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How to Identify Pure Pashmina?

Picture: Changthangi Goat Breed

Secrets of India’sSoft Gold: How to Instantly Identify Pashmina from Ordinary Wool Using Your 3 Senses?

Today, the pashmina shawl has established itself as one of the most sought-after pieces of cloth in the history of man. Definitely a certified head-turner, the stunning wearable has placed India’s Kashmir region — a “paradise on earth” — on the map. It won’t take much to be captivated. Just let your fingers quickly run through the super-fine cloth, and you’ll know why it's dubbed “soft gold”, a term from the Persian word Pashm. India’s soft gold, to be exact.

It’s no surprise traditional regional powers starting with the 15th century Mughal Empire vied for control of the “soft gold” handicraft. Centuries would only add to the prestige as pashmina giving in the tradition of khilat (started by Emperor Babur) became the unmistakable symbol of power and ascendancy. For one, no less than Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 - 1821), the highly-celebrated French emperor, gifted his wife, Empress Josephine, with the finest pashmina he can find.

It’s timely, therefore, that we put pashmina side by side with wool. How do you differentiate one from the other? How to know pashmina from wool? It may sound like a tall order. However, doing so will not only help us uncover soft gold’s best-kept secrets but also lead us to value owning one. Truth be told, donning a pashmina shawl anywhere is bringing out the best in you. To shine like true royalty.

The good news is it need not be a tall order. You can use three of your very own senses to identify pashmina from wool. Or for that matter, pashmina from a fake imitation. Read on to know the details of how.

The Great Debate: Pashmina vs Wool

It’s safe to say everybody on the planet can identify wool from silk. Both types of fabrics are fairly distinct from one another and easy to distinguish. But what about pashmina? What separates the magnificent handmade creation from ordinary wool? Here’s an expert take.

Wool is the choice fabric to wear during winter. The animals that gave us wool are proof of this. By definition, Wool comes from animal fur, though synthetic wool now does exist. Scientifically, wool is no different from human hair. If you take a closer look at both, you’ll see that they have the same chemical makeup: keratin.

Wool is the textile fiber that we get from sheep, goats, and other animals (e.g., rabbits, and camelids). Technically, we are making the most of the body covering of these animals and if you look at most of these animals, they survive in extremely cold weather.

The Fabric whenWater Freezes Over

The reason why wool is what keeps us warm during the cold months is its high thermal resistance. As the material is a very poor conductor of heat, body heat is easily trapped inside our wool clothing giving us the warmth we need when we need it most.

Wool has other key characteristics that make it a favorite choice for many. Some of the most outstanding are:

Wool helps keep you dry

Garments made of wool are naturally breathable and that’s down to the minute, fiber level. That means it allows air to naturally flow. So, even in you’re sweating, you won’t have to worry about overheating if you’re wearing wool.

Warm even if wet

Wool fibers can absorb moisture to as much as 30% of their weight so you won't easily feel wet. In essence, the fabric wick moisture to leave your skin releasing it via evaporation. Added to this, wool is a natural fire extinguisher. So, if you light it, the fabric will naturally extinguish the fire.

Wool won’t make you stink

Wool has anti-microbial properties so it’s highly odor-resistant. That’s because microbes can’t bind easily and breed in wool fibers.

Now, you could be wondering why wool has been identified mostly with sheep — and not goats or any other animal that can produce wool.

Sheep are timider by nature; they are gazers eating plants close to the ground. Plus, they love hanging out with the herd and they are easier to breed. Goats love to roam around more, are strong-willed, and are very agile. You can find goats up on the branches of trees, over fences, and climbing steep mountains. That’s because goats are more picky eaters; they are browsers choosing twigs and vines over grass. Also, they are far more adventurous by nature and harder to rein in. More often than not.

In short, sheep are easier to tend to than goats. Small wonder sheep served man far longer than goats. The primitive man living in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago tended to sheep. And anywhere and everywhere the Romans built their empire, sheep accompanied them. With that regard, it’s safe to say sheep allowed mankind to “spread civilization”.

Pashmina: The BestWool for Cold Weather

Without a doubt, the majority of the wool today comes from sheep, scientific name Caprinae Ovis. There are about 1.16 billion sheep in the world today, a number capable enough to give each person on the planet one sweater (though that’s hardly the case as there are uses of wool other than clothing). Understandably, proper sourcing and processing have been observed to foster the responsible production of wool.

However, when it comes to quality wool, the best wool doesn’t come from sheep. Rather, a sheep’s cousin is making its mark. Enter the goat, scientific name: Capra aegagrus hircus.

And a goat’s marked adventurism has made it the wiser choice when you want the better wool. Why is that? Let’s dive in.

When we talk about the best quality wool, you can hardly find a better wool than pashmina. The word itself comes from the Persian word pashm which means “soft gold”. And there may not be a better description of the clothing material.

Pashmina is superfine wool that comes from the Changtangi goat in the high mountains of the province of Kashmir, India. Specifically, in Ladakh. While Merino sheep is noted for its fine wool more than any other sheep, wool from the Changtagi goat is finer. Here’s a quick look.

Changtangi goats live in one of the most extreme environments. Not only do they live at an altitude as high as 4,000 to 5,500 meters above sea level (about 15,000 feet) but also in temperatures below −20 °C (−4.00 °F). That’s below the freezing point for you. Worse, these temperatures constitute a long winter.

In short, these goats are hardy. They like to live it up and flourish in such high places.

But all the cold served a purpose. Thanks to such extreme conditions, Changtangi goats cloak themselves with protection: superfine wool. The goat grows an ultra-soft undercoat to protect itself from the harshness of the long, cold winter.

In that sense, the adventurism of the mountain goat has made possible the development of superfine wool. Being in the region of Kashmir, these Changtangi goats produce what the world has commonly called cashmere wool. Today, however, cashmere can mean any superfine wool that includes pashmina.

One thing is for sure. What all this means is pashmina is a most sought-after fabric. It comes with a distinct quality that is higher than the most common wool in the market today.

How to Identify True Pashmina in an Instant?

Now, if you’re in the market for pashmina shawls, know that there are many imitation products today. Let’s face it. More often than not, an army of opportunistic enterprises gathers to make the most of just about every product with rising sales — making dubious claims just to get sold.

And a pashmina is no different. In fact, some of the biggest online sellers are making a killing out of “fake pashmina shawls”. Alarming, right?

Well, fret not. There are ways to ensure that you’re actually paying for a quality pashmina without having to bend over backward. You need not deploy a hi-tech scanner to make it happen. In one sense, it’s easy. You can use three of your human senses to quickly identify pashmina from ordinary wool. And even separate a true pashmina from a fake imitation.

Max on Your Sense of Touch

If there’s a way to identify pashmina in a jiffy, touching the fabric would have to be one of the fastest — if not the fastest. Your hand and even your skin can be used to determine the nature of the fabric. It’s quick and it’s super easy.

Touch has been a vital method in identifying fabric. As wool is a non-conductor of heat, you will feel the fabric is warm when touching it. That’s because the heat from your fingers doesn’t dissipate. The warmth stays on your finger.

Aside from that, wool feels elastic and springy. While silk feels warm too, you can identify it by its smoothness.

On the other hand, cotton feels cool when touched. Yet, it’s inelastic even when soft like wool. Indeed, the sense of touch can go a long way in knowing what kind of fabric you’re touching.

So, how do you use your sense of touch to zero in on a true pashmina? Given a choice of fabric in front of you.

1. Ordinary wool is soft but not as soft as pashmina. The degree of softness will tell you if you’re looking at just a run-of-the-mill wool or a luxury wrap.

2. The itch test. Pashmina is a hypoallergenic fiber. So if your hands itch when you touch the fabric, there’s a good chance you’re dealing with a fake pashmina.

3. Pashmina is soft as butter. If you want a measure of how to determine the softness of pashmina, it’s as soft as butter. As its fiber diameter is smaller than most cotton in the market today, merino including, your skin or your hands should know.

4. Rub test. If you’re still unsure if you’re dealing with a fake or real pashmina, do the rub test. Simply rub your fingers against the cloth. If you’re looking at authentic pashmina wool, you won’t feel or witness the accumulation of an electric charge.

Usually, fake pashmina is made of polyester which is synthetic fiber from petroleum. So the moment you rub such a counterfeit, electricity happens. If you do it long enough, the fabric will spark. It’s obvious in the dark and it’s obvious to your ears as the spark becomes audible.

Use Your Sense of Sight

Another essential way to differentiate pashmina from the rest of the gang is via visual inspection. The more you put confidence in your visual prowess, the better you are at nailing a top-notch Kashmiri shawl. A few pointers but you should be able to nail it with a bit of preparation.

1. Dazzling design. Common wool is not as thoroughly processed as pashmina. The design element can be an essential eye-opener. Pashmina shawls designed with sozni embroidery are breathtaking, to say the least. The artwork cannot simply be ignored.

2. Check the edges. Take note that pashmina is a handwoven piece. Unlike machine-made pieces of cloth, the luxury piece would shout such a product produced by hand. The easiest way to check this is the edges. This artwork should be slightly wavy at the edges.

3. Test against the light. This can be really handy. Put your fabric to be tested against the light. You should notice imperfections with waviness appearing in a non-uniform way. A machine-made fabric won’t exhibit such attributes.

Smell It: The Burnt Test

The nose may not be such an instant way to check your pashmina. But it can be an ingenious way to know if you’re dealing with just ordinary wool, a fake pashmina, or a much sought-after authentic pashmina.

To do this, do the burn test. It may sound a little extreme but doing so should be reasonable if you’re spending a chunk of your hard-earned dollars.

You need not spoil your precious pashmina to do the burn test. Just rely on a small thread of the cloth, something you can get from the fringes. Now, make sure you put the cloth on a solid container: a steel pot or a ceramic plate for instance.

Afterwhich, light it up. The smell of the burn should be telling. Additionally, the way the flame behaves should give you a hint about what kind of material you’re burning.

Ordinary wool is, to some degree, fire-resistant. It’s like it abhors fire. It ignites slowly. But once ignited, its tendency is to “curl away”, and distance itself from the flame. When catching fire, it will almost immediately stop burning. As it’s animal hair, it will smell strongly like burning hair.

On one end, pashmina will behave similarly to wool. Pashmina like wool is a by-product of animal hair. It will also smell like burnt hair. But here’s the difference. Not only is such cashmere wool softer to one’s touch, but you’ll have guard hair sticking out compared to ordinary wool. Guard hairs are small fibers that stick out like a sore thumb across the fabric surface. This gives the subject a “furry” appearance.

So check out the ashes. Fake pashmina will not behave like hair. If it doesn’t smell like burnt hair and smells like burnt leaves instead, then you’re looking at a FAKE PASHMINA.

Wrapping Things Up

Without a doubt, the pashmina shawl is such a prized possession. Knowing how to determine such fine cloth that speaks of utmost elegance and craftsmanship is a must when you’re in the market for one. Indeed, doing your due diligence should be best. That way you’ll not end up on the losing side of a bargain.

This is what makes it all so useful. Using three of your own senses is the quickest way to identify pashmina against run-of-the-mill wool. And pashmina against fake ones. After all, being able to don an authentic pashmina is definitely worth the effort.

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