If you own a cashmere sweater, it’s probably the softest thing in your closet. This amazing fiber feels like heaven and looks beautiful, making it a luxury worth splurging on. Cashmere sweaters can last for decades when given proper care and can be up to eight times warmer than ones made from sheep’s wool, so they’re actually a great value. And anything that makes you feel this good is always worth having, so don’t be afraid to treat yourself right.
The Mongolian climate is cold, harsh and unforgiving. To keep themselves warm, goats grow coats of long hair on their bellies for protection against the winter, when temperatures can drop as low as -40 F. Since this hair is protected for the elements, it also stays soft and downy, making it ideal for creating the world’s finest clothing. However, each goat only creates a few ounces of this hair every year, and up to four animal’s worth can be needed to make a single sweater.
Most of the hair on cashmere goats isn’t used to make the finest sweaters. Only the softest wool that grows on their bellies (and sometimes necks) is truly coveted by fashionistas across the globe. Once a year, each goat is sheared with clippers or the delicate wool is carefully removed by hand using a long-tooth metal comb. Shearing the goats results in much more guard hair (which is not as valuable) getting mixed with the best cashmere, but no matter how it’s done, the trimmings must be carefully separated.
To ensure softness, raw cashmere is cleaned to remove sand, dirt, animal grease and other impurities. Afterwards, it’s carefully sorted to remove fibers that don’t meet exacting quality standards and then divided according to its color, which can range from pure white to chocolate brown. There is usually another check to get rid of any contaminants that might’ve been overlooked before, guaranteeing only the best cashmere is then used to make clothing.
Industry standards require cashmere fibers to be at least 1-1/4’ long and have an average diameter of less than 9 microns. A micron, in case you’re wondering, is one-millionth of a meter, so these fibers are incredibly fine. A human hair, for instance, can be up to 181 microns in diameter. Cashmere hairs also have a crimped texture that creates loft. Also, cashmere is one of the only hollow fibers in the world. This makes it easy to blend with other materials and is part of the reason why it’s so wonderfully light.
Friction can cause your cashmere sweater to pill and become covered in little fuzz balls, compromising its softness. You can easily take care of this problem, though. Carefully pick the tiny bobbles away by hand or use a special device, like a sweater stone, to remove them in seconds. Always be extra gentle though, as you don’t want to snag or tear your sweater. Over time, it should become even softer and pill less and less as long as you treat it well.
To keep its silky softness, cashmere must be cleaned right. You can usually run your cashmere sweaters through the washing machine on the delicate cycle, but make sure you use a wool-safe detergent that’s bleach free. For extra protection, place your sweater in a garment bag first. Cashmere can also be hand-washed in a sink filled with cold water and a dash of baby shampoo. To cut odors, add a splash of white vinegar. Also, you should always let your sweater air dry while laying flat. Placing it in the dryer will cause it to shrink and ruin its wonderful texture.
Properly storing your cashmere sweaters will help keep them soft and beautiful. Never hang cashmere sweaters in your closet, as the forces of gravity can stretch them out of shape. Instead, carefully fold them and place them in acid-free garment bags made of breathable cotton – plastic is a no-no. Then put your sweaters somewhere cool and dry, away from heat, humidity and direct sunlight. Since cashmere is a natural fiber, it’s also attractive to moths. Fortunately, you can repel them naturally with sachets filled with fragrant herbs, like lavender, mint and thyme.