Cashmere is a luxury fibre which is becoming more and more affordable - especially if you buy it on ebay. My very first cashmere cardi, which I still have even though it must be 15 years old, cost me £130 at a half price sale by one of the producers from the Scottish Borders. It has tiny all over cables and it is still amongst my favourites. Christmas just gone my man bought me (well, I found it and he paid) a new 100% cashmere dressing gown - pale green, all over cables - from ebay for £87. Ebay has been a dream for me and I have cashmeres in double figures now. (Still not as many as pairs of shoes.) Pashmina is a woven mix of cashmere and silk, usually made into scarves, shawls and throws. The mix can vary but 50/50 is most common.
Don't be afraid of the luxury tag - cashmere is easy to care for.
Where does cashmere come from?
Cashmere fibre comes from combings of the fleece of the living kashmir goat. The best, undoubtedly, is still bought, spun and made into garments in Scotland. It is, naturally, the most expensive. Cheaper fibre comes from China, Madagascar and other eastern countries. Pashminas usually come from Asia and the far east.
What does ply mean?
Ply is the number of threads spun together to create the yarn which is then knit. The most usual is 2ply which creates the best weight for wearing next to the skin, on its own or maybe under a jacket or cardi. It is light yet warm at the same time. When you compare a Scottish cashmere (Johnstons, Pringle, Cahmere Company, Scottish Tradition etc), which are the most famous and expensive, with one from Asia, you may notice a difference in thickness in the finished garment, even though they may all be two-ply. I have a lovely pale green cardi from Madagascar (Kirkland) which is quite fine but perfect for throwing on in the summer, a la Nigella. (I can cook as good but don't have the same figure!)
Chunky items may come in up to 10 ply and they make terrific cardis which can be worn instead of a coat.
How soft is cashmere?
Pale colours, especially ivory which comes from the stomach combings, are softer than darker shades which use fibres from the upper body then have to go through the dyeing process.
How to care for cashmere
Well, you can get it dry cleaned but I have always washed mine. You can do them by hand but I always use the the machine on the handwash cycle - 25 degrees and very gentle action with the agrment turned inside out. I then give them a short fast spin. I dry them by hanging indoors on soft padded hangers. What's really important is to use a detergent such as Woolite or similar, including supermarket own brands, for delicates. The Sainsbury's one is very good. Like silk, don't let it near a biological detergent. I don't normally iron them but a cool iron on the wrong side will remove any creases. I have never had a problem with any garment using this cycle. Your cashmere will get softer and bulkier with washing.
The only time I would contemplate dry cleaning is if there are strong contrasting colours on the garment - but even then I would try dampening the areas to test if the colour will run. If there are beads or similar trimming, put the item inside out into a pillow case and wash that way.
How to care for pashminas
As above, followed by a cool iron.
Cashmere will pill but it responds very well to a cashmere comb (about £3, try Hawick Knitwear) or one of those battery knitwear shavers. I prefer the comb - faster and doesn't need batteries.
Once you have felt the real thing you will know a fake when you touch it. Cashmere is light and soft, with a finish like angora but not so fluffy. It has a cloudy feel and is not dense in the way acrylic is. Go into a posh shop and search out the expensive stuff so that you learn the feel and what to look for.
Cashmere - the very best thing to wear against your skin
(This is my first guide - hope you find it useful)Cashmere and its care