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Cashmere - Traditional Scottish Craft

Cashmere is a light, soft wool obtained from the undercoat of Cashmere goats.

Scotland does not produce its own cashmere wool but is a market leader in the processing of cashmere and the production of cashmere fabrics and garments.

China is the largest producer of raw cashmere. Other producers include Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, New Zealand, Australia and North America.

Cashmere goats have a double fleece: a coarse, straight outer hair and a fine, soft undercoat. The fleece is collected during the moulting season when the goats shed their winter coats.

In some regions, the soft undercoat is combed out by hand, which results in a higher yield of pure cashmere. Elsewhere, the goats are shorn of the whole fleece resulting in a higher coarse hair content and lower pure cashmere yield.

To produce cashmere wool, the fine undercoat must be de-haired to remove all the courser hair. After de-hairing, the cashmere is dyed and spun into yarns that can be knitted or woven into fabric.

Cashmere has been produced in Scotland since the eighteenth century and the industry now employs around 4,000 people across Scotland, involved in processing, spinning, dying and knitting.

Traditionally, the cashmere wool arrived at Scotland’s mills from Mongolia in a raw, oily, matted state. It was washed and then de-haired. Around 50% of the raw cashmere would be considered good enough quality to be spun into Scottish cashmere.

The cashmere was then dyed and the wool was teased to get all the fibres lying in the same direction. Oil was added to give the cashmere resilience in preparation for spinning.

Next the wool was carded to form long strands for spinning, when the strands are spun and twisted into yarn ready for knitting and weaving.

This stages of this process remain largely unchanged although it has become increasingly automated and computerised.

Some Scottish cashmere is exported as yarn but much cashmere is retained in Scotland to be made into garments. After knitting, garments are carefully cut, finished, washed and dried.

In recent years, Scottish cashmere has faced fierce competition from cheap imports. By pitching Scottish cashmere as a quality product at the luxury end of the market, the industry has grown exports to Russia, China and the Far East.

Collaborations between traditional Scottish textile mills such as Johnstons of Elgin and contemporary designers such as Christopher Kane have given Scottish cashmere a new, younger edge and encouraged the development of new production techniques.

Many artisans and makers use Scottish cashmere to hand knit one-off garments or use luxury cashmere-blend woven fabrics to produce bespoke tailored clothing and accessories.

Find out more about cashmere:

  • Watch a 1973 film, Cashmere is Scottish, on the Scottish Screen Archive website, which offers an insight into the Scottish cashmere industry of the time.

This promotional film from the 1960s tells the story of the Scottish cashmere industry and journeys from the goats of Mongolia to the mills of Scotland:

THE CASHMERE STORY:

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