Cashmere care for lifetime wear

Yesterday's post fanned cashmere lust, and also inquiries about quality. With care, you will enjoy a good sweater for decades, barring accidents or leaving it on the back of a chair when you leave the theatre, grrr.

When I was a teen, a cashmere was a luxury that cost 5-6 times more than a "perfectly good wool". Trade barriers fell in the last dozen years, and lower-priced Chinese product flooded the market. Now, quality varies from horrendous- I'd rather wear polar fleece- to fine, and the maker's label or the price isn't always a fair indication. (Land's End was caught selling cashmere with none of that fibre in it. But I think they cleaned up their act.)

A hard fact of life: cashmere pills. I've worn few in 40 years that don't, and the best-wearing are over 20 years old. They don't make 'em like they used to. The tippy-top end (such as Malo, Cucinelli, Hermes) will pill far less, but don't be shocked if you have to de-pill a $1,000 sleeve.

The pillo
city is related to the length of the fibre of the spun yarn, and generally, quality has eroded. Lower-quality yarn has shorter fibres that when dyed stand up and are sitting ducks (or goats) for pilling, which is caused by friction. Don't fall for the line that "it will only pill when it's new".

I deal with pills two ways:
1. Pull them off by hand. I don't use a sweater stone or sweater electric razor as it seems to me shearing the fibres even shorter is not a good idea.
2. Wash the sweater. I use baby shampoo and the delicate cycle in my machine, with plenty of water. (The warm setting risks shrinking; I fiddle to get a coolish tepid.) Ultrafine knits go in a bag. Cashmeres love washing- the yarn plumps up, the pills go away (but if you don't do #1 and have monster pills, you will have to remove them)

The ot
her problem is moths. Linda Grant at The Thoughtful Dresser has blogged about her sci-fi infestation, so I'll summarize: the critters adore body dirt. Keep both the garments and the room clean.

Shirley, our much-appreciated cleaning lady, uses a crevice tool to vacuum around baseboards (especially in closets) and I've not had a problem since she's come to our home.
Don't think that your sweater chest confers immunity. It's a sickening experience to open a cedar-lined trunk and see plump moths gaily flutter out.

Don't count on lavender, cedar balls or other compounds; if your sweater is sweaty, they will come.
Don't store your pieces in plastic sweater bags. Airing on a clothesline, as Indian ladies do with their shawls, helps to lift body oils in the fabric, but before they slumber for a season, or if you don't wear some for months, you need to wash them.

If you get moths, see Linda's blog for advice on extermination, which you must do even if you're an animal rights type. (Hint: Your deep freezer is the Big House.)

And here's a tip passed down from my parents' family friend, Bill Maus, a founder of Maus and Hoffman, a prestige clothier: wear your sweaters or move them about in storage, "mess 'em around" as he said. He stored the shop's inventory in cedar-scented moth balls, a smell that swooshes me back to his elegant shop, which to this day sells fine Scottish cashmeres.


WendyB said…
Last year I complained to J Crew over a sweater that pilled in 3 or 4 wearings and they gave me the most condescending lecture about what pilling is (but quickly refunded my money so that made up for it). Meanwhile I have a 10 year old J Crew sweater that never pilled, and others that are close to that age -- I think the quality of the fabric has gone way down.
Duchesse said…
Wendy: I've had uneven quality from J Crew too. Supposedly their cashmere's milled by Loro Piana but it's not LP quality. The Scots make beautiful cashmere (Pringle, Ballantyne, Belinda Robertson)but colours and styles more conservative than French or Italian- though that's changing. Whatever the colour of my sweater I see RED when I get a condescending lecture.
Anonymous said…
When my mother died, I kept her two favourite cashmere sweaters. One was an Italian sweater, and one was from Ballantyne. The Ballantyne sweater is now over 40 years old and soft as butter. It's always the gold standard I compare any sweater I buy to it, unfairly perhaps, but it is perfect. Sadly, it does pill a bit.

I have to agree with you about those electric sweater de-pillers...I got so keen once I put a hole where the pill had once a few places. Still looking for the perfect solution to pilling!

I really enjoy your blog.


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