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Machine vs Handmade Pashmina Shawls

February 23rd, 2022 | 233 views
Machine vs Handmade Pashmina Shawls

The art of Pashmina is princely. The way it is carried out by the surpassingly skilled artisans of Kashmir valley is conspicuous and admirable. The making of Pashmina shawls in Kashmir is not an easy task at all. In fact, we would call it a fairly challenging task for the artisans, as they spend years of their life crafting one such shawl. For this reason, Pashmina shawls are considered a pure luxury, owing to their making and high quality. Other than being warm, soft and lightweight, Pashmina shawls of Kashmir carry the honour of being handmade, which makes them special and revered.

Origin of Pashmina Shawls

Pashmina shawls came into existence in the 15th century in Kashmir. This was when a Sufi saint by the name of Syed Ali Hamdani visited the valley from Persia. The saint during his trip to Ladakh discovered a super fine fleece growing on the body of a goat in Ladakh. He ordered its herders, who collected it, to process it into a pair of socks. The socks were presented to the then king of the valley - Zain ul Abideen - who was exceedingly impressed by the sheer softness and warmth of the socks. He immediately ordered processing units to be set up in the valley, which could process Cashmere and create fabric out of it. 

Processing of Pashmina Shawls

Raw cashmere fibre
Raw cashmere fibre

Thus, since the 15th century, the processing of raw Cashmere wool started in Kashmir. The fine fleece of the goat in Ladakh would be collected in summer, as spring would mark the moulting period for the animal. The goats would lose their hair in March, and the herders would collect the same. Up to the month of May, all the fleece from the goat's body is gone, either by natural shedding or by the gentle combing that herders carry out in summer. This wool is packed in small bags and sent to Kashmir for processing. Since its discovery, Cashmere has been processed in Kashmir. Ladakh itself does not have skilled manpower to process the wool. 

Making of the shawl in Kashmir

On its arrival in the valley, the artisans start by cleaning it. The wool is full of dirt, dust and animal/vegetable wastes which need to be removed, along with the guard hair. This is done and the clean wool meets its spinners. Spinners are womenfolk from the most remote areas of the valley, who convert lumps of wool to fine yarn with the help of a traditional spinning wheel called Yinder locally. It is a harmonious movement of the hand and the wheel that creates the finesse and delicate texture of the yarn. This makes Pashmina shawls treasured all over the world. 

Post spinning, the yarn goes to weavers who mount the yarn over wooden handlooms. This yarn is woven for 3 - 4 days continuously to transform it into fabric. The fabric can be a Pashmina shawl, scarf, wrap, baby blankets, adult blankets, furnishing articles and more. The most famous conversion of Cashmere, however, is the Pashmina shawl. 

Also read: Why do babies love Cashmere blankets?

Handmade Pashmina shawls

Handmade is always special. Pashmina shawls are cherished all across nations because it is the meticulous effort and unmatched skill of local artisans that goes into making these. Artisans work for months and even years to prepare one Pashmina shawl. They work their blood and sweat for 8 - 10 hours a day, but put their heart and soul into creating marvels out of Cashmere wool. 

Weaving cashmere into Pashmina

In the times bygone, artisans from Kashmir depended solely on Pashmina art. This was because the skills ran through the families. While women of the family would spin and clean Cashmere wool, men would embroider and weave the same. Thus Pashmina shawls were a family affair. Women would be free from household chores and immediately run to their spinning wheel to quickly finish up this task. On the other hand, men would be engaged in farming activities, and also weave Pashmina shawls the other times. This brought great prosperity and a rise in income for the artisans who enjoyed a special status in society. 

Machine made Pashmina Shawls

The joy and optimism weren't long-lived. Fast fashion forced traders to craft Pashmina shawls at a quick pace, as these would otherwise take years to complete. As a result, the power loom came into existence. Power looms could produce large quantities of shawls in a day as opposed to handcrafting one shawl in a few days! It was a blow to the local artisans, as they suffered huge losses. The machine-made shawls would also be cheaper than the handwoven ones, leading to more sales and demand. 

machine-made pashmina
Pashmina shawls being produced on machines

Machine-made shawls are either hand spun or machine spun (there are machines for spinning too). The yarn hence produced is delicate, as Cashmere originally is. To weave a delicate fibre, handweaving would be the first option. But with power looms, delicate threads of Cashmere had to be put through a lot of mechanical stress. As the fine fibre could not bear this stress, it was blended with strengthening fibre, like silk or nylon, and the shawl thus produced was a mixed variety. 

To get rid of the strengthening fibre from the pure shawl, it was treated with carbonised acid which majorly affects its quality & life. Hence, this shawl is nowhere close to the original Pashmina shawl, as it contains a less percentage of Cashmere, and has a short lifespan. 

Comparison of Handmade and Machine made shawls

A comparison of the qualities of machine-made shawls and handmade shawls will give a clear picture to which ones are the best and why

zari pashmina shawl
 Hand embroidered by artisans in the luxury zari Kari, the shawl features a few stills from the Mughal era to make the wearer delightful as she remains accountable to hold the honour of her culture.
  • Warmth: Machine made Pashmina is nowhere close to handmade Pashmina when it comes to warmth. Warmth is associated with Cashmere wool, and a less percentage of the same will definitely make the shawl less warm, and hence useless. After all, why would one spend thousands of dollars on a Pashmina shawl that does not contain enough Cashmere.
  • Fineness: It is Cashmere wool that owes to the lightweight and finesse of a Pashmina shawl. But once you add nylon, silk or merino wool to the original fibre, the shawl does not remain the luxury article it originally was. Hence handmade shawls are super fine and light, but machine made shawls have a comparatively rough touch, more weight and aren’t as fine as the handmade ones.
  • Timelessness: Pure Cashmere handmade Pashmina shawls are timeless. These can last for a lifetime. In fact, they do last for more than 30 years without aging. On the contrary, machine made shawls do not last for more than a few years, and wither with age.
  • Smooth: Handmade shawls have such a smooth touch. They are feathery soft and silky smooth. But machine made shawls are comparatively less smooth, and not as soft as handmade ones.

Make sure as a customer you always invest in handmade shawls from Kashmir. Machine shawls will never compensate for the luxurious experience.

Also read: Which shawl is famous in the world?

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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