Soft to touch, and exceptionally graceful to wear, Kashmiri shawls convey the finest skills of Kashmiri artisans as well as display the sophisticated aesthetic of their wearer. It is said about the Kashmiri shawls that none excels in colour, design, beauty, hand embroideries, and texture as the famous Kashmiri shawls do.
Types of Kashmiri Shawls
The base fabric of Kashmiri shawls is of three types - Shahtoosh, Pashmina and Raffal.
Shahtoosh is called the king of wool. It is often known by the name “ring Shawl” because it is so fine that it can pass through a ring. Shahtoosh wool comes from the Tibetan antelope Chiru, which is found over 14000 feet in the wilds of the Himalayas.
Pashmina is another category of Kashmiri shawls, and their origin is Changthang, Ladakh. Pashmina shawls are made from Cashmere wool, which grows on the body of the Changthangi goat found in Ladakh. The goat is found over 14000 feet and is reared by nomadic herders of Ladakh.
Raffal is the third category of Kashmiri shawls. It is spun out of Merino wool, and is the most popular in Kashmir, due to its warmth and cheap price.
Types of Hand Embroideries for Kashmiri Shawls
A number of hand embroideries are done on Kashmiri shawls depending upon the base fabric. Fine shawls like Pashmina are delicate, and hence lighter versions of embroideries are done on them. Sturdier bases like that of a merino wool shawl do host thicker forms of Kashmiri embroideries. Let us have a look at the embroidery types done in the valley.
Pashmina is handwoven and hence fine and delicate enough to tear if dealt with harshly. Hence the best-suited embroidery for these beauties is Sozni Kari. After the shawl is woven, a Naqash uses block prints to make the outline of the design, which are usually traditional designs. These designs have emerged from Persian-inspired Paisley which the Mughals introduced, floral patterns which bloom in the valley itself in Spring and summer, and many other designs. Embroidery artisans have the choice to select colour for a particular shawl. They have decades of experience and depending upon the base colour, they select a complementing shade, which is influenced by the fashion trends in vogue.
Sozni mostly uses cotton threads, but sometimes even silk is used. Fine needles are used to embroider motifs onto the gossamer base. The amount of embroidery to be done over the shawl decides the time in which it will be completed. Jaali shawls are less heavy, while tuki Jama is laden with embroidery motifs. Tuki Jama shawls take even years to get ready.
PAPIER MACHE EMBROIDERY
Papier Mache or Paper Mache embroidery is a form of embroidery which might be considered as a bolder variant of Sozni. It consists of breathtaking motifs which are worked in a bright coloured satin thread. Motifs are outlined in black to give a protruding effect.
Paper Mache uses thicker needle and thread for a more appealing visual effect.
An embroidery which makes shawls relatively expensive is Tilla embroidery. This type is so popular in the valley that every bride should have at least one phiran (a garment worn by Kashmiri women) embroidered with tilla embroidery in her trousseau. Or else a shawl ornate with Tilla embroidered is expected by the onlookers.
Tilla originated from a village called “Zari” in Iran. But when Syed Ali Hamdani, a Sufi saint travelled to Kashmir with his artisans, he introduced the same in the local community. The then ruling Mughals were fascinated by its royal demeanour, and used this embroidery in their royal courts.
In the process of Tilla Dozi, metallic threads, dipped in gold and silver are delicately tied with the help of a needle to the fabric to create mesmerizing designs. This hand embroidery, like others, needs immense skill and patience.
Tilla is done in less quantities on Pashmina, due to the delicate nature of the base. On sheep wool Raffal shawls, it can be done profusely.
Kalamkari designs aren't embroidery as such. But later, over the hand painted motifs, sozni embroidery is done.
Kalamkari comes from two words, ‘kalam’ meaning ‘pen’ and ‘kari’ meaning ‘work’. Hence Kalamkari means the work of a pen. Pens used in Kalamkari are made from Bamboo. The colours used are natural dyes. The art of painting over shawls is fairly complicated, and uses as many as 20 steps to reach completion. The final result is intricately detailed, and breathtakingly beautiful.
Aari embroidery, also known as Kashida Kari, is done on Raffal shawls, or sheep wool shawls. The threads used are thick woolen threads, which fine Pashmina cannot bear.
Aari embroidery uses a specialized crooked head hook called “aari” and not the needle for embroidering. Using a hook saves time, as the hook pulls several loops of the thread. On the contrary, the needle does the same one by one. Aari work is nowadays done with machines.
Common designs used in Kashmiri embroideries
Motifs crafted on shawls are usually those inspired from Persian culture, but have been modified with time. The most popular design is Rose (Gulab) and Almond (Badam). Other types of motifs are Cypress (Sarav), Gul E Noor Jahan (a flower liked by Noor Jehan), Roses (GulabKan), Narcissus (Yumberzal), Chinar (Chinar Leaf), Lotus (Pamposh) and Vine (Dachh). These too are much frequently used. Calligraphy too is used in embroidery forms. The rich fauna of the valley too can also be seen on some pieces. Popular motifs are lions, deer, bulbuls, ducks. Some shawls even host human figures. The most common examples are Shikargarh (the hunting ground), or the Jangal tarah (jungle scenes)
Kashmir is the land of beauty. Be it the snow-capped mountains, mighty plains, lush greens landscapes, or the mesmerizing scenic places. But apart from these, its handicraft sector flourishes with exquisitely crafted pieces. Be it embroidery, copper making, Pashmina making, Papier Mache work, walnut wood art, and many other types, Kashmir never fails to disappoint the tourists which visit it in the largest of numbers.
Also read: Kashmiri Shawls during the Dogra Period