What actually makes cashmere “quality”?

As part of the newinspired Cashmere Challenge, it’s finally time to put together a general guide of what to look for in cashmere sweaters.

We all know that cashmere is super soft, keeps us warm, and that it’s probably, the best part of getting dressed in colder seasons.

At this point, we also are aware that high quality cashmere typically comes from Mongolia, China, and parts of Northern India — because the weather fluctuations (hot summers and cold winters) make the goats produce a thicker undercoat.

Idk about you, but I still had a lot of learning to do to understand what makes a cashmere garment actually quality.

Here’s what I’ve learned and what is the barometer of my Cashmere Challenge…

How To Tell If Cashmere Is High Quality…

1. Ply Count

Some brands will tell us what the ply count is, others will not.

So what is a ply?

-Ply refers to the number of yarn strands twisted together to make the cashmere thread

-A 2-ply or higher cashmere sweater is generally more durable and less likely to develop holes than a 1-ply sweater

-More plies can also mean a warmer sweater, as there are more layers of yarn

1 a. Ends

We’ll use the idea of “2 ends” for this, so it’s easier to understand…

When a yarn is referred to as having “2 ends,” it means that two strands of yarn are physically (ok, or mechanically) held together and knit as if they were one strand.

This is different from a piece of 2-ply yarn where two strands are actually twisted together to form a single “end.”

In the “2 ends” approach, the strands are not twisted together; they’re simply knitted in parallel.

Having multiple ends is a technique that increases the thickness of the finished fabric, add strength, or combine colours and textures for a ~unique~ look.

2. Gauge (Knit Density)

The gauge of a cashmere sweater refers to how tightly it’s knit, specifically the number of stitches per inch.

Again, some brands will be more transparent, while with others, you’ll have to pull out a ruler to figure it out yourself.

-A higher gauge indicates a finer, tighter knit. This gives the sweater a smoother appearance and also adds to its durability and ability to retain warmth.

-Meanwhile, loosely knitted (lower gauge) cashmere may be less expensive, but it’s more prone to snags, stretching, and may not hold warmth as effectively (duh).

3. Pilling Resistance

Pilling is relatively normal with cashmere, especially in areas of friction, but excessive pilling can be a sign of shorter fibres in the yarn strands and lower quality.

So, pilling is a tell-tale sign of fibre length and diameters:

Fibre Length:
-Longer fibres are less likely to work their way out of the yarn and form pills
-Shorter fibres have more ends that can pop out of the fabric surface and cause pilling

Fibre Diameter:
-Finer fibres (those with a smaller diameter) are softer, but they can also be more delicate. When they are high quality and properly spun, they can resist pilling well
-Coarser fibres (thicker diameters) might feel less soft and can also lead to pilling, especially if they’re of lower quality

While our ruler might be out, we aren’t going to break into our high school’s science lab for a microscope to examine each fibre.

Pilling then, is our sign if the fibres are actually fine/long and high quality.

4. Hand Feel

Now it comes down to how adept you are at, uhhh, touching things…

-Over-processed cashmere — from chemical treatments (to bleach and dye the garment) and mechanical processes (carding and combing the fibres before they’re spun into yarn (remember: cashmere yarn is the ply, and the yarn is made of the fibres)) – can make the sweater lose its softness

-Quality cashmere should feel soft and luxurious to the touch, not itchy or coarse

… and of course, it should keep you warm.

5. Washing

Most cashmere should be able to be hand washed, in cold water with gentle detergent, without an issue.

All cashmere should be air dried flat, on a towel, so that it doesn’t shrink.

If any problems arise from a cold hand wash it’d be because of…

-Leftover Tension from knitting: During the knitting process, certain parts of a garment may be under more tension. This can be definitely true for areas like collars or cuffs. When washed, these areas might relax or contract differently than the rest of the garment, leading to puckering.

-Finishing Processes: The way the sweater was finished after knitting can play a role. If the garment was not properly relaxed or preshrunk during manufacturing, it might respond unpredictably when washed at home.

-Yarn Quality or Blend: While the cashmere quality is generally judged by fibre length (remember the pilling aspect?), how the yarn reacts to washing can also depend on its twist, ply, and any blending with other fibres. If the yarn was not properly stabilized it can cause issues like puckering.

-Construction: The way the sweater is constructed, including how the collar is attached and the tension of the seams, can affect how it responds to washing.

… which would all, generally, mean a poorer quality since the manufacturer didn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s, so to speak.

It’s kind of intimidating trying to make sense of it.

… but, the TL;DR is…

If it doesn’t feel super soft, tears, and excessively pills – it’s not great quality.