Making of Pashmina Shawls
The world's most popular and exquisite and luxurious accessory is perhaps the Pashmina shawl. From ancient royalty to celebrities today, everyone has been smitten by the sheer looks and feel of Pashmina shawls that come all the way from Kashmir. But have you ever noticed that all Pashmina shawls are not the same? While some are traditional, others are super modern. While some are large and heavy, others are super light and portable. And while some take years and years to complete, others take a few weeks. Where does this discrepancy come from? What are the types of Pashmina shawls, and how are they prepared? We have solutions for all your doubts, but first, do you know what the Pashmina shawl is?
What is a Pashmina Shawl?
Pashmina shawls are those luxury wraps that are handcrafted from pure Ladakhi Cashmere. Cashmere wool is the processed fleece that grows over the body of a rare Ladakhi goat. The goat sheds its fleece in the moulting period, which is collected and processed to prepare Pashmina shawls.
Types of Pashmina Shawls
On the basis of adorning and patterning them, we have mainly 5 types of Pashmina shawls, popular in Kashmir. Even Though Pashmina shawls have adapted to modern design, these classic styles remain timeless.
1. Hand Embroidered Shawls
When it comes to the most common, most revered, and the cream of the crop, nothing beats the classic demeanour of hand-embroidered Pashmina shawls. These luxury shawls were amongst the very first patterns when Pashmina was discovered. Let us delve into the nitty gritties of sozni hand embroidery and discover how marvelous and intricate this type is.
Sozni embroidery is the most popular type of embroidery done on Pashmina shawls. This is because the delicate and fine Pashmina demands embroidery even fine. And Sozni embroidery has been declared the winner for a long time. The artisans of Sozni embroidery use silk or wool threads to create motifs over the base with fine needles. Threads for embroidery are chosen after the colour of the shawl is declared. Only the best combination of threads is chosen, that will blend gracefully with the base colour. But first, the shawl is prepared for embroidery in the following steps
Step 1: Block Printing the design
A finely carved walnut wood stamp, that has the embroidery motif carved on it, lays the base for embroidery threads. Embroidery workshops in Kashmir have a vast collection of these blocks, and these have been used for decades now. These have been handcrafted by expert walnut carvers for years. The block for a particular shawl is chosen carefully and imprinted on the shawl after dipping it in chemical ink. The impression thus cast on the base of the shawl is to be followed by embroidery artisans.
Step 2: Choosing embroidery threads
Embroidery threads are carefully chosen by designers and workmen who have experience of decades in this attention-demanding activity. They have known which colour combinations have always been liked by people, and hence stick to those mostly. If however, a shade does not produce the desired result, the threads are plucked out, and new shades are chosen by these perfectionist workmen.
Step 3: Embroidering the Shawls
The third and final step is following the imprinted designs and hand embroidering the shawl with the help of fine threads and needles. Men either gather at workshops or take the shawl home to work from their comfort zones. Nevertheless, the shawls hence crafted look nothing less than art marvels.
Sozni embroidery can take anywhere from 3 to 5 years to complete. Jamawar patterns, where the shawl is filled profusely with embroidery take up to 5 years to complete. As a result, these are washed thoroughly post embroidering as it has been 5 years of moving from one hand to another. This is done under spring water, and the shawls are air-dried later. Post this, the shawls are ironed and sent to markets for sale.
Tilla embroidery, locally called Tilla dozi was first discovered, only to be perfect for the then-rich and affluent. Shawls with tilla embroidery were affordable for kings and royals because the threads used in this embroidery were made of real gold and silver. This is however not the case now, and the threads used are metallic ones dipped in gold and silver. Here are the steps that are followed to craft a tilla-embroidered pashmina shawl
Step 1: Designing the Embroidery Pattern
The process of Tilla embroidery begins with the designer (locally called Naqash) drawing a design over tracing paper. Then he perforates this paper with a specialized tool (needle). In the meantime, other artisans prepare the ink, which is believed to be prepared from kerosene and sand. The perforated trace paper is now placed over the shawl, and a duster is chosen to be dipped in the earlier prepared ink. Next, the duster is moved over the perforated paper which mirrors the design of the shawl.
Step 2: Embroidering the shawl
The shawl, ready with stamped design, is passed on to the Tilla embroidery artisans, who carefully use two main threads to embroider it. One thread is gold or silver which is the Tilla thread. The other one is a staple thread, golden in colour, which helps affix and hold the thick Tilla thread with the shawl.
Step 3: Finishing processes
Tilla threads are now made of copper, which is dipped in gold or silver and used to embroider Tilla shawls. Once embroidered, these art pieces are sent for washing, ironing, and packing. Special care of the Tilla threads has to be taken during the ironing process, as the metal threads have to come in contact with heat.
Papier Mache Embroidery
A thicker and more colourful version of the sozni embroidery is the Papier Mache embroidery. The difference between the two is that Papier Mache embroidery uses thicker needles and threads, and the area to be embroidered in these shawls is more. As such, more colourful and chunky patterns are created to make the shawl heavier and intensely hued.
The embroidery form derives its name from the papier mache art of Kashmir (where chewed paper is transformed into utility and decorative articles), which looks similar to the embroidery patterns. The process of Papier Mache embroidery done on Pashmina is exactly the same as Sozni embroidery, but the thickness of the threads and type of motifs differ.
2. Kani Pashmina Shawls
Nothing is more exquisite, artistic, and aesthetic to the senses as is the Kashmiri Kani shawl. Be it the patterns, the base of pure Cashmere, or the breathtakingly beautiful motifs woven with the fine base, everything awestrikes the onlookers. Kani shawl making is as ancient as Pashmina shawls themselves. These two are inseparable. One might think of embroidering sheep wool shawls in the embroideries of Pashmina, but never will a woman imagine Kani weaving in a shawl other than Pashmina shawls.
The making of Pashmina is as complicated as carpet making. As a matter of fact, both processes look exactly the same, but of course, aren't. Here is a step-by-step guide to the making of the world-famous Kani shawl, which got the fashion icon Empress Josephine swooning and fascinated.
Step 1: Designing the pattern to be woven
The designer (naash) designs a Talim, which is a coded pattern from the weavers to get guidance. The weavers bring this pattern to life with the help of countless bobbins, or wooden sticks called Kanis.
Step 2: Introduction of Kanis (wooden sticks)
The Kanis are loaded with threads of different colours which are to be inserted in the warp threads as wefts. There is no embroidery. Neither is the shuttle active, moving from one side of the warp threads to the other. Instead, threads from these Kanis are inserted at different points across the warm threads. This entire task is immensely time and energy-consuming, and for this reason, Kani shawls take years to complete.
“Four red, two yellow, six blue...
Six white, two green, eight pinks…"
These are some of the clamours heard in the karkhanas (factories) where Kani shawls are being woven.
The most skilled weavers can weave up to one inch of the shawl in Kani weave per day. Around 75 to 100 Kanis are used to make one Pashmina shawl in Kani weave. Owing to the time-consuming process, it takes over 3 - 4 years to craft one Kani shawl, which is expensive and rare to find. This is the case with Kani Jamawar shawls, where the Kani weave spreads all over the shawl.
3. Laced Pashmina Shawls
For the modern young audience, Pashmina shawls have come out of the traditional shell and now feature contemporary patterns. One of the modern designs in Pashmina shawls is the laced pattern. Pashmina shawls, when in their solid form, and handed over to artisans who hand stitch lace over the borders mainly, and in the centre at times.
Pashmina shawls mostly feature the French Chantilly Laces. These laces are luxurious, often made from cotton which is lightweight yet durable. French Chantilly laces have been a symbol of affluence and high social status in ancient France. Their dainty fabric is fine and airy and hence chosen to festoon the gossamer base of Pashmina shawls. Chantilly lace is a type of lightweight lace (30-180 g/m 2) on a net background, usually with a floral pattern, outlined with silk threads. The name of this lace came from the French city Chantilly. This type of lace is a timeless classic. Sheer or semi-sheer, with scalloped edges, it is perfect for bridal fashion, airy evening gowns, or overlays.
The laces are hand stitched onto the shawls, as machine stitching would end up tearing the shawls as well as the laces. The hand stitching process takes immense savoir-faire, time, and dedication from the artisan, in addition to skill and patience. Only a small number of artisans, who have learned the art for years, have the skill of hand stitching these delicate laces onto the surface of Pashmina shawls.
4. Swarovski Pashmina Shawls
Recent development in the making of contemporary Pashmina shawls led designers to handcraft Swarovski crystal Pashmina Shawl. Swarovski crystals are diamond-like crystals, but actually, a man-made form of glass created with a patented process. The crystals are beautiful, especially when featured over the timeless Pashmina shawls.
Crystals of different colours are collected, which are strategically chosen by designers and artisans. These are placed on the already stamped Pashmina shawl, over the stamp marks. This is done with the help of tweezers, as the crystals are small, and placing them with fingers might not work, or displace them. Then the shawl is placed under a heat press to make the crystals adhere to the fabric. A grease-proof paper or Teflon sheet is placed over the crystals, and the fabric is pressed at a suitable temperature for just a few seconds. The crystals become hot, and hence it is recommended not to touch them as soon as you switch the heat press off. The shawl is to be cooled down for a few minutes till you can touch or use it.
Also read: WHICH COUNTRY HAS THE BEST CASHMERE?
5. Kalamkari Pashmina Shawls
The word Kalamkari comes from two words, ‘Kalam’ meaning ‘Pen’ and ‘Kari’ meaning ‘Work’. Hence the nomenclature indicates that some kind of penwork might be associated with these shawls, which is true.
This exquisite form of textile art came into existence during the Indo -Persian trade. All textiles which were hand tainted with natural pens were called kalamkari. As a result, even Pashmina artisans were inspired by this art form, and Kalamakri shawls came into existence. The exquisite art, hence, dates back centuries, yet artisans have now evolved as far as the paintings that they painted are concerned.
The process of making Kalamkari shawls is quite complicated. Some believe that it is whole 25 steps that go into making one shawl. These steps are dyeing, hand painting, outlining, washing, ironing, and more. The solid Pashmina shawls are dyed in the specific colour required by the seller. As they dry, bamboo sticks (kalam) are prepared - shaped and pointed at the end to form a nib. The pens are then dipped in vegetable dyes and used over the shawl by skilled and experienced craftsmen. The motifs they hand paint can be later outlined in black or any darker shade. This is optional.
It takes around 7 - 8 months to prepare one Kalamkari shawl. The shawl looks like an art piece, as it is filled with myriads of colours and shades that look brilliant and out of the ordinary.
Also read: TURNING THE WAYS FOR THE PLEDGE OF FINEST CASHMERE
We love it, don't we?
What intricate processes, what time-consuming procedures, and what skill of the artisans who make it! Making a Pashmina shawl is truly a journey of awe-striking events in which one falls in love with the art form even more.
Also read: KASHMIRI SHAWLS DURING THE DOGRA PERIOD
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