The cozy, cloud soft sweater that comes from the great Scottish knitwear mills begins its journey as the underfleece of a small, nimble goat in the high plateaus of the Himalayan mountains of central Asia, one of the most desolate and harsh regions on earth. Named for the Kashmir region where he originated, the goat’s outercoat of hair is relatively coarse, so herdsmen arduously comb away the delicate undergrowth, a precious 4-to-6 oz. per year from each adult goat. It takes the total annual output of three goats to produce enough yarn for one sweater.
Bundled and trundled down the mountain passes, the raw cashmere arrives in the great fiber market of Kwangchow, China, where the world’s knitting mills bid for the best. Much of the best goes to Scotland, as it has done for over a century now. The top quality mills in the border towns of Hawick, Selkirk, and Galashiels are legendary for producing the most superb knitwear.
The production of cashmere fabric is still very much a craft. The finishing process alone takes three weeks of meticulous brushing and steaming and combing to ensure the luxurious handle and soft glow. And the technique isn’t something you can learn from a textbook. It’s a combination of knowledge, skill, and a feel for the work. A cashmere finisher may have worked at his craft for over fifty years, and most of them are the sons of finishers.
-G. Bruce Boyer