Known as pashmina in Kashmir, it refers to a textile made from the fine, soft, very light and warm hair combed from the underbellies of the Hyrcus goats living at high altitudes in the Himalayas–in Kashmir and Tibet–taken in late spring when they moult naturally. The average goat produces just 150 gms (5-6 ounces ) a year – just enough for one scarf. When we know that a sports jacket requires six years’ worth of cashmere, and a lightweight jumper three, we can better understand both the luxury and the price.
Cashmere came to Europe woven into beautiful scarves and often embroidered with boteh/paisley motifs, through merchants along the land and sea trade routes.] We know that such shawls were brought to France during the reign of Napoleon I, possibly even earlier; certainly their beauty and luxuriousness have ever since been appreciated, sought out and copied.
Herds in the less harsh climates of Australia, Iraq and Iran have long, less coarse hair that is often shorn, which produces more cashmere but of lesser quality than the fine combed hair. Because cashmere is expensive, it is often mixed with other wools or with silk for furnishing fabrics and open to abuse. Much of what is sold under the name of cashmere may even contain no cashmere at all–source and price are usually the key.
Sixty percent of the world’s cashmere now comes from China, the remainder from Kashmir, Tibet, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Australia and New Zealand. But it’s the Japanese, Scots and Italian makers who produce the best cashmere garments for the couturiers at the top end of the fashion world.
We’ve used cashmere by the metre and adapted scarves to make lovely bedroom curtains, bedcovers, throws and cushions. A damaged or ageing scarf can always be turned into a snuggly soft cushion or a perfect head rest with a goose down inner. Knitting with cashmere yarn is another option for lovely soft cushions and throws.