Introduction to Cashmere Scarves
One of my highlights of working at Scarf Room came during a meeting with our supplier from Kashmir. I vividly remember him taking out, from an unassuming brown cardboard box, his well-travelled collection of embroidered cashmere scarves. I was just blown away! It felt as if I needed to adjust my eyes to take in the colour of the dyes and the exquisitely detailed needlework. They seemed to speak of a mystery and a history that I knew little about.
And I was determined not to sell something so special without learning as much about it as I could. I asked the supplier to send me more details – a decision I almost regretted when a 144-page research report dropped into my email folder. I also researched the internet. And the more I have learnt about these beautiful scarves, and this centuries-old tradition, the more I have fallen in love with them.
So while I certainly don’t claim to be an expert, this is what I’ve learnt so far about these timeless classics. There has been so much to write about that I’ve decided to divide my blog in two parts! I hope you find their story as fascinating as I have.
To begin with, the word “cashmere” comes from an old spelling of Kashmir. This is the region in northern India where its production and trade originated. Cashmere has been sourced in this region for over four hundred years. This has been through four different periods of foreign rule – the Mughals, the Afghans, the Sikhs and the Dogmas.
Cashmere scarves have always been sought after because, despite its light weight, premium quality cashmere is incredibly warm. In fact, it’s up to eight times warmer than sheep’s wool. It also feels wonderfully soft and luxurious against the skin. Once the jewel-like colours and exquisite embroidery are factored in, one can see why Kashmir cashmere scarves are so prized around the world.
The Cashmere Goat
The journey of the beautiful cashmere scarf begins with the Kashmiri pashmina goat, Changtangi. Its name comes from the large plateau in the high altitudes of Ladakh where it is reared. Here, the climate and environment are perfectly suited to the production of cashmere fibres. During the extremely harsh winters, the temperatures can drop to as low as -20c. The food supply also becomes very scarce. This encourages the goats to produce a finer hair under their fleece, principally the neck and underbelly, which offers them more insulation. It is this soft and very fine hair on the goat’s body which is valuable and from which the highest quality cashmere is produced.
A pashmina fibre is an astonishing 14-19 microns in diameter, SIX TIMES finer than human hair. It is very delicate, silky and soft and, in its raw state, is called pasha. This name is derived from the Persian word meaning “soft gold”. In addition to its light weight, cashmere has a wonderful ability to absorb dyes and moisture.
From Humble Goat Hair to Luxurious Cashmere Scarf
Taking the pasha in its original raw state to a luxurious finished product is a lengthy and costly production process. Collecting the cashmere fibres is done by hand and involves combing out the hairs from the under-layer of the goat’s fleece. This is carried out by herders every spring before the animals begin to moult.
The pasha is then transported to Srinagar (the capital of Kashmir) where the next stage of the production process takes place. Any residual coarse guard hair from the animal’s outer coat has to be separated from the more valuable underbelly hair. One final combing through and what remains is a fibre that is exquisitely soft and light. It is now known as pham (fine pashmina).
This raw pashmina fibre then goes through a series of craftspeople – spinners, weavers, dyers, designers and embroiderers – who will skilfully convert it into the finished fabric.
I’ll be looking at each of these processes in more detail in part 2. Coming very soon!
In the meantime, if you need any further information about our Kashmir cashmere scarves for yourself or as a gift, please call our knowledgeable and friendly team at Scarf Room on 01253 733870. For further information about caring for your cashmere pashmina, please see our blog “How to Care for your Cashmere.”
Until next time, beautiful scarf people. X