It has been cold recently and that is always a good time to think about cashmere, that stuff that makes the costliest knitwear. Cashmere of course is the insulation shed each spring by goats forced by their herdsmen to live on the high, dry and very cold plateaus of China's Gobi Desert. It takes a goat three to four years of uncomfortable life to shed enough cashmere for a single sweater.
Cashmere comes in a variety of qualities, and longer fibers and tighter weaves are better. The short and least expensive lengths tend to break and pill. Loose weaves, which save the knitter money by reducing the amount of cashmere in the garment, tend to be made from shorter fibers. The combination is how $100 cashmere knitwear finds its way to certain retailers who shall remain nameless. And then there is ply.
Sweaters can range from single ply (very thin) to sixteen-ply (very very plush). The ply is the number of threads twisted together to make the yarn, and even numbers are good. That is because yarn is spun under torque and even numbers of ply twist in the opposite direction from each other, minimizing any tendency for bias in the weave. A properly maintained high quality four ply sweater should last for generations.
Finally, the whiter the cashmere the more expensive the raw material. Dying harms the feel, so finished products in colors that are close to the undyed colors of the hair (mid-grey, cafe au lait and cream) will have the best hand.
Add all this up and look for tightly knit four ply natural and mid-gray colored crew necks to wear without a jacket (more plys will be warmer, but also considerably more expensive). Cable knits add a little texture.
Two ply versions are better for wear under jackets, where warmth comes from layering rather than ply. Here, sleeveless is better, in the form of waistcoats, vee necks, or, if they can be found, crews.
As in most things, the quality of cashmere relates to the quality of the producer. The names of the 16 members of the Scottish Cashmere Club such as William Lockie and Murray Allen, as well as Loro Piana and Colombo Cashmere of Italy, are a guide.
And that is a bit about cashmere.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Photo: William Lockie