Why should you love cashmere?
Well, let me answer you curious reader.
First of all, cashmere is a super soft fibre (especially when you get the good quality). It is lovely and scrumptious to wear against your skin. It is non-allergenic and anti-bacterial, all good qualities even if you can see it with the naked eye.
Furthermore, when you wear a nice (woven) cashmere scarf or shawl, you get just the right amount of bulk to look chic and that's never a bad thing. On top of that, a woven cashmere scarf just drapes so nicely and elegantly, that you will look great wearing it - and honestly, isn't that reason enough to wear cashmere scarves? It is! However, there are many more reasons why you should wear cashmere, and rather sensible and scientific ones in fact.
Listen carefully: did you know that cashmere is up to 8 times warmer than its beloved cousin wool? Cashmere fibre has a crimp that wool does not have; the little crimp holds pockets of warm air close to the body and makes it warmer. You see, cashmere goats (carpa hircus, or chyangra as they are called in Himalayan regions where they originate) developed this special fibre underneath their outer coat (the coarser fibres that at a first glance covers the goat) in order to keep warm in temperatures that at times dip below - 40 C. They needed to develop this special fibre if they were going to survive in such a harsh climate, and because they need to stay nimble and quick on their feet they couldn't bulk up by adding more layers of heavy wool, hence they grow this special inner coat of fine fibres. If they are at higher altitudes, they even develop a special fine type of cashmere that in the Himalayas is known as pashm (as in pashmina, a subject I will cover in another blog). If you take the goats away from this special climate, then their fibres will change because their natural needs will change - yes, nature is impressively clever.
Ayh, you make think, it is all very well and good that cashmere is so warm despite its loftiness and airiness, but I work in an office with central heating. In the weekends, you may continue, I spend time with heat-emitting people in shops and cafes. Well, you see, this is where cashmere is so special. Cashmere has a high moisture content, which means that the insulating properties of the cashmere changes with the humidity in the air. In other words, it adjusts to your needs and is comfortable to wear even in warmer weather.
Another bonus with cashmere is that it is so light. The same crimp that helps making the cashmere fibres warmer, also helps the fibres interlock during processing and that's how they can be spun into such a fine and light yarn. Thus you have a super soft, very light fibre with a low micron (19 or less). This gives you a piece of clothing that literally is light to take along. A cashmere shawl or scarf can be folded and rolled up, so it takes little space in your handbag and is very light to carry. This is another reason why a cashmere shawl or scarf is the ideal travel companion. It is extremely versatile (scarf, blanket, wrap all in one) and it weighs so little.
Gosh, so cashmere is warm and yet doesn't make you uncomfortably warm, it is light to carry and drapes extremely well. It is non-allergenic, naturally anti-bacterial and best of all; it is super soft and luxurious. You see, it is easy to love cashmere.
(published Oct 2013)
Cashmere - a few words about quality
Up-loading pictures of some gorgeous hand made cashmere scarves for Asneh.com today, I started thinking about how amazed people always are when they see and feel the scarves and how difficult it is to convey that feel on a picture. Once in a while a picture doesn't speak more than a thousand words!
Cashmere is great, but not all cashmere is created equal, and here lies the catch. You see, cashmere comes from a goat (capra hircus), but otherwise it is it many ways like gold, it is a precious raw material. Just as there are different levels of gold (carats), so you have different levels of cashmere. The quality of cashmere depends on a number of factors. Let's look at the three basic ones.
First of all there is the thickness to consider, or should I rather say the thinness? For clothing to be classified as cashmere, the fibre must to come from the right animal (capra hircus), and the average fibre micron (circumference of fibres are measured in micron) mustn’t exceed 19 microns. A human hair is about 76 microns - just to give you an idea about what 19 microns or less means.
Now if you want the best quality, then you need to look for cashmere with a micron about 15 or less.
Good, so fibre thickness is an issue, what else? Purity. A cashmere item is only legally a cashmere item if it has a purity of 97 % (this can vary from country to country, but 97% is the most common guideline). This means that there must be no more than 3 % makeshift fibres in a cashmere product. In general the purer a cashmere is, the finer the microns and the better the fibre length (I'll get to this in a moment). Cashmere is sorted after the combing or shearing of the goats, here the coarser hair that do not qualify as cashmere are taken away (those with a micron over 19).
If the sorting is well done, then the purity is high. However, sometimes fibres are added afterwards (makeshift fibres such as wool, cotton, silk or - oh horror - synthetic fibres), either to make a blend or simply to make cheaper cashmere. Of course, cheap cashmere can be a bit of an oxymoron, because once you mix in other fibres it isn't really cashmere any more, but a blend.
The last parameter that I will cover here is fibre length. The longer the fibres, the better it usually is. Premium cashmere fibres are 36mm plus. Why is length important? For one thing, you get the longest hairs when you comb them off the goats or collect them when they moult and rub them off on nature. Does this sound like a lot of work? I am sure it is. However, long fibres give you the smooths and most silken cashmere products, plus they also tend to pill less. Regardless of how good a cashmere quality you have, there will always be some pilling, but with the use of longer fibres there will be less - especially over time.
So, you may say, it is all very well that I now have this knowledge, but how do I apply it in real life? Well, truth be told, it is not always that easy, however, there are a few tips:
For one thing, if a woven product (such as a scarf or a shawl) is handmade, then it normally is of a good quality, because the lesser qualities are generally mass-produced in big factories.
When you have fine hand embroidered pashminas (not machine embroidery or hook-needle embroidery), then usually, but not always, the quality is good. After all, it takes an average of three months to produce a hand embroidered pashmina and why put in all the labour intensive - and hence cost adding - work if the shawl is not good quality?
Finally, and I am sorry to say this, but when you see cashmere that is so cheap it seems to good to be true, then it probably isn't true. Good quality raw cashmere sells at a kilo price of € 55-60. From this state there is still a long process with many steps that the cashmere has to go through. Often there is a correlation between quality and price. Trust me, once you have had the real deal, you know why good cashmere costs money and why it is worth pay for.
(published Nov 2013)
Have you ever spotted a woman in a clothing store turning the seam of a jacket inside out or peering intensely at a button while gently tugging it? Oh you have? Well good, because you have probably seen me or someone else from my fraternity. You know the infamous fraternity-of-people-who-are-interested-in-genuinely-good-quality-clothes-and-craftsmanship. Yes, I know it has an exceedingly catchy name.
A part from being happy to invent catchy slogans (or maybe not so catchy ; 0 ) for the quality sodality , I am very happy about the return of craftsmanship to fashion. Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana - to name a few - have been sending out the most amazing embroidered and embellished items for the coming seasons. Quality and craftsmanship cannot be quickly and cheaply copied in order to overflow the high-street market, because they are by their very nature unhurried and elaborately time consuming.
If you look to a real pashmina (hand woven cashmere scarf or shawl of fine quality cashmere) the average production time is 3 months per item. For one thing, the fineness of the fibre is so high that it cannot be power loomed, but has to be hand spun and hand woven. On top of that, you sometimes have embroidery. Only one person always does the embroidery work on one single pashmina, as every person has his or her own patterns and special touch to the stitch (literally). Furthermore, many pashminas has such fine embroidery that it can only be done by daylight, which - given that they are embroidered in Kashmir - does limit the potential working hours.
Sometimes the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and although you cannot feel or taste via a blog, at least you can admire some photos of wonderful craftsmanship. Enjoy!
(published Oct 2013)
An Englishman went up the Mountain and bought a Goat
In 1812 William Moorcroft had a vision: England should become the world's leading producer of fine cashmere shawls. To understand how he came to this conclusion, you will have to know a little bit more about William.
William was born in England and studied to become a veterinarian. In this capacity he travels to Calcutta in 1808 and starts working for the East India Company where he has the responsibility their horses. While working here, horse-man William gets to hear about Turkoman horses. Turkoman horses are slim and elegant but strong and can endure riding for very long distances without food or water - in other words: they are perfect! William now knows that all East India Company needs for a better future are Turkoman horses.
William presents his case for the East India Company and off his goes in search of the wonderful horses of Bukhara.
He never quite makes it to Bukhara on this trip, but William is not disheartened because he has travelled the Himalayas and discovered a few lakes and cashmere shawls! He happily returns to Calcutta and presents the cashmere shawls. "Aren't they wonderful? See the marvellous embroidery? Feel how soft they are?" William is full of enthusiasm as he presents the wonders to his superiors. However, the directors of East India Company snort at Williams fine pashminas and tell him to stay in Calcutta in and mind his horse instead of running around finding lakes and fondling cashmere shawls in the Himalayas. Poor William, imagine how very different his reception would have been if there had been some women on board of the East India Company . . . .
However, our dear William is not too browbeaten and a few years later he is off again, this time dressed as Hindu trading pilgrim (gosains, they are called). William the horse-man is slowly morphing into William the goat-man, because you see, he becomes even more convinced on this trip that there is no reason why England should not become the world's leading producer of fine cashmere stoles and shawls. This dreamed is fuelled by the observation that Kashmir and especially Srinangar is a rich and prosperous place thanks to a flourishing pashmina trade. For centuries Kashmir had virtually had a monopoly on the cashmere trade and William, being a patriotic Englishman, sees no reason why he should not be able to change this. To accomplish this dream, the determined William hires a painter to reproduce on paper all these wonderful patterns that William sees woven and embroidered onto the pashminas. The copied patterns are send to England and the entrepreneurial William is toying with the idea of shipping home a few Kashmiri families, so that they can teach the trade to the good people of England (well, I did tell you that he was determined!).
The plan to break the Kashmirian monopoly on the cashmere trade and start a thriving business in England is well on its way, however, there is still one small detail that William needs to deal with: cashmere procurement. Now, a less visionary and ambitious man than William might have contended with buying some bales of raw cashmere at this point. Buying cashmere would not necessarily be the world's easiest task as there is the Kashmirian monopoly to deal with. However, William has big plans, and he believes that there is no reason why the soon-to-be English cashmere trade should be dependent on the haggling of the cashmere traders of Tibet and the Himalayas, when England can produce its very own fine cashmere. The energetic William manages to buy a sizeable stock of cashmere goats (capra hircus) to be shipped home to mother England.
The goat herd is not to be shipped home on one boat, the majority travel on one ship bound for England and the rest on another ship. For some obscure reason, the female goats all go into one boat and the male onto another ship. Sadly, the ship with all the female goats never make it to England, so William's plan of breeding wonderful cashmere goats in the rolling hills of England is not going to be. Of course, the male goats do mate with female goats in England and produce a number of cute little curly-haired off-springs. However, their curls may be cute, but it isn't cashmere! Ah well, you may think, at least the unlucky William has the male goats to comb and make shawls from. Nope! The goats not only integrate in England, they assimilate. The relatively mild climate of England is very different from their natural habitat; hence these goats do not grow an inner coat of super fine fibres anymore. So all the lofty ambitions that the visionary William had all came to naught.
So to summarise the lesson that dear old William had to go through all that hardship to learn: fine cashmere is only produced in a very limited area of the world, because the goats need a specific type of climate before they start growing it. After all, their goal is to keep snug and warm, not to provide you with a nice pashmina (although we are grateful that they do :0)).
(published Nov 2013)
We would wear wool, wouldn't we?
The answer is yes! As you all know my heart really is with cashmere because it is the most lovely of all yarns. Added to that comes the sad fact that I am one of many people who just cannot wear wool against my skin without breaking out and starting to itch like crazy. However, there is room for the humble cousin Wool in my life, because it is nice it its own little way.
Of course, wool can be many things, but for now let's just stick with the simplification that wool is wool (unlike cashmere that strictly speaking isn't wool, but a fibre). The woollen scarves that we sell at Asneh.com at the moment are super soft, because the wool has been spliced so it is thinner and finer. In fact, it is more like cashmere, but of course it doesn't have to properties that cashmere has. Still, it is very smooth and comfortable to wear as well.
If it is snowing heavily, then I like to wear a cashmere scarf wrapped around my neck and the put a woollen scarf on top to take the snow and prevent me from getting wet. Wool isn't as delicate or costly as cashmere, so I prefer wool to take the soaking and the sometimes less than ideal drying conditions in the office or where else I may go.
Another great use of wool is in fact for presents - especially for men! All the models we have are definitely unisex, because a woman can look great with a classic chequered but so can men. Anyway, men furthermore have a tendency to grow beards - yes, this is definitely not a unisex thing! Some men grow a very strong beard, which means that when they are sporting two days old stubbles on their necks, their necks are just about as soft as a steel sponge. Now rubbing a fine cashmere scarf with a steel sponge is not really something you should indulge in, hence for some men there are times when wearing a cashmere scarf actually isn't ideal. This is where wool comes in. Wool is a much harder fibre than cashmere, and isn't damaged so much by some rough stubbles. Therefore, although men definitely can wear cashmere, for some it is a really good idea to also have a nice woollen scarf in the wardrobe for those days when the razors have been given a rest. Sometimes you do need to have a practical approach to life!
(published Nov 2013)