Steps in Cashmere Fiber Processing
In the mountainous country of Nepal the delicate shawls are handspun and woven according to traditional techniques. For generations Nepalese craftsmen have known the art of processing cashmere fiber and turning them into shawls or fabrics. Our cashmere fiber processing is a small cottage based industry, with small family based production units. Our products are made in small quantities.
Cashmere wool is not sheared from goat but combed. Every spring, when the goats naturally shed their winter coat, Chyangra farmers collect the cashmere wool by gentle combing. The naturally soft wool is obtained from the downy undercoat of the goat’s neck and underbelly without harming the goat. Only the finest wool fibers measuring 16.5 microns and under (6 times finer than human hair) are qualified as cashmere. For most of our collection wool fibers varying between 15 microns for the 100% Cashmere Pashmina 1 Ply and 15.5 microns for the 70% Cashmere/30% Silk are used. The long term goal is to make arrangement with the local people of High mountains regions for wool collection by providing them with the necessary equipment to carry out the preliminary processing in their own locality.
Cashmere wool is either in bulk or sorted. Sorted wool are more valuable and gives more price in the market than the bulk wool. Sorting will give more cash to the herders and they can still keep the coarse hair to weave other carpets that is more useful to them.Cashmere goat has a dual coat (guard hair and down), it must be dehaired. Some part of the fleece is just thrown away first thing done after collecting the wool is to separate the fiber into various grades of coarseness as only the fine fiber of length Micron 12-19; Average fiber Length: 1″-1.5″(2.5-3.8 cm) is used as cashmere for export production. The rest is sorted for different purposes. The outer fiber is generally longer, thicker and coarser than the inner wool. These fibers would be used to make mats as radi/Pakhi and other useful items used in very cold mountain climate.he value of dehaired cashmere is influenced by several key factors: fineness (measured in microns), length (measured in mm), and color.
Radi/Pakhi is a traditional thick weaved and felted carpets made locally.
The seperator/dehairer works by centrifugal force. As it spins around the heavier weight guard hair is thrown down to the under bins and the lighter cashmere fiber continues to travel to the end processor.
Once the wool is sorted they are washed with soap and water. The aim is to remove the “wool grease, other debris, dirt, dandruff, and other impurities. After washing and rinsing several times, the fiber is air dried by setting it out in the sun on wooden slats or straw mats. If the dehairing is done after the scoring, then it is normally at this process that the cashmere is run through a machine.
The fiber on the drying mat is beated with sticks by a process called “willeying”. Beating wool helped remove any remaining matter and it also separated entangled or matted fibers. The fibers are put through an opening machine to open it more in preparation of carding. Sometimes the wool is spinned directly after this process.
Carding /Hand Combing
Fibers are carded either using a hand carder. The process transfers the wool from one drum to the other and back again until the wool is straightened and aligned. By placing a handful of wool on one card and combing it until it had been transferred to the other, and then repeating the process several time, a light airy fiber would result. Carding also is used to blend different types of wool or get difficult colors in the process.
Bowing is also popularly used in Nepal. The bow is an arched wooden frame, the two end of which were attached with a taut cord. One cord would be placed in a pile of wool fibers, and the two wooden frame would be stuck with a mallet in order to get the cord to vibrate. The vibrating cord would separate the fibers.
Spinning (Drop Spindle or Spinning Wheel)
The cashmere wool is spun by hand on a spinning wheel, locally known as ‘Charkha’. One Himalayan goat produces about 4 to 8 ounces of pashmina per year.
The fiber collected every spring and is spun either by hand or mechanically. Once the fibers are carded (hand combed or bowed), they are wound on a distaff- a short forked stick- in preparation for spinning. Even though men were involved more until this process of spinning, the process that follow involved women. The spinner would draw a few fibers from the distaff, twisting them between thumb and forefinger and as you do so attaching them to the drop spindle. The weight of the spindle would pull the fiber down, stretching them out as it spun. The spinning action of the spindle, with the help of the spinster’s finger, twisted the fiber together into yarn. The spinster would add more wool from the distaff until the spindle reached the floor. She’s then wind the yarn around the spindle and repeat the process. Spinsters stood as they spun so that the drop-spindle could spin out as long as a yarn as possible before it had to be wound up.
Spinning wheel that are used in Nepal are called “Charkha”. The origin of charkha is debatable but it has been used for centuries in India and Nepal. The charkha made it easier to spin much more yarn than the drop spindle. Foot powered spinner popular in Europe and America is not used in Nepal. But much more could be produced on a spinning wheel than with a drop spindle. Once the yarn is spun, it might be dyed. Whether it is dyed in the wool or in the yarn, color is to be added by this stage if a multi colored product is to be made.
Once the yarn is spun, it is dyed. Whether it is dyed in the wool or in the yarn, the color is added in this stage if a colored product is to be produced. The product is also dyed after the weaving
process, the pashmina shawls are dyed. This is a manual process as well, in which the shawls are one by one being submerged in a dye bath. Various colored shades are created either by dying yarn itself and then weave or by the process of multi stage dying on the fabric creating desire shades. Similarly different colors shades on either sides of the fabric are also created. Each Symrik Scarf is individually hand-dyed by our master dyer who has over 40 years experience. We use Sandoz metal-free and azo-free dyes, the most eco-friendly available, and dye in a range of 170 colors.The fiber is exceptionally absorbent, and it dyes very easily and deeply.
Dying is a process that immersed the fabric in liquid, it may be dyed after weaving the fabric. Dying is done at the different stage of the production. Cloth that was dyed after it was woven is known as “dyed-in-the-piece”, our cashmere shawls are dyed this way. Dyeing in the piece deepens the color.
The pot dried wool is completely air dried before it is weaved. The wool is dried by spreading it in the open air in open and allowing the sun and the air to dry it naturally. This method although slow and laborious has many advantages over the modern methods as none of its natural qualities are being lost. The drying of the wool is an important process. The wool that is dried quickly on high temperature has a harsh unkind feeling and the fiber looses its suppleness.
The pot dyed cloth that are dyed in the piece are rinsed and hung to dry.
Hand Weaving in Looms
For hundred of years surviving skills in the remote mountains, changra goats and their herders have been a part of the Himalayas, and Nepali women have spun yarn useful for their own use. Great expertise from the mountains along with pashminas weaving technique passed down through the moguls of Kashmir region, our cashmere are being woven on traditional handlooms. An exquisite art, passed down through generations. Besides pashminas of 100% cashmere, blends of cashmere and silk are being made to create better fibre-strength and a beautiful sheen. Our weaving is all done by hand on looms built specifically to meet our exacting standards. Our master weaver comes from a very long lineage of Mughal craftspeople. Our other weavers are young Nepali artisans who also do all the finishing on our shawls and blankets.
Weaving is, simply, to draw one yarn or thread (The “weft”) through a set of perpendicular yarns (the “wrap”), threading the weft alternately behind and in front of each individual warp thread. Warp threads were usually stronger and heavier than weft threads and came from different grades of fiber. The vaiety of weights in warps and wefts could result in specific textures. The number of weft fibers drawn through the loom in one pass could vary, as could the number of warps the weft would travel in front of before passing behind; this deliberate variety was used to achieve different textured patterns. Sometimes, warp threads were dyed (usually blue) and weft threads remained undyed, producing colored patterns.
Mechanized Looms make this process go smoothly. The earliest looms were vertical; the warp threads stretched from the top of the loom to the floor and, later, to a bottom frame or roller. The horizontal loom used popularly for cashmere made it much easier to weave cashmere. A weaver would sit, and instead of threading the weft in front of and behind alternate warps by hand, he’s merely have to pass a foot pedal to raise up one set of alternate warps and draw the the weft underneath it in one straight pass. Then he’d press the other pedal, which would raise the other set of warps, and draw the weft underneath that in other direction. To make this process easier, a shuttle was used- a boat-shaped tool that contained yarn wound around a bobbin. The shuttle would glide easily over the bottom set of warps as the yarn unspooled.
Both hand knitting and machine knitting process is popular to knit cashmere products. Smaller items are handknitted, where as bigger shawls, sweaters and cardigans and blankets are knitted by hand using knitting machine.
Screen printing is basically a process of using mesh-based stencil to apply color in the blanket. It is a printing technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil to receive a desired image. The attached stencil forms open areas of mesh that transfer color which can be pressed through the mesh as a sharp-edged image onto the blanket. A fill blade or squeegee is moved across the screen stencil, forcing or pumping ink through the mesh openings to wet the pashmina during the squeegee stroke. Screen printing is also a stencil method of print making in which a design is imposed on a screen of polyester or other fine mesh, with blank areas coated with an impermeable substance. Color is forced into the mesh openings by the fill blade or squeegee and onto the printing surface during the squeegee stroke. As the screen rebounds away from the substrate the ink remains on the substrate. It is also known as silk-screen, screen, serigraphy, and serigraph printing. One color is printed at a time, so several screens can be used to produce a multicolored image or design.
Each Symrik Piece is finished with every bit of attention to detail as our fabric, weaves, and dyes. Each strand of our hand-knotted twisted fringe and is hand-knotted takes a full day to complete for one item, and our hand-knotted base fringe gives each piece an equally masculine and feminine look.
Pressing and Packaging
When the product is in its final stage, the fabric is pressed to complete the smoothing process. This was done in a flat, wooden vise. The finished fabric is luxuriously soft to the touch and is made ready for the market.
Fabric Quality and Process Monitoring
Every step along the process is an opportunity for us to excel. To ensure that Spinners and weavers maintain their quality, every process is closely monitored. There is much to learn about cashmere goats and the process of producing quality cashmere products.