Expert Tips on How To Buy a Cashmere Sweater
Puzzled by all of the cashmere sweater options out there? Wondering how to decipher between the $69 option and the $2,000 option? You are not alone. We consulted with famed cashmere designer Christopher Fischer to get the low-down on how to buy a cashmere sweater. Fischer, who honed his craft in Scotland and Inner Mongolia, China, where he learned about cashmere fibers and knitwear traditions, has quite the cashmere pedigree. The real proof is that Fischer has been creating lust worthy cashmere sweaters for his namesake label for decades, including the Fox Intarsia sweater (pictured above, $298, christopherfischer.com).
Here, Fischer shares his top tips on how to buy a cashmere sweater, and how to care for those that you already own (who knew that it isn’t the best idea to dry clean your cashmere). In other words, this is the bible of cashmere, so take notes.
1. Three things to keep in mind while shopping. “Clarity of color, clarity of the stitch, and softness to touch,” Fischer shares. “When you first look at and touch the sweater, your senses should give you a good feeling about the garment. If it is not what you expect, then look elsewhere. Price is not always an indication of quality, and with cashmere, if the price appears too good to be true, then generally it is a warning that something may not be quite right, or the quality of the fiber is not top quality.”
2. Get the cashmere lingo down. “A cashmere sweater is mostly always knitted using a two-ply yarn,” Fischer shares. “Two–ply is a yarn twisted of two of two single ‘legs’ of yarn, while one-ply, is how the yarn is spun. This plying together gives the yarn balance in that the twist keeps the yarn straight as it feeds onto the knitting needles as the garment is being knitted, and so it gives it a clearer, straighter and more even knitting stitch, which keeps the knitted panels of a sweater straight and of the correct shape. This prevents the garment from torquing, which is where the knitted panels are slanted, and which causes the sweater to twist on its side seams (you know, where the side seams on some knitted garments seem to twist to the back or front no matter how you press the garment).
3. Walk the other way. “Avoid garments that have a patchy and uneven finish that may look felted and matted on the top surface,” Fischer says. “This is a sign that the garment has been over washed in its final finishing, generally from a manufacturer who is not a specialist cashmere knitter. And of course, if it does not feel good and it says the garment is 100 percent cashmere, don’t buy it as there are plenty of choices out there.”
4. The pilling problem. “Lesser quality fiber is shorter, courser and may not be pure white, therefore combined with a looser and more open stitch, such garments will definitely pill more,” Fischer shares. “With the fiber being shorter and thicker the fibers are more prone to pull out of the garment’s surface with all of the movement and friction when the sweater is being worn, and these fibers abrade together to form pills. Also, as the color of the fiber is darker, the colors of the dyed yarn will be duller and less vibrant, with colors that look really washed out, dirty and grey being poorest. When buying a sweater, be cautious about sweaters that are much cheaper than others, and look for shorter, courser fiber hairs that stand up from the top surface of the sweater—you may also see a few dark and black fiber hairs. The final clue is a sweater that feels loose and has a knitted surface that is more see through than you would normally expect from such a sweater. These are all indications that the fiber and the sweater is of a lesser quality and will pill more than others of a better quality.”
5. Care tips to live by. “First, after each wear take time to immediately remove all the pills on the sweater,” Fischer advises. “The best way to do this is by hand, but otherwise use a good quality lint brush…Next, don’t wear the sweater repeatedly day after day. The sweater needs time to ‘breathe’ and relax after each wear. Don’t wash or clean the sweater more than you need to, as cashmere fiber has natural oils that are lost with each cleaning. Generally I always advise that hand washing your sweater is best. You can dry clean cashmere, but I do not recommend it, and never do it myself.
To hand wash, use luke warm, tepid water, baby temperature, and only use a very small amount of low acidity liquid soap, such as Christopher Fischer Cashmere Wash, or a good neutral hair shampoo will be fine also. Do not wring or rub the sweater when washing, just knead and squeeze the sweater in the water for the soap to penetrate into the sweater to remove any dirt. Keep this process as short as possible, and never let the sweater soak. Then immediately rinse repeatedly in cool water until the water is clear and the sweater is soap free. Squeeze out any excess water by laying the sweater on a towel and rolling the sweater into the towel like a swiss roll, and squeezing out the water as you roll it. Then, lay out the sweater on a fresh dry towel on a flat airy surface out of direct sunlight, pulling the sweater to the desired shape. Leave it to dry, turning it over when the top surface is dry, and changing to a dry towel if necessary…Once almost dry I give my sweaters a short tumble dry at a medium temperature to lift the top surface…Finally, use a steam iron to lift the top surface and maneuver the sweater to your desired shape and fit.”
6. Storing cashmere. “Always store your cashmere sweaters folded on an airy shelf or in a drawer, making sure they are not smashed and squeezed in,” Fischer advises. “As with washing, never hang your sweaters. Always remove pills and wash if necessary before storing. I do not recommend storing sweaters in polybags or zip bags as they need to breathe between wears. At the end of the season, always wash or clean the sweater before prolonged storage, then just half fold the sweater if you have the space, with acid free tissue paper…and store with natural lavender or rosemary sachets or natural pine blocks, never moth balls. If you look after your sweater you will enjoy it all the more.”