The Golden Fiber

Cashmere, which is also known as Pashmina, is a super-fine fiber that is collected from the undercoat of the Changra goats grazing in the extreme climes of mountainous pasture in Ladakh high in the Himalayas. The harsh winter conditions of the remote Changtang region are essential to produce the finest Cashmere. The goats are raised by the Ladakhi nomads, who are known as Changpa. Cashmere is obtained by combing the goat hair with a special comb rather than by shearing as is done with sheep’s wool; this takes place in mid-summer so that the goats have time for their coats to thicken again before winter sets in.

What is Pashmina? Pashmina is another name for Cashmere, the name given to the fine, soft and exceptionally warm downy undercoat of the Capra Hircus Laniger goats that live in the Trans-Himalayan regions including Ladakh, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, and some parts of central Asia. It is one of the most precious and versatile of animal fibres. A large variety of luxury goods – both knitted and woven — are produced from it. Ladakh produces less than 1% of the world’s total raw Cashmere, but it’s the finest in the world. The long-staple Ladakhi Cashmere has a fibre length well suited for hand spinning, and a diameter ideal for knitwear. The processing of Cashmere products includes following steps:  

STEP 1

 

The thick pad of Cashmere remains on the goats until the middle of summer when temperatures on the Changthang Plateau finally warm up. Moulting can begin as early as December if the temperature is warmer. The process is hormonally controlled and takes place later if it is very cold outside. Moulting at the right time takes place by natural detachment of the warm insulating Cashmere pad from the body of the animals, as this pad may otherwise become a menace when the climate is warm. The goats look bigger and fluffier for some days when the Cashmere comes up near the surface of the guard cover for natural shedding. The shepherds catch the goats and comb the Cashmere out to prevent them from shedding it in the wild. Some of the guard hairs (the natural hair of the goat produced by the primary follicles as permanent hair) also get pulled out at the time of combing and get intermingled with the fine Cashmere in the process. The nomads traditionally used wooden combs, but now they usually use improved iron combs which makes combing easier and more efficient.  

STEP 2

The raw material is first sorted for colour, fibre diameter and length. The colour-sorted material is then put on the willow machine (a machine with revolving spikes used to clean the fiber) twice in order to remove dirt and oil. The willowed material is then transferred to the feeder of the scouring machine from where it is mechanically transferred to the first scouring bowl. Soap is added to the water, which is kept at a constant 55ºC throughout the process. The Cashmere passes through the bowl to the squeezer which uses more soapy water, after which the squeezed material is transferred to the next bowl and still more soap is added. The material passes through the bowl to the next squeezer and then to the final bowl with plain water for rinsing. Once rinsed, it gets transported to the last squeezer and then to the Hooper feeder of the drying machine, where it is dried in the drying chamber.  

STEP 3

Dehairing is a process of removing the coarse guard hair from the Cashmere. In this process the scoured raw Cashmere is kept in a compact humidified chamber for several hours to regain moisture. This is important for effective dehairing as this process makes the guard hair heavier and the fine material stickier. This facilitates the machine-separation of the two fibres by centrifugation as the finer fibres stick to the card wire while the heavier fibres fall away.

STEP 4

Spinning is an ancient textile art in which fibers are drawn out and twisted together to form yarn. In Ladakh we use a supported, whorl-less spindle made of wood locally known as phang. Most of the fine yarn is spun by women. Cashmere can be spun by machine as well as by hand, but the hand spinning of Cashmere is always better. Fibres with a shorter staple length can be spun by machine, but the resulting products are of a lower quality than those that are spun by hand. The shorter fiber can’t be hand spun. The staple length of the fiber is significant because if the fiber is short, the fabric will be less durable. The longer fiber is not only more durable, but also more beautiful.

STEP 5

The fiber can be dyed at any time, but is often dyed either before carding or after the yarn has been spun. We use only natural dyes.

STEP 6

Although lesser quality Cashmere can be woven on machine looms, especially if it is blended with silk or wool, the weaving of the traditional pure Cashmere shawls is done on hand-looms. It is essential for the weaver to have a steady hand in order to produce top quality fabric. Weaving is done with a shuttle that carries the soft Cashmere yarn through the fine yet strong twisted warp. The weaving process is in itself an art that has been passed down over generations, to give you the fabulous shawls that we offer. It takes about four days to weave a single Cashmere shawl. Cashmere can be woven so finely that a whole shawl can pass through a ring. Besides weaving we also make knitted items such as hats. Knitting of Cashmere is no different than other woollen yarn knitting. The hats, etc. are knitted by local Ladakhi women in their homes.

STEP 7

The fiber can be dyed at any time, but is often dyed either before carding or after the yarn has been spun. We use only natural dyes.

This is how fabulous Cashmere shawls, stoles, scarves, mufflers, hats and other Cashmere products are made. Because of the delicacy of the fiber, the making of Cashmere products is a painstaking, artistic and time consuming process, therefore the quality and the price of Cashmere products can not be compared to other garments or fibers.