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Behind the Scenes: Who embroiders Pashmina shawls?

January 22nd, 2022 | 229 views
Behind the Scenes: Who embroiders Pashmina shawls?

The lightweight, ‘soft gold’ Pashmina shawls are handcrafted manually, and a number of processes are hence undertaken. As many as a hundred artisans are required to complete one Pashmina shawl. From its acquisition to spinning, weaving, washing, ironing, and packing, Pashmina is a manual affair. It needs patience, manual efforts, and utmost care of these artisans. 

It is noteworthy that Pashmina shawls were exported in large quantities to European nations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Women, especially from the noble courts and Royal houses were obsessed with Pashmina shawls and owned over 100 pieces. The only reason for this obsession was that Pashmina shawls were the best quality shawls of this era. Exceptionally lightweight, fine, warm, and beautiful, these handcrafted beauties were special and enjoyed everlasting glory ever since their inception.

Embroidering a Pashmina shawl

Even though a solid Pashmina shawl looks elegant and sophisticated, some like a little extravagance in their precious pieces. Among these were Mughal rulers, who introduced embroidered Pashmina shawls. They, hence, employed more artisans in the already labour intensive work. Thus apart from the hundreds of golden hands that crafted Pashmina shawls, a few more were added. These were super skilled and blessed. 

After a Pashmina shawl is washed, it is sent for embroidery. Without a doubt, embroidering a Pashmina shawl is a labyrinthine process; certain patterns take 4 to 5 years to complete. The world-famous Jamawar shawls are the ones which take the most of the time. 

Three basic embroideries found on Pashmina shawls are 

  • Sozni Embroidery (the artistic fine needle work)
  • Tilla embroidery (the luxury gold and silver work)
  • Paper Mache embroidery (the bold and brilliant threadwork)

Embroidery artisans from Kashmir

pashmina embroidery
Artisan embroidering Pashmina

On our visit to Kashmir, we met a few embroidery artisans. These were the ones best known for their skillful craftsmanship and creativity. It was, indeed, an honour and privilege to interact with them. One such artisan is Ghulam Ahmed, an 80-year-old embroidery artisan. He was the most experienced one, and 5 generations from his family were associated with embroidering Pashmina shawls. According to him, it is love for the work and immense patience that bear fruits. Moreover, working for the entire day with such perfected skill and devotion is what makes his hand-embroidered shawls truly pieces of art. 

Ahmed works for 6 - 8 hours a day and creates labyrinthine and convoluted patterns on handmade Pashmina shawls. Because of the experience, artisans can differentiate between machine-made shawls and handcrafted pure Pashminas by just touching them. It is the love for the work and the honesty of the artisans with the art that makes embroidered Pashminas such revered and cherished accessories all over the world

Artisans like Ghulam Ahmed started at tender ages. He himself started embroidering Pashmina shawls at 14 years of age and perfected it at 18. Now at 80 years of age, he has retired from embroidering shawls. But Ahmed still trains a large number of students, many of whom are his own family members.

Also read: Pashmina Facts - 10 Amazing Facts about Pashmina

Other Artisans

making of pashmina
The making of Pashmina

Apart from Ghulam Ahmed, the other artisans we met were active and loved their work much. Even during our interaction, they did not stop and kept embroidering shawls in their lap. The speed and pleasure with which these artisans embroider Pashmina shawls intricately are worth watching. Artisans who embroider Jamawar shawls, spend over 3 years with these shawls. Hence on completion, they give these away with a heavy heart. “It is a different kind of attachment”, they say. 

The attention to detail of each embroidery artisan is worthwhile. The choice of colours, patience, hard work, and careful endeavours have brought laurels to this art form. No doubt, European queens and empresses spent fortunes on buying Pashmina shawls. They, in fact, owned hundreds of embroidered shawls in their lifetimes. 

Types of Embroideries

The beauty of the fine Pashmina is that it manages to host a number of embroideries. But the embroideries should be fine and lightweight, so that the underlying base easily holds its weight. When Pashmina shawls are embroidered, they exude a different kind of grace. Even though solid Pashmina shawls are immensely beautiful, but hand embroidered shawls are the ones which have a history of fascinating European royals as well as the local Mughal rulers for centuries together.

Sozni Kari

pashmina shawl
A suave collection of handmade Pashmina shawls from Kashmir, and Khumaar as their finest piece

The most commonly found embroidery on Pashmina shawls is Sozni Kari. Owing to its lightweight, Sozni is the most popular embroidery, as the gossamer base of Pashmina holds it with ease. Sozni is a thread and needle embroidery and usually, silk threads are used to embroider Pashmina. To start, a finely carved wooden block is dipped in ink for stamping the shawl with a design. Then the chosen silk threads in numerous colours are used to embroider the shawl. It is just the immensely experienced and skillful artisans who know how to follow the stamp marks. 

Sozni Jamawar Shawls are sometimes embroidered by more than one artisan, and even then, it takes years to complete. In fact it is believed that if by chance an artisan passes away, it becomes almost an impossible task to copy the design, and the shawl remains incomplete for long.

Also read: What is a Sozni shawl?

 

Papier Mache

embroidered pashmina
Kashmiri Paper Mache - a unique embroidery pattern which uses bolder strokes of warm colours to make motifs look like a live painting

Another form of hand embroidery done on Pashmina shawls is the Papier Mache embroidery. This is a thicker and more colourful version of sozni Kari, and the motifs are filled with brilliant colours. This embroidery is named after the Papier mache art of Kashmir, as the final shawl looks exactly like a Papier Mache article. The process of Paper Mache is exactly the same as Sozni Kari.

Tilla

zari pashmina shawl
Influenced by the Mughal period, when Pashmina was considered as the biggest asset and the most valuable treasure all over the world

When it comes to making Pashmina shawl even more grand and alluring, Tilla embroidery is the art form to choose. This version of traditional embroidery uses metallic threads to embroider shawls. The threads are dipped in gold and silver, to create breathtaking motifs over shawls, scarves and wraps. It was Tilla shawls which embellished the royal courts of Mughal kings owing to their regal looks and imposing incandescence which made the courts aesthetic and beautiful.

To handcraft a Tilla shawl, the designer proposes a design, which is drawn over a trace paper. This paper is perforated with needles (trombun). Meanwhile the ink is prepared with sand and kerosene. The trace paper hosting the design is placed on the shawl, and with the help of a specialized duster, the sand mixture is passed on it. This gives the stamp of the design on the shawl, which is then handed over to embroidery artisans. The artisans use metallic threads, dipped in real gold and silver, to trace the imprinted design. This is the making of a Tilla shawl, which is world famous for its awe inspiring demeanor.

How many artisans embroider Pashmina Shawls?

Embroidering a Pashmina shawl is not like a walk in the park. It is an immensely challenging task, which needs to full time, attention and skill of the artisan. It takes 4 - 5 years to complete a Jamawar Pashmina shawl, or even more at times, if contingency occurs. But artisans have to give the shawls enough time to get it perfectly ready, for the customer.

Mostly one single artisan embroiders Pashmina shawls. In fact, it is said that if an artisan passes away and his work is left halfway, it is almost impossible to finish the design by other artisans. But at times, when a shawl needs to be completed in a speculated time, two or more artisans can sit and work. This happens after they completely understand the colour combination to be used. Only after fully scrutinizing the shawl embroidery patterns and shades, another artisan can restart work on it. A large number of shawls have been left incomplete, owing to the extraordinarily intricate work that they started on the shawl, but none of their counterparts could complete it after the original maker passed away.

After embroidering the shawl, it is again washed and then ironed to be sold to customers. Embroidered shawls were introduced by Mughal kings. They invited around 700 craftsmen from Persia, and many of them were embroidery masters. It is these skilled artists from Persia, who taught locals how to embroider different types of shawls. For this reason, almost all the motifs embroidered on Kashmiri shawls are inspired by Persian art. As such, the paisley motif, several geometric patterns, and hunting scenes from the Persian culture were blended with Mughal-inspired motifs and this blend was visible on Pashmina shawls as well. Nevertheless, Pashmina shawls enjoyed endless glory during this time. In fact, it is the fame and popularity of these times that have cast reflection on the current trends. For this reason, Pashmina still stands timeless and versatile enough to blend into any time period.

Also read: The Cadence in the Embroidered Pashmina Shawl

We, Pashmina.com, are the largest curators of pure and handcrafted Pashmina products in the online space. We are on a mission to revive this dying art by spreading our wings throughout the world by way of our online platform. Our website serves as a window to our range of products that are luxurious and have the highest quality. We offer the widest range, certified quality, luxurious packaging and free shipping to over 150 countries.

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