the first commercial dehairing machine in 1890, and from 1906 they purchased cashmere from China, but were restricted to purchasing fiber from Beijing and Tianjing until 1978. In 1978 trade was liberalised and Dawson International began buying cashmere from many provinces.
In the United States, many early textile centers developed as part of the American Industrial Revolution. Among them, the Blackstone Valley became a major contributor to the American Industrial Revolution. The town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts became an early textile center in the Blackstone Valley, which was known for the manufacture of cashmere wool and satinets, from circa 1810.