I hope your knitting is going well and that you are continuing to make your way through the balls of yarn and are finding the perfect buttons. This is a marathon, not a sprint, as they say. Every row counts and sitting down even for 15 minutes at a time helps you toward the finish line. I started ball 5 yesterday while sitting on the front porch for a very satisfying knit. These are some of the thoughts I had while I was enjoying the afternoon sun and the feel of the yarn.
Start of ball 5 on shawl
In another life before health care, I was immersed in hand spinning, knitting and weaving. I learned the basics for spinning a beautiful yarn, about the twist, the fibre, dyeing and plying. I continued developing my knitting skills to make the best use of the yarns I was making. I took weaving classes and wove curtains and rugs in the Scandinavian designs that I love. I acquired much of the equipment and tools for a life of textiles! That was before children and a career in health care intervened.
Today, 25 years later, I am back to all things textiles. I have joined my community knitting guild with access to skilled knitters, great yarns and lots of learning. I am in the process of firing up my 27” counterbalance Leclerc loom again after meeting an amazing weaver who has agreed to help me. I have bequeathed my spinning wheel to my daughter who is now taking those very same classes I took so many years ago and love to hear about what she is learning now and reconnecting to my spinning knowledge. I am sewing again. The opportunities are endless!
So, with the multitude of options in my fibre renaissance, why cashmere? Well, my move back to the midwest reconnected me with family and a beloved sister, who also has a love of textiles. She introduced me to June Cashmere and the work that Sy Belohlavek is doing in Kyrgyzstan to process cashmere in a way that is both beneficial to the farmers and true to the fibre, making it into yarn. It was a story that I could readily connect with, having lived in India for a year with my family and having explored the rich textile tradition there. When asked if I wanted to knit samples of the patterns designed for the cashmere yarn, I agreed and then fell in love with the yarn. (Note: June Cashmere always is looking for sample and test knitters—read here for more information.)
Cashmere has been around for centuries, I learned that first hand in India. While exploring all the wonderful silk and cotton markets of woven goods that were made with old traditions and looms, I would run across shops that had the famous Kashmir shawls. I actually own one. It is most likely a mix of cashmere and wool, but I still like it. I have washed it twice in 20 years and it has indeed softened but does not have the same hand as this yarn. That’s the thing about cashmere, it softens and blooms with washing and use, acquiring over time that look and feel that we have come to appreciate. The Indian markets, like the European markets, do not wash and rewash cashmere garments (or yarn) before selling them like North American markets do. Cashmere yarn isn’t so soft when new, that comes with time.
Modern fabric/sari shop, old silk weaving shop, near Bangalore, India
Cashmere/wool shawl purchased in Bangalore, India 1996
Only the soft undercoat of the goat is considered cashmere and its quality is measured in micron count (fineness) and fibre length—the finer and longer, the better. To have a superior quality cashmere you need several things to align and June Cashmere hits all of them.
- a genetically pure strain of goat known for its fine, long undercoat
- good breeding and feeding practices (animal husbandry)
- good fibre collection techniques, combing rather than cutting to keep it separate from hair when the goat is shedding its undercoat in the spring – and for better health of the goat who still needs the outer coat for warmth in the high mountains
Combing the goat. Notice how the undercoat is coming off the goat on its own where the shepherdess hasn't yet combed. -- June Cashmere, Kyrgyzstan
The cashmere fibre that becomes June Cashmere yarn averages 16.5 microns and 40 millimeters long. That means it is a fine, long cashmere fibre staple which translates into a high-quality cashmere yarn. Long is relative because cashmere, like cotton, is a very short fibre as compared to most other fibres, like wool. The shorter the fibre, the more twist it requires to become a stable yarn that does not pull apart in use. The twist is what allows for such beautiful stitch definition in this cashmere. Because this yarn is minimally washed in processing, it adds to the longevity of the yarn, which ultimately means that anything you make with it will last generations. It also means that it is more difficult to make pill. I have tried to make this cashmere pill by rubbing the poncho often between my fingers and truly, no pills! Natural fibers eventually will pill but by starting out with a cashmere yarn that is minimally washed and then washing it yourself infrequently (and by infrequently, I have read you can wear your cashmere as many as 50 times before needing to wash it), the end result is that it simply lasts longer.
All this to say that, as I’m knitting, I really appreciate this beautiful yarn and all of its superior qualities. It is important that it is made with ethical principles that support a fair price for the herders and good health for the goats. For me, the investment in both time and money is well worth it. I hope it is for you, too.
Next time I will be sharing some finishing techniques for the poncho. Take photos of your progress so far –no matter where you are in your knitting—and share them through the Q/A form, or on Instagram with #junecashmereKAL. I’d love to see your progress!!!