Finally, we’re heading into warmer weather, but if you’re anything like us, you keep your cashmere sweaters and scarves at arm’s length in your closet through June, maybe longer – summer nights in Newport can be chilly.
“I don’t put mine away at all,” says Christine Higbee, owner of Toci, the high-end cashmere boutique on Franklin Street in Newport. If you do, though, Christine says that plastic bins are fine for the short-term (a few months), but for anything longer than that, place items in a cedar closet or blanket chest. Whatever you do, put it away clean, she cautions. “And that means washing it.”
How to care for cashmere
De-pilling cashmere using a sweater stone
The first step is to remove pills from your items. A sweater stone is the most effective (and basic) tool, but it must be used properly. Don’t scrape or rub the fabric. Instead use short brushstrokes to gently remove pills, which cling by just a micro-thread. Use only the edge of the stone. Do not use an electric sweater shaver, which will remove too much fiber.
Because it’s easiest to de-pill woven fabric that is cautiously taut, a sweater stone is generally easiest to use when wearing a garment. Consider asking for help with awkward spots like armpits – a common pilling area. It’s best to keep ahead of the task: De-pill carefully and frequently as pills occur, and be aware that friction from, say, layering a cashmere sweater with a wool-lined coat (or even another cashmere layer) can cause pilling.
How to wash cashmere
Christine instructs her customers to hand or machine wash items with very gentle soap, even if that means overriding a label’s “dry clean only” instructions. That goes double for higher end pieces.
Because the goat hair that cashmere is made from is more like human hair than lamb’s wool, the boutique owner recommends using baby shampoo or a very gentle cleanser such as The Laundress or Euclan (available at Toci or online). “The key is that it’s a soft, gentle soap,” she notes, “and not a lot of it.”
If you have a newer washing machine with a wool cycle, use it. Otherwise, select the gentle cycle or hand wash your cashmere items. Water temperature is also paramount. It should be cold. The best practice, advises Christine, is to make sure that no other appliances – such as a shower or dishwasher – are running at the same time, which may affect water temperature in your laundry. If your washing machine has a top loader, put your cashmere in a bag to protect it during agitation.
Skip the dryer and lay sweaters, scarves, and other cashmere pieces flat to dry, reshaping them if necessary.
Never hold off on washing cashmere, notes Christine, who also sells summer-weight cashmere and linen in her shop. In fact, it can be best to wash fine cashmere pieces for the first time after only one or two wears. When washed properly, she notes, certain types of cashmere, such as high-end Scottish or Italian types, will actually get softer. Whether you’re storing your cashmere this summer or keeping it for those breezy evenings by the water, don’t delay in keeping it clean.