Wool – Through the Eyes of a Goat
A horde of goats graze peacefully in the harmonic grass. One of them, probably just a few years’ old, looks up from the grass and takes a glance over the big hill. Far away, the goat sees two characters getting bigger and bigger.
The place is Inner Mongolia, a part of China. Here you can find suppliers of the finest quality cashmere. One of them is Hawick Cashmere of Scotland. They are one of the leading European cashmere brands producing sweaters and knitted accessories in quality fibres for women, men and children. The company started its production in 1874, but Hawick’s expertise in knitting started already in 1771, and is one of the original manufacturers from the early days of the Industrial Revolution.
Let’s go back to the young goat. He is starting to feel anxious, as the two people are getting closer. He knows what is waiting and is afraid it is his turn this time. It has happened many times before. These two people have come before to take his family and friends with them and they are gone for several hours. When they come back, their beautiful hair that they have grown all winter is gone.
He starts to walk to the other side of the hill, away from the two people that are now approaching the horde. It seems like they are not alone, when several barks disturbs the beautiful silence. Though, the barks are not aggressive. The tenderness and allurement in them surprises the goat. Without thinking of it, the goat starts to walk towards the sound. He only takes a few steps and than he sees a dog running towards him. Then everything goes very quick. The dog is chasing the goat down the hill to a big building, a factory…
Before the goat is aware of what is happening, it gets its hair removed. After that, the cashmere fibre is sorted by hand, by several people, to remove obvious outer or guard hair, before it can be spun into the yarn they use. After that, the fibre is sourced or washed to remove dirt, grease and any vegetation gathered during collection. After that it is “de-haired” in a specialist mechanical process that removes any vegetable matter, dandruff and the coarse outer guard hair. Then the fibre is ready to be dyed (cashmere takes dye very well) and spun into yarns for weaving or knitting. In the spinning process, the yarns can be combined to create the sort of beautiful and subtle melanges that are associated with fine Scottish knitwear. Cashmere is traded as a valuable commodity, due to the fact that the amount available and the raw material price fluctuate regularly. It is easy to understand why it commands a high price; given the rarity of high-quality cashmere.
Hawick Cashmere works very closely with Shima Seiki, a Japanese firm that has developed the most sophisticated knitting machines in the world. Shima’s X “Whole Garment” is a machine that virtually entire sweaters at one, without any seams. It can be done because of computer programming undertaken by the designers at Hawick Cashmere. The computer screens show on the grid each square that represents a stitch on the sweater. The machine has five needle beds, compared to ordinary knitting machines that only have two. The result of that is that the cashmere sweaters come off the machines as a whole, seamless, garment. It is “fully fashioned“.
When the garments come off the machine it does not feel like cashmere. Instead, it is stiff, because the natural yarns are treated with oils to help them get through the knitting process. To get rid of the oil, the garments are being washed (also called milling), with water that runs from the hills into River Teviot together with a special soap. This gives the garments the right quality and ensures that no one can get the same quality. It is a skilled job; knowing which detergents to use, how long to wash the sweaters, and at what temperature.
It is all dependent on the thickness of the yarn, the stitch structure and the colour. When it is washed and tumble-dryed, the knitwear gets the luxurious handle we associate with fine cashmere. To complete the luxury knitwear, a process of handwork is done. For example, on a V-neck sweater, the V is cut by hand. The ribbed trim that forms the V is attached to the main body of the garment stitch-for-stitch in a process called linking or binding. After that the sweaters are carefully pressed, the labels are sewn on and, after one more quality control check, the garments are packed for despatch.
Several hours later the goat runs happily back to his horde with a new grace in his step. He feels lighter with his new, short hair. The wind feels cool in his face while he stops on the hill, looking out over the meadow. What he is not aware of, is that his beautiful hair is on its way, shaped into a sweater, up north and will keep a young woman warm during the rough weather.
This text on Wool was written and submitted by Emma Larsson for Round 2 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Check Emma’s entry for Round 1: The other side of the fashion industry