What is Cashmere ?
Cashmere is a very fine fabric made from fibers obtained from the downy undercoat of goats. It is named after the state of Kashmir in India where it was originally made. Cashmere goats (Capra hircus laniger) are mostly found in Mongolia (wikipedia).
Though the process of extracting the fibers and processing it makes this fabric very expensive to produce, this rare and most coveted fabric in the world is prized because of the softness and fine quality. Socks, sweater, wraps, robes, hoodies, scarves, pullovers, hats jumpers, ponchos, gloves are all made with this precious fabric. Just imagine – your precious sweater is probably made with wool from some 4 goats!!.
The advantage of Cashmere over other wool is that at the same weight it is much more warmer. Some even claim it causes the least irritation to the skin. Not to mention the luxurious look of things made with this fabric.
The thickness of this fabric is mentioned as ply. Spring or summer sweaters are usually 2-ply, while winter sweaters made from cashmere are 6 to 12 ply.The finest of cashmere is known by the name Pashmina.
Not all cashmere garments are pure cashmere fibers these days. They are blended with other yarn to produce better quality fibers that will pill less and still be soft. Sometimes this blend may also affect the quality of the garment. If your cashemere sweater is pilling continously and heavily it is not a good quality garment that you have. Acrylic may mimic cashmere sometimes and trick you into believeing it is cashmere but the softness of the fabric is telling.
A properly cared for cashmere piece will last a lifetime and is worth all the money you have probably paid for it.
Cashmere is basically wool. So all the care that you take for woollen clothes should be taken with cashmere clothes.
Read and follow the washing instructions given in the care label of your garment.But most of the care labels will ask you to dry clean the garment. I would say you can hand wash your cashmere after the initial dry clean or two by following some general guidelines of handwashing.
Wash Cashmere garments after 2-3 times of wear.
Machine washing is generally not recommended for cashmere clothes. Hand washing in tepid water ( not hot or cold ; never hot or warm) is preferred. Donot wring the cashmere clothes or twist it to take out water.
If you MUST machine wash, keep it in the laundry bag and put in the gentlest cycle in your machine ( delicate on mine; check if your machine says hand wash cycle). Skip the dry cycle. Checkout the tutorial for making a laundry bag
If you notice stains, deal with it immediately before washing the garment. Use a stain remover suitable for woolen clothes.
Most cashmere loyalists will never touch detergent on their cashmere clothes. Nothing harsher than baby shampoo would do for washing . You can use a liquid wool detergent also. In the final rinse a spoonful of hair conditioner – with the logic that the hair of the goat will benefit from what we use on our hair.This will make your garment smooth and softer.
Lay flat to dry. Keeping the wet items on a clean towel will absorb extra water. If you hang wet cashmere fabric the fibers will stretch out of shape.Ensure that the garment is smooth when drying. If there are wrinkles when drying they may get set like that even when dry
If you have a feeling that your cashmere garment has distorted, stretched or shrunk during wash, shape it when it is still wet to your preferred shape. The fibers are very weak and pliable when wet and will dry in the exact shape that you place them when wet.
Cashmere sometimes has a horrible smell when wet. This will go away when dry.So be patient and donot get it wet when you are out wearing it. Adding some vinegar to the final rinse water is also said to remove unpleasant odour
Pilling is a regular thing with wool sweaters and the same with cashmere sweaters. You cannot fully avoid it. After sometime pilling will reduce. If you want to deal with the pilling checkout the post on preventing lint – the same principles will apply here as well.
Checkout the tips on caring for delicate clothes for more details
As for ironing Cashmere always iron on low heat settings with the garment turned inside out.Steam also works to remove stubborn wrinkles.
Storing Cashmere clothes
If your sweater is even slightly wet or has a small sweat moisture, donot store it so. Ensure it is fully dry before storing.
When storing cashmere, use mothballs to prevent moth attack. You can wrap the moth balls in sachets so that it doesnot come in direct contact with clothes. Making sure that your wardrobe is without any moisture is also a good idea. You can prevent moth attacks to an extent by making sure that the sweater doesnot have any food spills or dirt or perfume smell before storing.
Store cashmere folded flat out rather than hanging it in the wardrobe. Hanging may distort its shape in the long run. Keeping the cashmere garment in a cloth storage bag made of cloth, individually is also a great idea (never use plastic or newspapers to store cashmere).
Once in a while lay it out in the sun ( not direct sunlight and not more than 30 minutes) so that sun’s rays will destroy any moth larvae on the clothes and remove humidity.Sun drying also will prevent foul smell from mildew/ mold.