Cashmere (Fr. cachemire), a textile fabric made of the fine wool of the Thibet goat. In Cashmere the wool is received from Thibet and Tartary, and, after being bleached, is spun and dyed of various colors. The weavers, employed by the merchants for a few cents a day, receive the yarns, and in their shops, or at looms in their own houses, proceed to weave them after the patterns ordered. Each loom is estimated to produce five shawls a year; but a single one of the finest shawls sometimes occupies the work of a whole shop, keeping two to four persons constantly engaged upon it, for an entire year. The total number of looms in Cashmere, it is believed, is about 16,000. The process of weaving the shawls with variegated figures is conducted without a shuttle, each colored yarn of the woof being worked upon the warp with its separate wooden needle; and as the work goes on very slowly, it is customary to divide it among several looms, and then join the pieces together. This is so skilfully done that the seams are not detected. As the pattern is worked, the right side is the under one upon the frame, and is not seen by those who work it upon the upper or rough side.
The shawls are made single and in pairs, either square or long; the former measures from 63 to 72 inches on a side, the latter 126 inches by 54. To work a single long shawl without a seam, and of the finest thread in the warp as well as the woof, in the most elaborate pattern and exquisite colors, would require the labor of about three years; and as in this time the colors are likely to change, and the fabric to receive injury from worms or otherwise, such shawls are rarely attempted. The fine shawls are more usually made upon 12 different looms for a pair. - The principal market is in the London semi-annual public sales, which of late years have materially decreased, chiefly owing to the direct importation into France by Paris houses having agents in Cashmere. In 1852 the London sales amounted to £100,000; in 1862, £270,-000; in 1869, only £80,000. In 1871 the total import of India shawls into England was 1,557, against 3,343 in 1870. On account of the Franco-German war there was but one public sale in 1871, amounting to £27,000. In 1872 the June sale amounted to £36,245. These sales included long shawls, square with plain and filled centres, pieces, scarfs, cravats, capes, fringes, etc.
The buyers are from France, Belgium, Germany, England, the United States, and sometimes from Russia and Turkey. The prices range from £2 to £70, and occasionally £100 for exceptional qualities and patterns. The finest and choicest shawls now go exclusively to Paris direct from India; Russians and Italians sometimes buy the best, but do not import them. Very few of the higher priced shawls are manufactured, though in some public sales in London shawls have been sold at from £160 to £220 each. The maharajah of Cashmere has control of the exports of shawls, and through his agents sends some to the London sales. - Various attempts have been made to naturalize the Thibet goat in Europe and the United States. In 1819 a cross between the Thibet and a Tartar variety was introduced into France, and subsequently some of the stock was sent to England. Some years ago Dr. J. B. Davis of Columbia, S. C, imported nine pure breed Thibet goats, the stock of which was introduced into Tennessee and other states. But all attempts at naturalization have resulted in the production of an inferior quality of wool, owing, it is supposed, to the influences of climate.
In California, however, the goat has been successfully introduced, and is now very numerous; and it is thought that the climate of that state will be favorable to the quality of the wool. The attempts to import and manufacture the wool in Europe have not been successful. The native weavers are brought up to the trade from their infancy, and are proficient in the highest degree; while to the water of India in which the wool and shawls are washed, and to the atmosphere, the brilliant colors of the cashmere shawls are supposed to be due. In Paris, Lyons, Nimes, and Rheims there are extensive manufactories for the production of imitation cashmere shawls, the best of which are easily distinguished from the genuine ones by experts, but which are extensively exported. The value of India shawls imported into New York in 1872 was $164,118.