Cashmere is a type of soft, luxurious goat wool that comes from central Asia, primarily Mongolia, China, and Tibet; today little comes from its namesake, Kashmir. The goats that give us cashmere live in high cold wind-swept plateaus like the Gobi desert, and develop thick coats of coarse outer hairs and fine soft inner down to keep them warm in the winter. In the spring, they molt, shedding their coats in clumps. The hair is either gathered by hand or obtained by combing; no goats are harmed in the making of cashmere. The wool is laboriously cleaned by hand, and most cashmere is woven on hand looms.

Cashmere has been made for centuries, but it used to be much more expensive and rare than it is today, and so was used primarily by royalty. Apparently a European fad for cashmere was started by Napoleon Bonaparte, who gave his wife seventeen cashmere shawls; Queen Victoria had several, and Beau Brummell was the talk of the town with his white cashmere waistcoat. Cashmere's still pretty fancy, but no longer solely for the rich. Mongolia produces top quality cashmere, and recently there's been a surge of interest in Nepali pashmina, a type of cashmere used primarily for shawls and scarves. Gritchka, I've heard, is a cashmere scarf.

Your cashmere sweater will last a lot longer if you wash it gently by hand, taking care not to stretch or wring the garment. Don't let it dangle from your hand, as this will stretch and tear the fibers. Wrap the washed and rinsed item in a towel and roll up, allowing the towel to absorb much of the moisture. Then lay the garment on a clean dry towel and form it into its natural shape, after which you should allow it to thoroughly air dry (you will probably have to turn it over once). Fold it carefully to store; never hang a cashmere item, or it will stretch out of shape.

Cashmere is also a town in Washington state, nestled in the picturesque Cascade Mountains. The town is a producer of apples, pears, peaches, and cherries, and mysteriously claims to be home to aplets and cotlets; I have no idea what those are, beyond fruits. (Update: now I know, for Kit advises that they are a type of jelly candy with nuts.) It has a pioneer village and historic museum.

For more info on the town, see And for detailed instructions on washing your expensive cashmere sweater, refer to

it has been said that putting on a cashmere garment is much like savoring fine chocolate: a sensuous experience hinting at softness, warmth, luxury, indulgence, and even a sensation that is vaguely erotic.

Cashmere comes from the thin coats of fine, down-like hair that grow only on the torso areas of cashmere goats. The goats are principally bred and herded in Outer Mongolia and, unlike sheep bred for wool, the goats sport coats of tough hair which suit the harsh environment in which they graze. The coats of fine hair are thermal underwear to the goats, enabling them to survive the severe Siberian climate.

The quality of a cashmere garment is determined by the yarn used in its manufacturing, and the quality of cashmere yarn is determined first of all by the natural color of the fibers used in its production. Natural colors of cashmere fibers range from pure white to medium purple, with pure white being the most desirable and the most expensive because white fibers can be dyed into light colors as well as darker ones.

The standard established by the industry and upheld by the governments of cashmere producing countries states that to qualify as ‘pure new cashmere’ the fibers in the yarn have to be at least 95% pure, finer than 16.5 microns in average diameter, and longer than 28 mm in average length. Sub-standard fibers are regularly withdrawn and then reintroduced in small percentages into lots of better quality fibers.

Shearing of the cashmere goats is done seasonally. The shorn layers of fine hair are then manually beaten into smaller tufts and sold in bulk by secret bids to cashmere brokers, right there on the Outer Mongolia steppes. Carding machines then remove coarse hair, and scouring baths of sodium carbonate and ammonia or of ammonium carbonate remove impurities such as vegetations and animal products from the bulk fibers.

After carding and scouring, the fibers are known as dehaired cashmere, and are then sold in units of 1,000 kilograms to cashmere yarn manufacturers who would subsequently dye, spin and twist the fibers into yarn according to the specifications and requirements of different garment manufacturers.

Market prices for cashmere are subjected to supply and demand. Currently a 1,000-kilogram unit of dehaired cashmere wholesales for more than US$45,000, mainly due to recent escalations of the ancient feud between cashmere goat farmers and other ranchers over rights to graze on the steppes. This situation has resulted in wide scale hoarding. However, considering the high cost and irregular demand, the risks of speculating in cashmere are substantial and always real.

Along with silk, cashmere is one of the most prized natural fibers used in clothing. Lofty price tags, the rarity factor, and appearances of exquisite cashmere shawls on the shoulders of many a heroine in literature and on stage have no doubt contributed to the perception of cashmere as something exotic, but cashmere garments are also practical and durable.

Direct sunlight has negligible effect on cashmere, although undyed cashmere could turn yellowish if so exposed.

Most organic acids in weak concentrations would not harm cashmere, but citric acid could discolor the fibers. Cashmere is more likely to be damaged by alkali than by acids.

Next to polyester, cashmere is the most resilient. A piece of twisted cashmere yarn can be stretched up to 30% when dry, and up to 40% when wet, without affecting its strength.

Knitted cashmere garments retain their shapes well, and can withstand heavy twisting and crushing without becoming wrinkled or deformed.

Cashmere has medium flaming properties, and is slow burning and self-extinguishing.

Cashmere stands up well to dry-cleaning, but bleaching agents could oxidize the fibers and eventually disintegrate them.

Cashmere is resistant to mildew and fungus, but prolonged wetness may result in moulds. Therefore, cashmere garments should be kept dry and away from moths and other insects.

Finally, cashmere garments should not be placed on hangers. They should be folded and then stored in drawers, ready to serve in the event of another chocolate craving attack when no more chocolate is left.

Cash"mere (?), n.


A rich stuff for shawls, acaris, etc., originally made in Cashmere from the soft wool found beneath the hair of the goats of Cashmere, Thibet, and the Himalayas. Some cashmere, of fine quality, is richly embroidered for sale to Europeans.


A dress fabric made of fine wool, or of fine wool and cotton, in imitation of the original cashmere.

Cashmere shawl, a rich and costly shawl made of cashmere; -- other called camel's-hair shawl.


© Webster 1913.

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