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Kashmiri Shawls In Mid-Victorian Novels

August 3rd, 2021 | 492 views
Kashmiri Shawls In Mid-Victorian Novels

A land like Kashmir is not just a realm of beauty but also has a soul. It has been and will continue to be nourished by its rich heritage of arts and culture; and that was so steeped in its past. It is through these artworks that Kashmir reached the highest level of fame. Most believe that its beauty has inspired these works of art. But what lies within the cocoon of Kashmir is an endearing story that has reached the farthest corners of the world. It didnt even spare the tales of mid-Victorian novels. Read about the Kashmiri shawl and how it reached every nook and corner of the world

What are Kashmiri Shawls

Once Kashmiri shawls needed no introduction. The craftsmen of the valley were super skilled and highly experienced to prepare shawls of the finest quality. Kashmiri shawls were not just well known locally, but internationally even more. The shawls would take months or even years to complete. The final products would be timeless, beautiful and exceptionally intricate. 

Kashmiri shawls were produced during the 14th to 15th century. Woollen shawls were used by the commoners while the more luxury Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls were used by the rich and affluent. Woollen shawls were the cheapest, but Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls were very expensive. All of the shaws were in high demand all over the world, and men as well as women were happily at the receiving end

Types of Kashmiri Shawls

Kashmiri shawls were highly prized and treasured by women as well as men all over the world. While commoners preferred woollen shawls, royals and the rich chose Pashmina shawls. Some of the patrons of luxury fashion preferred shahtoosh shawls to all the other categories because these shawls were the most expensive yet the finest, best quality and luxurious of all. 

Broadly, Kashmiri Shawls were categorised in three different types: Woolen Shawls, Pashmina shawls, and Shahtoosh shawls. 

Kashmiri Shawls defined

Woollen shawls were made from sheep wool. Sheep were shorn meticulously, and the wool was used to produce shawls. The shawls were sturdy and warm. These would be hand embroidered in all the embroideries present. Aari embroidery, Sozni, and Tilla Dozi, all the embroideries were easily carried by the thick wool base of Kashmiri woollen shawls. 

Pashmina shawls were made from Cashmere wool, found in Ladakh area. Changthangi goats of Ladakh produced Cashmere wool, which would be combed off their bodies in the summer season. This wool would be manually processed by men and women for days or even months together. The result would be luxury Pashmina shawls, which would be super fine and lightweight. Pashmina shawls were expensive and warm, but not as much as Shahtoosh shawls, which were known as the king of shawls. 

Shahtoosh shawls were acquired from the Tibetan Antelope. The antelopes would be present in the high plateaus of Himalayas, and would be hunted for their wool by expert hunters. The wool would be manually processed like Cashmere, and Shahtoosh shawls would be the grand result of meticulous efforts of months or even years. 

While Woolen shawls carried any embroidery patterns, Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls never carried thick embroideries like Aari. This Is because the micron count of these two  shawls was 8 to 12 microns, and embroideries could tear the fine fibre easily. Hence, only Sozni Kari and Papier Mache embroidery were chosen for Pashmina, while Shahtoosh shawls were preferred solid or at the maximum Sozni would be done over them. Note that Sozni Kari is the lightest thread embroidery that can be done over a shawl. 

The Victorian fascination of Kashmiri Shawls

It all started with John Keay in his book 'The Memorable Company'. He mentions that the Merchant’s Hope, which set sail from Surat to England in the year 1613. This marked the beginning of the domestic economy. He substantiated, “Instead of English tweeds revolutionizing Eastern fashion, it was Indian cotton that was about to invade English domestic life. Napkins, table cloths, bedsheets, soft furnishings, even dress fabrics became an indispensable part of the English household.

Indian textiles took over these households. Cashmere also known as Kashmiri shawls became an important part of their lives. Little did they realize that they had fallen in love with the soft fleece from Kashmir.

Kashmiri Shawls: An Indispensable Commodity

Kashmiri Pashmina shawl
During the first half of the period, between 1837 and 1870, the shawl was one of the most fashionable of outdoor coverings.

These Kashmiri shawls, known to them as Cashmere, became an integral part of their lives.

It was the French Noblewomen who first adorned it sometime in the 1700s. But later these shawls became even more popular as the years passed by. Sometimes by the 1850s, there was this strong desire within the middle-class women to also adopt this style.

It is this reason why these shawls feature in these Victorian paintings. These are mostly a trademark of respectable English womanhood and a magical garment. It was also a gift that was expected by wives of noblemen and royalty who returned from India.

An essay written in the 'Household words' in 1852 says, “When son or grandson comes home from travel, far or near, his present is a new shawl, despite the fact that the supply that arrives from Asia over bleak continents and wide oceans, can only be for the rich and great.”

There was also an American Bill Brown who termed these shawls as 'material unconscious'. That because these shawls were a status of pride, especially when women stepped out of their houses.

Vivid images that warm the heart

In Elizabeth Gaskell’s "Mary Barton", a group of girls was described as wearing ‘the usual out-of-doors dress. This is worn by a certain class of maidens’. It was narrated that when John Barton’s sister, Esther, returns from an exile, she had put away this opulent shawl and wrapped herself in something rather ordinary. With the shawl, those women were also considered the symbols of sanctity.

So powerful was the Kashmir shawl that even if a woman who belonged to the impoverished class wore it, her social prestige would instantly rise.

In the text "Villete", an Irish woman is employed by a rich English household; and only because she knew a pure Cashmere shawl. The writer of this article adds, ”I feel quite sure that without this Cashmere, she would not have kept her footing even for two days, but she managed to for over a month.”

Capturing the writers' imagination

The Journal des dames et des modes is one of the first French illustrated fashion magazines, created in 1797 by the bookseller Sellèque, taken over in 1801 by Pierre Antoine Leboux of La Mésangère and disappeared in 1839.

Cashmere shawls dominated the imagination of writers and historians as well as the people, especially in the nineteenth century. In the “Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France”, Aileen Ribiero says, “By the early 19th century, imitation Kashmiri shawls were being produced in Norwich, Paisley and Edinburgh, either of cotton or silk mixed with wool or very fine wool. However, nothing could match the real cashmere shawls for lightness and warmth and this is clearly marked in contemporary literature.”

These Cashmere wraps produced from the undercoat of the Changthangi goats were of unmatched fineness and quality. And this could not be disputed.

Besides, there were also famous portraits of noblewomen adorning these shawls along with the rich literature found. The most known image was of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, while the others too were impressive. According to Robert Rosenblum, “They were a hothouse ambiance of dense and indolent luxury.”

Also read: Pashmina Fashion | Take notes from the Retro era

Kashmiri shawls in the later periods

hand embroidered pashmina shawl
The rich art of Pashmina making has been unparalleled ever since it was born

By the end of the 19th century, these shawls were being collected as artifacts for museums. In fact, even today its value has been retained.

In today’s contemporary world, the Kashmiri shawls are reputed for their timeless nature and the classiness they possess.

With a rich tradition that spans centuries, this fascinating textile art has captured the minds and hearts of people across the world; especially those who have an interest in art and antiquity. While its value may be high, it is also lost in the market of imitation shawls. Fake shawls are doing the rounds almost everywhere.

Due to lack of knowledge and sometimes the affordability aspect, many buyers get sucked into this trap without realizing it.

Also read: Handmade Pashmina vs Machine Made Pashmina - The Difference

Kashmiri shawls - Current Scenario

As far as the current scenario of Kashmiri shawls is concerned, one can say that it had almost reached a saturation point until very recently. While once there were just adult women who would choose to wear a shawl, especially an embroidered Kashmiri shawl, the times are changing faster. There are still advocates of traditional fashion, who love to glorify their culture and tradition. For Kashmiri shawls, a large number of youngsters stood up, and tried to revive its lost glory and fame.

Fortunately, many of them have been successful, after trying their best since the early 1990’s. Kashmiri shawls have again attained the same stature in the eyes of locals as well as foreigners. Like the periods forgone, tourists rush towards sellers who sell Kashmiri shawls. The most popular is the Pashmina shawl as Shahtoosh is highly expensive and woollen shawls aren't as graceful as Pashmina. Shahtoosh shawls have been banned due to the factor of animal cruelty.

Be it the Mid Victorian times or the current times, Kashmiri shawls exude the timeless grace that no other accessory in the world can. The smooth touch, the perfectionist efforts and the intricate embroidery patterns on these shawls has been and perhaps will always be unmatched.

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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