Knitwear Fibre Guide: What is Wool, Cotton and Cashmere?

Knitwear Fibre Guide: What is Wool, Cotton and Cashmere?

22.10.2021 Off By manager_1

brown and white knit textile

One sweater is made of lambswool and the other one says merino. What does this mean? What is the difference? This cashmere sweater is priced at $30 and the other one is $300. Are they made from the same thing?

The Guide to Knitwear, the first chapter in this series, summarizes all that makes a sweater unique. From yarn to gauge to loom.

We now dive into each one in detail, starting with fibre. This is the material from which knitwear is made, including wool (merino or lambswool), vicuna (silk), cashmere (vicuna), and cotton (or both). It will help you understand the differences between them and how they work. It’s also kind of fascinating.

What are the different types of wool?

Most high-end knitwear, such as the ones our readers may be interested in, is made from merino wool. This is not a British-bred breed. It is usually imported from Australia or South Africa.

It doesn’t tell you anything if it says something is merino. It is merely excluding other breeds, usually coarser and British. And it will probably tell you that it is adult merino and not lambswool. It will often be labeled lambswool if it is. This means that the wool was derived from the first sheep shearing. This makes it more fine and soft.

One way to identify lambswool is to look at it under a microscope. You will see that the fibre has one pointed and one square end. The tip is the end that was cut. The squared end indicates where the wool was cut. The cut tip will be present on all future wool from sheep, so that both ends are square.

Once you realize it’s Merino Lambswool, then you can start to explore specialty breeds and flocks. Geelong, for example, refers to a specific type of Merino sheep that originated in the geelong region of Australia. It was highly sought-after because of its high quality. Geelong wool has been increasingly processed in China over the years. This makes it less reliable as a quality indicator. Geelong wool will always be a very fine merino. (Despite being advertised as such, it is not as luxurious as cashmere)

What is the point?

We now have a number of subsets. Geelong, a type (above) of lambswool that is a kind of merino which is a breed sheep breed, is an example.

What happens when we descend this structure using “better” wools?

Fineness is the most important factor. It is measured in microns. An adult merino can be as fine as 21.5 microns, while lambswool is anywhere from 16.5 to 20 and geelong around 18.5 microns. This is all quite fine considering that a human hair measures 70-80 micron.

However, wool fibre has other characteristics. The first is softness. Even though fineness is the main determinant of softness, lambswool with the same microns as adult Merino wool will still be soft. Cashmere is also softer due to the fact that it has fewer scales within its fibre structure.

Another issue is its length. Although cashmere can be soft and fine, it is shorter than most other merino. Another thing is color: Pale, almost-white wool is highly prized for its ability to be dyed in a wider range of colors.

There are also some unique characteristics of specialty wools such as Escorial wool’s crimped shape, which is another Merino breed.

These fibres can be spun into yarn to create a variety of new variations. The biggest difference is woollen-spun and worsted. A worsted yarn is spun finer, creating a denser, smoother product, just like suits’ woven materials. This is what you will see in light knits such as John Smedley’s. Woollen spun is also used in normal jumpers.

This is because even though a fibre may be coarser, it can still look and feel fine when it is worsted.

Cashmere types

Fineness is the added value of cashmere. The fineness of Chinese cashmere, will be approximately 15-16 micron. Mongolian ranges from 16.2 to 18. Afghan is coarser, and it is generally used for weaving. All wools are finer than lambswool.

Baby cashmere is also available. This is the first cashmere goat to be combusted and it is the best. According to our contacts, however, there is far more baby cashmere than can realistically be derived from these animals.

Cashmere comes in a variety of types, which is why there are so many price differences. There are also variations in the lengths of the fibers and their mixes. It is just as important to know how cashmere will be used.

Low-cost cashmere is often knit loosely, so it is less work. To make it soften (and to give it a slight oily touch), a chemical softener is applied. It’s then overfinished, which makes it fluffy but less strong. You can read more about that.

Cashmere knitting methods can also vary from one another. Italian knitwear, for example, is more fluffy and has a rougher finish than Scottish knitwear. The former allows you to see the yarn better.

The important thing is that knitwear from Scotland, which tends to be denser, will soften with use and washing and last longer. It is rare to judge knitwear based solely on how it feels in a shop.

Vicuna, which is shorter than cashmere, is one of the finer luxury fibres. It is an incredible fibre but it can be difficult to justify its high price.

Also, there’s the camel, which measures 16 micron and is limited by its colour. A little bit of alpaca, and angora. This is a short fiber that produces a fluffy texture.

Plant fibres

For knits to feel cool, spring/summer is when linen and cotton are most commonly used. Both are cool and trap heat less. Because not everyone loves the crispness of linen’s texture, cotton is more commonly seen. Hemp behaves similarly to linen.

Mixing cotton, linen and wool with cashmere or wool can be a great solution. This creates a lighter, mid-weight jumper that is not as cool or fresh as the plant fibres but is still lighter than wool.

Mixing can be done in one of two ways: one where the fibres are combined before being spun and one where each spun yarn is twisted together. This method is easier to control the ratios.

Silk has many advantages, including strength and lightness. However, it can also produce a sheen on its surface. Silk is most commonly used in blends, often with cashmere in lightweight knits.

All of these fibres have different qualities. For example, Egyptian and Suppima cotton have a longer staple length. However, the differences between cashmere and wool aren’t as stark.