The heaven on earth - Kashmir- is not just known for its scenic beauty but also the magical produce of its artisans. As such the handicraft industry of this picturesque valley is famous around the world for the number of products the local craftsmen produce manually. From hand-making kaleidoscopic Papier Mache showpieces to walnut wood art, sculpting copper vessels to weaving majestic carpets, from crafting luxury shawls to braiding wicker willow together, every piece in itself is a masterpiece. But there is one art that outgrows all of the others. It is world-famous and has fascinated individuals from the high society royals of Europe to the local Mughals rulers of 15th century Kashmir. PASHMINA SHAWLS.
What is Pashmina?
Pashmina is the art of handcrafting luxury shawls from a fine variety of animal hair. The hair grows on the body of the Himalayan goat found in the Changthang area of the Ladakh region. The goat loses all its hair in the moulting period which is collected and processed to craft shawls, scarves, wraps, socks, pocket squares, and a number of furnishing items. Amongst all these products, it was and is Kashmiri Pashmina shawls that rule the world, owing to their finesse, warmth, softness, and timeless charm.
Making of Pashmina shawls
Processing Cashmere and transforming it into a Pashmina shawl is not an easy task. It requires great labour, enormous time, and the hard work of a hundred artisans. But the craftsmen of Kashmir have mastered this skill, and when they do it, it looks as easy as a breeze.
The making of a Pashmina shawl starts with gathering Cashmere that the herders of Ladakh have collected in the moulting period of the Capra hircus goat. It is collected and cleaned partially in Ladakh, and fully in Kashmir by the local women. Cleaning Cashmere needs full attention as the wool is fine and the effort is manual. It is hence cleaned for a number of days by many women and handed over for spinning. Spinning transmogrifies lumps of wool to the fine fibre of just 12 to 16 microns diameter. This gossamer, gentle and delicate fibre is sent for weaving and men weave it to a luxury Pashmina shawl. The shawl is still incomplete and awaits its finishing.
Finishing of a Pashmina shawl
Finishing processes are many and are again carried out by specialists. A purzgar smoothens the shawl by removing or cutting any superficial fibre attached to the shawl. For this, the shawl is mounted on a frame whose top and bottom are rollers. These rollers roll and push the shawl up or down, thus giving a clear picture to the artisan. Post this the shawl is rubbed with a coarse cloth before it is sent for cleaning. Pashmina shawls are cleaned in spring water and the washer repeatedly strikes them against a smooth stone. After it is washed, the shawl is sent for dyeing if required.
The process of handcrafting a Pashmina shawls takes from a few months to a few years as the pattern demands. As such Jamawar Pashmina shawls, Kani Jamawar shawls, and Aksi Do Rukha shawls (reversible embroidered) take around 4 - 5 years to finish.
This completes the process of making a solid Pashmina shawl, without any embellishments. After dyeing these are stretched, ironed, and packed to be sold. But what if the shawl needs embellishment. What embellishments are there for a Pashmina shawl? How are those done?
Types of Pashmina shawls
Based on the embellishment and beautification of a Pashmina shawl, it has been differentiated into types. The most common type of embellishment done on a Pashmina shawl is embroidery. And with the help of threads and needles, embroidery artisans create magical patterns on a Pashmina shawl. Embroidery is done after the fishing processes are complete.
The most famous and most used embroidery pattern is the Sozni embroidery. Sozni embroidery uses fine threads and needles to draw intricate patterns on a Pashmina shawl. The embroidery motifs spread all over the shawl, or just around the borders, or as decorative patches across the shawl. The embroidery is itself fine and hence does not cause any damage to the underneath fabric.
To make a Sozni shawl, walnut wood stamps are chosen from amongst thousands of them. These are dipped in chemical ink, and the shawl is stamped with great attention to detail. Next, this stamped shawl is handed over to embroidery artisans, who choose silk threads to embroider the shawl, following the stamping. The embroidery artisans from the valley are highly qualified in deciding which colours to choose. This is because they have decades of experience in differentiating between the colours that work and those that aren't much liked by customers.
If a certain thread does not give the required effect, it is removed and another shade is used to do the same. The end result is breathtaking and swoon worthy.
Papier Mache Embroidery
Papier Mache embroidery is the next most used and loved embroidery pattern for Pashmina shawls. The threads are thicker, and the embroidery style is different too. Motifs here are filled with breathtaking colours which are alluring as well as aesthetic.
The process of hand embroidering a Pashmina shawl in the realms of Paper Mache embroidery is the same as Sozni Kari. Just that the threads chosen are thicker, as well as the needle used to perform the art
Tilla Dozi is the embroidery style where the threads are metallic, dipped in gold or silver. This embroidery looks absolutely magical but spans over the shawl in less quantity as it is fairly heavy to be carried in large quantities by a Pashmina shawl. When Tilla shawls were crafted for the first time, real gold and silver wires were used in it, and only the kings, royals, and super-rich and affluent individuals could afford them.
The process of Tilla embroidery is quite complicated. A graph paper or trace paper is perforate in the shape of motifs with specialized needles, so that stamping material passes through. The graph paper is placed on the shawl, and a mixture of sand and kerosene (which is the stamping material), is placed over the paper with the help of a duster. The mixture passes on the shawl, and the embroidery artisans follows the same to embroider it. Metallic threads dipped in gold and silver are carefully chosen, and magnificent motifs are patterned over the shawl. This gives birth to the world famous Tilla shawls, which were the most popular among Mughals. In fact, a large number of Tilla shawls feature Mughal fighting scenes, Mughal durbars and other casual day scenes from the Mughal period.
Also read: What is the price of Real Pashmina shawl?
Making of an Embroidered Pashmina Shawl
The making of an embroidered shawl takes from a few months to a few years to complete. If the embroidery spans all over the shawl in a tight pattern, it is called Jamawar shawl. Jamawar shawls take 4 to 5 years to complete. The embroidery over a Jamawar shawl is so profuse that one gets totally lost in its patterns.
After Jamawar comes the Jaalidaar pattern, where the embroidery is spread all over the bae, but loosely, such that the base is fairly visible. These shawls might take up a year of the artisans time
Dordaar and Palladaar patterns are those where embroidery motifs span as vines around the borders. While in the Dordaar pattern, the vines spread around four sides, Palladaar restrains them to just two edges breadthwise. These shawls are completed in a span of a few months.
Embroidered Pashmina shawls from Kashmir have been in vogue since the 15th century. And since then, there is no turning back. There is not a single period in the history of these luxury shawls when these were out of style. Pashmina is timeless, ageless, and evergreen. Hand embroidered, Pure Pashmina shawls from Kashmir are those immortal treasure pieces that every woman in the world wants to experience once. Their immense warmth, buttery-soft touch, feathery lightweight, and an amaranthine grace that continues to spread, make every woman in the world love it more.
Also read: What is the Kani shawl made of?
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