Origin: Soft gold draped around a Royal’s shoulder, emanating warmth and luxury, Pashmina shawls is the rare clothing item associated with wealth & aristocracy as well as being accessible to the common man. Pashmina shawls, woven by hand from the finest cashmere wool. Pashmina literally translates to soft gold in Kashmiri, indeed due to its fine quality and the value of its wool, it is considered as valuable as gold.
Legend has it that Pashmina shawls was an idea of the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin although the history of pashmina can be traced back to the reign of Ashoka the great. Zayn-ul-Abidin is said to have invited famous weavers and craftsmen from Central Asia to Kashmir and started the pashmina cottage industry.
Present day: Exclusive,rare and aristocratic, there is a high demand for genuine pashmina however the fakes that flood the market have greatly hampered the business. Although native to Kashmir, pashmina yarn is now sourced mainly from Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir while the processing and refinement is done in Kashmir.
Local kashmiri communities and the government of Jammu & Kashmir are working towards keeping the pashmina industry relevant, competitive and authentic. Some efforts include Geographical Indication registration, Radio frequency identification tag on shawl, and the creation of a degrees to manage and learn crafts like Craft Development Institute in Srinagar and a creation of a label of authenticity called “Kashmir Pashmina” batches of pashmina are laboratory tested by the CDI before being provided the certificate.
Procedure: In the high elevations of the Himalayas resides the Changthangi breed of Capra hircus goat. Changthangi goat’s long-haired undercoat is worked upon to give us Pashmina.
Each spring, the cashmere goat is sheared with a knife and painstakingly combed to remove hair and separate soft from hard fibers. Due to low fibre diameter, this wool is processed by hand, each pashmina artisan works to remove impurities and align fibres. Once cleaned pashmina wool is delicately hand spun on a wooden wheel into yarn. This yarn is then given to the wool merchant who processes it further: yarn is separated into warp and weft. Warp being the stationary threads wrapped vertically along the wooden loom and weft is inserted in a perpendicular manner over and under the wrap to create fabric. Following this, both warp and weft are sent to the dyer (called Rangrez), who washes the yarn with a soft soap and immerses it in copper vats of dye. Then the yarn is soaked in organic starch for strengthening and dried in the sun. We then proceed to the loom stage where the yarn becomes fabric, warp and weft are criss-crossed with the help of 2 people. Traditionally women are in charge of the spinning and men are in charge of the weaving. Weaving can take up several days if not weeks and months. The effort is visible in the finished product.
Shawls are produced using two techniques Loom woven/Kani shawls and the needled embroidered or Sozni Shawls. Kani shawls are done on loom with the help of kani (small eyeless bobbi pins) and only shawls from Kanihama area in Kashmir can be called Kani shawls.
Sozni shawls are embroidered shawls done in different patterns or designs. The most popular motifs are flowers, leaves and other interesting designs. The various designs on these shawls are Neemdoor, Doordaar, Paladaar (pattern of paisleys & flowers done only on the border), Baildaar, Jaalis (net or latticed type of design) and Jamawar (patterns woven on the full length of the shawl), these designs are done with help of a needle. A fully embroidered jamawar kani pashmina shawl can take upto 2 years to complete.
Due to unique beauty, excellent texture and superior quality, these shawls have huge demand overseas. These shawls are exported in various countries across the globe like USA, U.K, UAE (Oman, Dubai), China, France etc. This handicraft contributes immensely to the Indian economic growth.
Bring Home Pashmina shawls: J&K Arts Emporium is a popular place to purchase pure Pashmina Shawls, you can also find these shawls at Hari Market in Jammu, Polo view market at Srinagar etc.