Middle micron fibre or fibre of 19 to 22 micron ~ A Review
The term middle micron fibre was coined to cover fibre which falls outside generally accepted definitions of cashmere and mohair. The large bulk of the merino wool clip falls within the 19 to 22 micron range, yet the quantities of goat fibre in this range are relatively small. A number of attempts to characterise or promote this fibre or some subset of type within the middle microns have met mixed success and much confusion remains. However, middle micron fibre is generally of mean fibre diameter between 19 and 22 microns and has characteristics intermediate between cashmere and mohair.
Generally accepted definitions of cashmere include fibre with a mean fibre diameter finer than 19 microns which in the raw state has two fibres; a fine cashmere component and a coarse hair component which is removed on dehairing. The cashmere component is crinkled in appearance.
Mohair, for the purposes of this review may be considered a single fleeced animal; that is all fibres within the fleece are of mohair type and relatively uniform in appearance. Mean fibre diameter may range from 20 microns upward. Australian mohair originating from before introductions of stock from Texas and southern Africa had a relatively straight appearance when single fibres were teased from a staple. Australian mohair of more recent times has more of a wavy or broad crinkled appearance.
A type called Cashgora, from a combination of the words Cashmere and Angora, recognising the intermediate appearance of the fibre between cashmere and mohair which comes from the Angora breed of goat. The Cashgora type was established by the Australian Cashmere Growers Association with a definition of three types of fibre present in the fleece. A fine crinkled cashmere component, a stronger relatively straight mohair-like component and hair similar to the hair present in raw cashmere fleece. This type reflected the hybrid mohair-feral or mohair-dairy origin of the animals from which much of this fibre was derived. Straight mohair-like fibres were present in the fleece, probably as a result of the use of pre-importation Australian mohair animals in the parentage. Some fleece with the three types of fibre present may be finer than 19 um, but because of the presence of fibres with a straight or mohair-like appearance, the fibre would be classed as Cashgora. Some fibre with mean fibre diameter stronger than 22 microns would also be classed as Cashgora because of the presence of the three fibre types within the fleece.
More recently, Cashgora also included some fleece with down and hair content outwardly similar to cashmere, that is of crinkled appearance, but of mean fibre diameter too high and of handle not consistent with fibre in the cashmere type. This type of fibre generally arises from animals which produce fibre within the cashmere range as young animals, but have started to produce stronger fibre with increasing age or good nutrition.
Middle fibre may be produced from a number of sources within Australia. Originally it was considered to originate from animals of with some mohair parentage, but it is now apparent that Cashmere, Boer, and some Dairy crossbreds may also produce fibre falling in the middle category. In New Zealand, an active program of development of Cashgora fibre production during the 1980’s led to rapid gains in production from herds of mostly hybrid Mohair-feral origin.
Fibre in the middle category also originates from traditional cashmere producing regions in Mongolia and Iran from time to time. Production of middle fibre in these regions is thought to increase when high cashmere prices lead to the retention of older or wether animals in order to increase production. This fibre generally has a Cashmere-like or crinkled appearance and is relatively free from straight or mohair-like fibres. When noticed, this stronger Cashmere-like fibre is priced at a discount relative to the traditional type Cashmere.
Production of middle fibre in Australia and New Zealand has been sporadic with the result that processors have been reluctant to base processing on availability of an unreliable source of raw material. The raw material is also highly variable with several types evident within the cashgora category, but because of the small quantities, processors have tended to place the types together for processing. Production in New Zealand increased dramatically in response to an interested and enthusiastic processor purchasing fibre. However, production declined to almost nothing in the mid 1990’s response to price signals of cashgora relative to cashmere.
Middle fibre still needs to be dehaired using a similar process to that employed to remove the hair from cashmere fleece. It is speculated that some types of cashgora may be more difficult to dehair than cashmere because they contain a continuous distribution of fibre in diameters between cashmere type, through mohair types and on to hair. It is thought that the intermediate fibres which approach the fibre diameter of hair may make the removal of hair difficult or more costly. In addition, at times when fine kid mohair is competitively priced, the dehairing cost associated with cashgora may make it less attractive for purchase, particularly for those types with some mohair-like characteristics.
Some commentators have suggested that coarse fibre of cashmere appearance should be marketed and sold as cashmere. Conversely a number of processors have suggested that a strategy such as this runs the risk of perpetuating the myth that Australian cashmere is coarse and of mohair-hybrid type. In particular at least one major international processor has stated that marketing this fibre as cashmere is fraudulent.
The fibre with a cashmere appearance, particularly if it falls in the range of mean fibre diameter 19 to 20 um, does however appear to have a number of attractive features. It is distinctly different to kid Mohair, it has a handle somewhat akin to cashmere, but with a sleeker, smoother surface and generally higher lustre. It generally has greater length and higher tensile strength than finer fibre. These attributes suggest that high quality fabric for suiting could be made using the worsted spinning process. It is likely that attempts will again be made to popularise this fibre, since it will continue to be produced in Australia, New Zealand and internationally from time to time, and perhaps deliberately encouraged if found desirable. However, work remains to be done on its description and marketing. Attempts to call this fibre cashmere are likely to continue to be met with resistance from proponents of the existing definitions of cashmere.
© 2000 ACGA