Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Incredible Lightness of Cashmere


It’s the high cashmere season.  This remarkable fiber has many fine qualities. It’s incredibly soft, lightweight yet has exceptional heat retaining capability.  Because it's so lightweight you look less bulky. It’s also hand washable (check the label and ask a knowledgeable sales clerk).  My favorite designer’s clothes were all washable until a few years ago when ‘dry clean only’ appeared.  The clerk said some customers thought ‘washable’ meant in a machine, with hot water, and perish the thought, dried in the dryer.

Cashmere is one of the most durable fabrics.  Jim still has a cashmere scarf I gave him 40+ years ago...its major setback caused by moths in Galveston before I discovered garment bags. 

Cashmere comes from the Asian Goat, originally from Kashmir, India, now bred in China, Mongolia and central Asia, according to Martha Stewart Living magazine.  Sheep and angora goats can produce 10 pounds of wool from one shearing.  Cashmere goats are different, their fibers’ harvest-able only once a year, during molting season. It then takes a week to comb out the long strands by hand. Net gain: 4 oz.of wool per goat.  It takes l0 oz.  to make a woman’s single-ply sweater.

Cashmere comes in different plies, or thicknesses.  One ply is the thinnest and least long-lasting. Two, three and four are the workhorses.
You get the picture.  The downside of cashmere is its cost.

Take heart!  January is prime cashmere sale season.  Good cheap cashmere is almost an oxymoron but possible to find.  Look at high end department stores January sales.  I found a fabulous Italian cashmere sweater loomed by Loro Piana at 75% off!  I’m not fond of outlet stores because they often have designs that never graced the racks of Neimans or Nordstroms, causing me to question their pedigrees.

The best cashmere mills are in Italy and Scotland.  Be careful or you may end up with a blend of cashmere with lesser fibers.  If the label says 100% cashmere and is scratchy and rough, pass it up.  If you squeeze good cashmere and let it go it will hold it’s shape.                              

Although you may gasp at your initial out-of-pocket cost, keep in mind it may last decades.  If you select a universal design you’ll have made a sound investment, especially if you treat your cashmere properly, meaning as gently as a newborn baby.  This means storing in a breathable garment bag because of moths and dust; using a gentle soap such as Forever New (32 oz. cost $15 but last for years!) (The Forever New Company was started in Bloomington, Minnesota in 1973.  The South Dakota governor persuaded it to move to Sioux Falls in 1989). 

You can opt for dry cleaning but that has downsides.  Namely cost.  Also, when I brought home a favorite cashmere cardigan from the cleaners, I found several of its mother-of-pearl buttons chipped.  That's not labor saving.  Although I do dry clean a pair of 15 year old cashmere pants from a fabulous, once in a decade sale.  They are at least 4-ply, very warm and not worth the risk of them shrinking.

For cashmere, you apply a different method of hand-washing than for cotton fabric, while thinking of all the money you're saving and potential button replacement.  First rule: COLD Water.  Although in midwinter, I sometimes use a little cooler than room temperature water. Swirl the water around the garment instead of lifting it up and down.  Do not wring out the water, but squeeze out as much of the rinse water as you can, then lay the garment flat on a spread out towel, gently roll up, squeezing the towel to absorb excess water before laying it flat on a drying screen or rack to air dry.  NEVER machine dry!

Forever New is the miracle product that helps you preserve your cashmere garments.
Besides its softness, incredible warmth and beauty, I find it endearing that cashmere goat wool is harvested today using the same methods as hundreds of years ago plus the best cleaning method is one of the oldest. Compared to diamonds, boats, fast cars, fancy estates, a cashmere sweater on sale at $300 or $400, is one of the cheapest luxuries.  Not only is it chic, it has green bon-a-fides to boot!  Happy New Year & the Cuddliest of Cashmere seasons to You!

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