Author: Shad Moien Ahamd
Pashmina is a type of fine Kashmiri wool, the word itself traces back to Persian language wherein the word Pashmina means ‘ made of wool ‘ It is said that Pashmina came to be known as ‘Cashmere ‘ after the European traders introduced it in the West. The origins of the Pashmina can be traced back to our neighboring country Nepal and is touted as the softest wool available in the Himalayan region.
The wool used to make pashmina originates from a goat locally known as the Chyangra or ‘Capra Hircus’ formally. It is found at altitudes of 14,000 feet and unforgivingly cold temperatures below -30 C. The fine wool fiber has a very low diameter and is painstakingly hand processed and woven into products such as shawls, scarves, wraps, throws, stoles, etc.
Nevertheless, the quality of a finished shawl does not merely depend on the fiber diameter of the wool but also on the craftsmen's skills. Pashmina products are made exclusively in Kashmir and the industry in recent times has witnessed a surge in production. Kashmir handmade pashmina shawl carries a purity of 100% pashmina as the thread is handspun, whereas machine-made clothing can be mixed easily with simple wool and acrylic. Experienced tradesmen and curious tourists are often known to test its purity by burning a small part of the fabric and examining it for the scent of burnt hair ( A sort of sulfurous smell).
History of the Pashmina fabric
Legend has it that the pashmina shawls were even used during the times of the Mahabharata and was known as the "King of Fabrics". The pashmina fabric managed to attract the attention of King Caesar himself and even delighted likes of the French queen Mary Antoinette. However Zayn-ul-Abidin a 15th Century ruler has traditionally been hailed as the pioneer in the pashmina weaving industry. He introduced weavers from Central Asia to the fabric causing the first set of fine shawls to be produced on a large scale. It is also debated whether Mir.Sayyid Al Hamadani a scholar from Persia along with his 700 odd artisan craftsmen were the first ones to discover that the goats from Ladakh yielded the softest wool. It is claimed that he offered a pair of socks to the Sultan Kutabdin and suggested that a shawl weaving industry should be formed using the same material.
Pashmina wool clothing - How is it made?
The Pashmina wool is hand processed laboriously by separating the fine inner coat of hair growing on the goat skin. It is taken on a wooden spinning wheel to delicately form yarn.The formed raw fiber is stretched cleaned and even soaked in a mixture of rice water for a few days until it becomes ready to be spun to form a yarn.
Hand spinning requires patience and total commitment as weaving it on power looms has proved impossible. The vibrations from the power loom damage its fragile patterns and are restricted to gentle hand looms only. It takes close to two weeks to get a single shawl of pashmina done and each piece has to be hand dyed separately. The smallest of errors can show up on the finished fabric affecting it's overall finish and quality.
During the summer the goats rub themselves against rocks and shrubs, leaving behind fine short haired fleece. The fleece is called Asli Tus, renowned for its silky quality, The word ‘Shawl’ is a derivative from the Persian word ‘Shal’ which means it is a garment made of a length of woolen fabric.The Pashmina Ring Shawls are ultra soft and supple. They can pass through a finger ring with ease. This quality makes them most sought after as it requires woven expertise and precision.
Handicrafts in Kashmir have customarily been family-run businesses. The women folk are involved in the spinning of wool and embroidery, men assist in plying the heavy handlooms. Once the products are woven, the shawls are sent to the dyers and go through a process of hand dyeing, which is done using natural colors. Kashmiri shawls and stoles are designed with earthy notes, but recently varied colors are being utilized. After dyeing, the shawls and stoles are returned to the craftsmen who then begins the intricate process of designing patterns using different sizes of needles depending on the kinds of embroidery. The weavers need to be at the looms for about 8 to 15 days to create a plain full-length Pashmina and the number of days increases with the intricacy of the design especially if it’s a Kani or any other specific design Pashmina shawl.
Types of Kashmir Pashmina shawl-making techniques
A form of embroidery using thick needles to produce larger pieces of designs in the shawls. Ari shawls and stoles can be both hand and machine-made. Designs made of Kashmiri motifs are the mostly of traditional patterns such as flowering plants, almonds, and geometric designs.
Kani or loom-woven.
A Kani shawl takes weeks to a year for an artisan to complete depending on the embroidery. The shawl is woven with special wooden needles, called ‘kanis’ in Kashmiri and on a traditional handloom, hence the name “Kani shawls”. The knots are made according to a set design, which is already printed on paper called ‘taleem-e-kakud’ in a language only the taran-guru (master weaver) can interpret. The process of weaving line by line is repeated time and again until the final masterpiece is ready.
These are available in all colors. blends of pure pashmina, wool-pashmina, and silk-pashmina. Each piece is hand-woven by craftsmen to produce a fine stole.Hand dyed shawls and stoles.They are made by interweaving different shaded threads and multiple deaths. The stoles are made using pashmina, cotton and Kashmiri silk.
Silk Stoles.A distinct range of stoles printed with Kashmiri patterns on raw Kashmir silk. The collection also includes a combination of silk-pashmina, silk-viscose or silk-cotton.
It is a very distinct type of art that involves a mix of hand-painted and embroidered designs. Kalamkari in Urdu means “painting by hand”. Artisans use natural-colour dyes to paint the designs around an embroidered pattern. This type of art is based on kani shawl designs.
Hand dyed shawls and stoles.They are made by interweaving different shaded threads and multiple dyeing. The stoles are made using pashmina, cotton and Kashmiri silk.
A form of embroidery using thin needles and therefore a very fine and accurate art requiring much skill and attention to detail. Using needles of different sizes, one shawl may be worked on by as many as two or three artisans and can take any time between one month and a year to complete.