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The U.S. Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939, as amended, (U.S.C. 15 Section 68b(a)(6)) defines cashmere as the fine (dehaired) undercoat fibers produced by a cashmere goat (Capra hircus laniger) with an average diameter of the fibers not exceeding 19 microns and containing not more than 3 percent (by weight) of cashmere fibers with average diameters that exceed 30 microns. The Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute have added the requirement that the coefficient of variation around the mean shall not exceed 24%.
Cashmere is characterized by its soft fibers. It is noted as providing a natural light-weight insulation without bulk. Fibers are highly adaptable and are easily constructed into fine or thick yarns, and light to heavy-weight fabrics.
Cashmere wool fiber for clothing and other textile articles is obtained from the Cashmere domestic goat. The goat (Capra hircus laniger) is a mammal belonging to the subfamily Caprinae of the family Bovidae. The goats produce a double fleece consisting of the fine, soft undercoat or underdown of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called guard hair. In order for the fine under down to be sold and processed further, it must first be de-haired. De-hairing is a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair and after de-hairing the resulting "cashmere" is ready to be dyed and converted into yarn, fabrics and garments.
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The fiber is also known as pashm (Persian word for Wool) or pashmina (Persian / Urdu word driven from Pashm) for its use in the handmade shawls of Kashmir, India. The woolen shawls find written mention between 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD. However, the founder of the cashmere wool industry is traditionally held to be the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Turkestan.
In the 18th and early 19thcentury Kashmir (then called Cashmere by the English), had a thriving industry producing shawls from goat down imported from Tibet and Tartary through Ladakh. The down trade was controlled by treaties signed as a result of previous wars . The shawls where introduced into Western Europe when the General in Chief of the French campaign in Egypt (1799-1802) sent one to Paris. The shawls arrival is said to have created an immediate sensation and plans were put in place to start manufacturing the product in France.
Trading in Commercial quantities of raw cashmere between Asia and Europe began with Valerie Audresset SA, Louviers, France claiming to be the first European company to commercially spin cashmere. The down was imported from Tibet through Kasan the capital of the Russian province Volga and was used in France to create imitation woven shawls, unlike the Kashmir shawls the French shawls had a different pattern on either side . The imported cashmere was spread out on large sieves and beaten with sticks to open the fibres and clear away the dirt. After opening the cashmere was washed and children removed the course hair. The down was then carded and combed using the same methods used for worsted spinning .
In 1819 several Tibetan and Tartary cross goats where imported into France by Mr M. Jaubert under the auspices of the French government and at the expense of Mr Ternaux. Mr Edward Riley (nephew of Alexander Riley) saw the herd in 1828 and described it as a mixture of colors from brown to white, covered with course hair with an average of three ounces (84 grams) of down underneath the hair. Mr Riley also saw Mr M. Polonceau's herd, Mr Polonceau selected from the Ternaux herd and crossed his animals with a selected fine Angoras buck. In 1831 Mr Riley went back to France and purchased ten females in kid and two bucks from Mr Polonceau and sent them to Australia, at the time the average production of the Polonceau herd was 16 ounces (500 grams) of down..
By 1830 the weaving of cashmere shawls using yarn produced in France had become an important Scottish industry and the Scottish Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures offered a 300 Pound Sterling reward to the first person who could spin cashmere in Scotland based on the French system. Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane collected the required information while in Paris and received a Scottish patent for the process in 1831. In the autumn of 1831 the patent was sold to Henry Houldsworth and sons of Glasgow. In 1832 Henry Houldsworth and sons commenced the manufacture of yarn and in 1833 received the reward.
Dawson International claim to have invented the first commercial dehairing machine in 1890 and from 1906 they purchased cashmere from China, but were restricted to purchasing fiber from Beijing and Tianjing until 1978. In 1978 trade was liberalised and Dawson International began buying cashmere from many provinces.
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