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What’s the difference between merino wool, cashmere and alpaca sweaters?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
Can anybody tell me the difference between merino wool, cashmere and alpaca in terms of price, softness, durability and warmth? I was at banana republic looking for a womens cashmere sweater (for gift) and I saw this sweater that's made of alpaca, which I've never heard of before. Just by feeling it feels very soft. It's cheaper than cashmere but I don't really know what the difference is between the two.
post #2 of 22
Cashmere comes from the hair of goats, and alpaca from alpacas, long-necked South American beasties. Merino used to denote the wool of Merino sheep, but now is used in a wider sense. It's generally a very soft wool, though still not as soft as cashmere or alpaca.

Durability will depend heavily on the quality. In general, merino wool is the sturdiest, though the least soft, and is usually the cheapest. High-quality cashmere is durable but very expensive, and cheap cashmere tends to be very shoddy. For cashmere, the best quality items are usually made in Scotland.
post #3 of 22
from what i understand, only wool from merino sheep can be called merino wool due to labelling laws

the interesting thing is that properly processed merino wool can be softer than a poorly processed cashmere hair, especially if it's cashmere hair from the outer part of the goat, rather than the softest belly hairs

so what i'm saying is that just because it says cashmere, doesn't mean it's cashmere hairs from the inner belly, which is the best and softest cashmere; it could be the rougher outer hairs which aren't necessarily as soft as merino wool (a lot of the made in china or chinese processed cashmere you find on low cost cashmere items are the outer hairs which is why banana republic can offer cashmere sweaters for $100)

let your hand do the bidding as running the back of your hand along the sweater and feeling its softness is usually a better benchmark than reading the label alone

wool can only come from sheep
a wool hair is solid at the core (if you cut it in half, it's solid) which is why wool is so water and burn resistent and has memory
merino wool is simply from one particular sheep that has very fine hairs hence its super soft property

all others, such as cashmere, alpaca, vicuna etc., are hollow at the core, like human hair, which gives it a certain luxury of softness but not necessarily the durability of solid core wool hairs
post #4 of 22
I imagine the labelling laws may vary from country to country. Maybe someone more knowledgable than I can tell us more.

Hermes makes good points about cashmere, but I've seen some very soft cashmere that was secretly crap. I don't think initial softness is a reliable indicator of future durability. We haven't even gotten into ply and the like.

I think with cashmere, you generally get what you pay for, unless you've got some insider info.
post #5 of 22
good point

i recall a rather detailed article on cashmere that quoted a lot from loro piana and it was stated that one should not get caught up in ply count or even gauge as it's the finishing process that counts the most and that a good processer and finisher of cashmere can do wonders with even lower grade cashmere hairs

i believe, for example, that loro piana does almost all their processing in mongolia, where cashmere has been processed well for a century? (at least decades upon decades) and have a leg up on any of the modern chinese factories due to developed skill and expertise (china i believe is the number one processer of cashmere, but not the best)

in any event, i remember the quote from loro piano's son/grandson being that it's all in the finishing, not the ply count or gauge (at least in their opinion)

anyway, i do agree, you get what you pay for with cashmere
post #6 of 22
Wool labels

The Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939 requires that a label state whether the wool used in a textile item is new or virgin (never before used in cloth) or recycled (includes fibers recovered from previously manufactured new or used cloth).

Recycled wool tends to be weaker than new wool because of its shorter fiber length. It is frequently blended with stronger synthetic fibers such as nylon or acrylic to make a more durable fabric. Recycled wool tends to shed more lint than new wool. Fabrics made from recycled wool may appear somewhat darker and duller in color. Recycled wool is sometimes used in lower-priced, heavy weight clothing, such as winter coats.

New or virgin wool is defined by the Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939 as wool that has never been used or reclaimed from any spun, woven, knitted, felted, manufactured or used product.

All-wool is fabric of any description in which yarns are 100 percent wool from sheep. Other wools, such as angora, alpaca, camel, cashmere, mink and rabbit are named for the animal providing the fiber. They must be present in amounts of 25 percent or more to alter the properties of the blend.

Woolen refers to a fabric that is thick and fuzzy. The wool fibers in the yarns are short and only partially straightened.

Worsted is a wool fabric that is smooth, lustrous and strong. The wool fibers in the yarn are long and have been straightened by combing.

Lambswool means that the fiber came from a younger animal up to seven months old. It is more likely to be soft and pleasant to touch.

Merino is a very fine, soft wool from the Merino sheep.

Wool felt is a non-woven fabric made by layering thin sheets of carded wool fibers and treating them with heat, moisture and pressure to produce a tight felted or matted fabric that does not fray or ravel. Felt is also made from acrylic and other fibers.
Bonded or laminated wool is wool-face fabric that is attached to a backing cloth to provide additional stability and body. The backing may be cotton, acetate knit, laminated foam or another fiber.'

This is USA anyway but I'm pretty certain it's fairly universal.
post #7 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by hermes
all others, such as cashmere, alpaca, vicuna etc., are hollow at the core, like human hair, which gives it a certain luxury of softness but not necessarily the durability of solid core wool hairs

Human hair is solid.
post #8 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aus_MD
Human hair is solid.

I would imagine it to be quite irritating on the skin. Like the feeling right after you get a haircut.
post #9 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by acidicboy
I would imagine it to be quite irritating on the skin. Like the feeling right after you get a haircut.

That's where Kazakhstan's No. 1 export comes in. There's a reason it's the No. 1 export, you know. Only the finest!
post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by acidicboy
I would imagine it to be quite irritating on the skin. Like the feeling right after you get a haircut.

lmao
post #11 of 22
Mohair is the other luxury wool, coming from the Angora goat. However, it is not to be confused with angora, which is rabbit fur.
post #12 of 22
No mention of catmere?

There are a few other luxury wools like guanaco (used as a component in the infamous "Guanashina" cloth), quiviut, shahtoosh (supposedly illegal now), but they're very rare and not much used. Possum is a natural pest in New Zealand and its fur or wool is cashmere or catmere-like -- I have a beanie in possum which is nice and not expensive.

Loro Piana has a great interest in stating that it's not the ply that's important. Finishing is completely different from ply. Ply, AFAIK, has to do with whether yarns are woven around each other -- something Loro Piana's fabrics don't always feature. I would imagine it's a factor in the durability of cloth. As to their cashmere knits, I think they're very good but also very fine. Certainly well finished.
post #13 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by hermes
...a lot of the made in china or chinese processed cashmere you find on low cost cashmere items are the outer hairs which is why banana republic can offer cashmere sweaters for $100...

Then it shouldnt be called cashmere.

The Cashmere (Kashmir) or down goat. From the fine, soft undercoat or underlayer of hair. (http://www.cashmere.org/cm/facts.php?translate=english)

The price differences may come from different length, thinness and color of the cashmere hairs.
post #14 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by RJman
Possum is a natural pest in New Zealand and its fur or wool is cashmere or catmere-like -- I have a beanie in possum which is nice and not expensive.

They're a natural pest in the South, too. Where does one find opossum knitwear?
post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by AlanC
They're a natural pest in the South, too. Where does one find opossum knitwear?

It took me a while to figure this sentence out because as far as I knew New Zealand was in the south. In fact if you went much further south you would end up in Antarctica!
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