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Cashmere Processing

In Mongolia, herders hand comb goats in the spring, when the goats begin to naturally shed their cashmere undercoat. For first combing, cashmere is usually only harvested from the neck and belly of the goat, leaving the body covered for warmth. The herder will comb the same goats again as the weather warms, continuing to collect cashmere as the goats shed.

Pre-Sorting

Once the raw cashmere reaches the processor, it is hand sorted. Each ‘combing’ from a goat tends to remain clumped together in a ball, as it was pulled from the comb. These tufts of cashmere are picked through and any that appear coarse or contaminated are discarded. The sorters also separate combings that are different grades, colors, or different shades of the same color, so that processing lots are more uniform. During presorting, contamination such as shreds from bagging materials used by herders is removed. About 10% of the total weight of the raw cashmere is lost during this stage. As the cashmere is sorted, it is moved across a table made with wire screen so that smaller contaminants that are hard to remove by hand are removed. Grass seeds, sand, and dust fall through the screen to the sorting floor.

Washing & Drying

In the next step of processing, cashmere is washed in warm water in order to remove any remaining dust, excessive oils, and other contaminants. Once cashmere is washed, it is blown through a dryer to prepare it for dehairing.

Dehairing

The cashmere is then passed through dehairing machines whose thousands of tiny combs separate the guard hair from the cashmere. In this process, the guard hair is removed and discarded. Between 20 to 60% of the weight of the raw material is lost during this stage, depending on the yield of the combings.

Dyeing

Cashmere can be dyed either after dehairing, and before it is made into yarn, or it can be colored after spinning. In either case, the process is almost the same. The cashmere is put into a dye solution, generally one that is darker than the original color. This process cannot lighten cashmere, so naturally white cashmere is very valuable for producing white and pastel garments. It is possible to bleach cashmere to remove its natural coloring before it is dyed, but the the process is may damange the cashmere if harsh chemicals are improperly used. Cashmere which has been bleached and dyed usually does not feel as soft as unbleached cashmere. Therefore, when making light colors processors prefer white or very light grey cashmere.

Spinning

The next stage of processing cashmere is the production of ‘tops’. These are skeins of combed cashmere that are ready for spinning. The tops are fed into the spinning machines which twists the fibers into yarn or threads. In this part of the process, several aspects the raw material’s quality affects the final quality of the yarn. Longer fibers produce stronger yarns with less tendency to pill. Strong yarn made from Mongolian cashmere produces garments that last longer and look better. Short cashmere from competing producer countries makes weaker yearns, and must be mixed with long cashmere before it can be used. The crimp or curliness of the cashmere is also a factor. The more crimp the cashmere has, the tighter the yarn will hold its twist.

Knitting or Weaving, and Finishing

After the yarn is made, the manufacturer knits or weaves it into the final product. When the product is finished, it is lightly washed again and brushed to product the correct surface nap. The product is then ready for packaging.

In general, it takes about two kilograms of raw cashmere to produce one kilogram of finished product.

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