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The New Yorker - 10/24/64
The Cashmere Goat
Cashmere gets its name from the goat which is a domestic animal in the high mountain regions of the Cashmere (or Kashmir) province of India. Essentially the same animal is found in other countries of the Himalaya ranges and the name "Tibet" goat is frequently used in referring to the animal from which this special wool is obtained.
Collecting the Wool
The goat is covered with coarse, shaggy hair, beneath which is the soft, downy wool fiber used in making cashmere yarn. The goats are not sheared or clipped as are sheep; instead, twice a year, as the animals are shedding, the loosened down is combed out and saved. In addition, wool is picked off the twigs and underbrush against which the goats have rubbed as they grazed. Traders tour the country periodically, buying wool from the herdsmen, and sending it out to a collection point where it is baled and made ready for its journey to the processing plant.
The total amount of hair obtained from a single animal is almost incredibly small. It averages no more than six or eight ounces per year, according to most authorities. This means that the operations of a firm such as Cashmere are dependent on the collection of a handful of hair from as many as twenty or twenty-five million goats, living in nearly inaccessible areas of distant mountain countries. With such a tenuous supply line for its primary raw material, the business of processing cashmere might seem a highly venturesome undertaking. But such is not the case. The cashmere industry is vigorous and well-established, and its roots extend back for centuries.
Opening and Scouring
The first operations in the conversion of the dirty, unpromising, raw cashmere into a soft, beautiful yarn are opening and scouring.
Opening separates the fibers from some of the heavier impurities and helps to fluff them up, overcoming much of the matting which is evident as the wool is removed from the bale. Scouring, which follows, is the step in which the raw stock is freed entirely of the dirt and grease— normally present in such quantity as to represent as much as one-third of the total weight of the bale. The scouring operation is a most delicate step, for the fibers may be easily damaged.
Wallace Adler, Vice President of Erie Dyeing and Processing Company, is in charge of all the technical aspects of processing, and critical operations such as scouring, de-hairing and dyeing of the cashmere are under his personal direction.
"Cashmere may be ruined by processing techniques which are considered routine in the handling of ordinary wool," Mr. Adler points out. "The soft down is highly sensitive to alkali and it is much more sensitive to excess soda ash than is other wool. It is also readily damaged by too high a temperature during processing."
Under Mr. Adler's direction, Erie has conducted extensive research in the problem of scouring, and the technique which has been developed has proved both safe and effective.
The equipment used is what is known in the textile trade as a five-bowl scouring train. This is a unit consisting of five long rectangular tanks (commonly called bowls) each of which is equipped with rows of mechanically-operated forks that gently manipulate the wool and urge it along to the end of the tank where an apron transfers it to the next unit. Each bowl is for a specific function in the scouring process. The first is filled with plain water, held to a temperature of 100 degrees, and serves to condition the wool, by wetting it out and bringing its temperature up close to that required in the next steps. It also removes solid dirt particles and soluble salts from the wool. The second and third bowls contain scouring solution and the fourth and fifth are plain water rinses, which also provide a two-step drop in temperature to avoid cooling the scoured wool too suddenly.
Erie uses Triton, Rohm & Haas synthetic detergent, in each of the two scouring steps. The complete scouring formulation includes a carefully regulated amount of soda ash and certain other chemicals which support the detergent and emulsifying action of the Triton. The resulting scour is mild and gentle, yet it removes even the most stubborn grease and grime from the cashmere. After scouring, the wool is dried and then taken to the de-hairing room for removal of the unwanted hairs. This secret process can be described only in terms of end result: the cashmere enters the room heavily contaminated with stiff, coarse hairs; it leaves as downy wool with all these objectionable hairs removed.
The cashmere stock is now ready for the various operations which change it into yarn. These steps include blending, mixing, picking, carding, spinning and dyeing. These are typical wool-processing operations, found in any woolen mill, but they are performed at Erie with constant attention to the extra-fine quality of the fiber being worked.
Dyeing is of special interest, since it may be performed at any of three different points in the manufacturing process: the raw stock may be dyed right after de-hairing; the yarn may be dyed in the skein; or the sweaters may be dyed as completed garments. The choice depends primarily upon the quantities involved. When an order calls for a large number of sweaters in a single shade, the stock-dye process is commonly selected. For the opposite situation, where only a few items in a given color are required, dyeing of the finished garment is the most practical. For requirements that fall between these two extremes, the skein-dye process is the choice. In any of the dyeing operations, Triton may be used as a dye-assist. It is particularly helpful in the stock-dye process where the color must penetrate every fiber of the kettle-load of wool. In skein dyeing, as in the dyeing of the finished garment, the Triton helps to insure a uniform deposit of the dye all the way through the yarn. All dyeing at Erie is precisely regulated by automatic controls, for every effort is made to avoid any unnecessary handling of the cashmere yarn when wet. For this reason, Erie does not strip colors and re-dye - a procedure which is thoroughly practical with other kinds of wool. Cashmere must be dyed right the first time.
The yarn which has been processed so carefully and dyed with such skill and precision is now ready for Cashmere Corporation's knitting room. Here the painstaking attention to perfection in every detail continues as the yarn is threaded onto the long rows of full-fashioned knitting machines on which the sweaters are made.
Full-fashioned knitting is essential in the production of top-quality sweaters of the type featured by Cashmere Corporation for only by this technique can the perfect fit be built into the garment.
Fronts and backs of the sweaters are knitted separately, as are the sleeves. The parts are then joined, with the sleeves being looped into the armholes on looping machines. The sweaters are now completed and the label— Hadley Cashmere— is sewn in. Hadley is the trade name for all the sweaters manufactured by Cashmere Corporation.
"Cashmere - Mink of the Sweater Trade", The Rohm & Haas Reporter - November-December 1952