All you need to know about the Pashm Fibre or Pashmina Wool
There is a land far away from the noise of civilisation, where biting, chilly winds make their headway, much like Arctic wastes of Siberia and Alaska. These are the highlands of Kashmir, where these resident mammals reside and spend their lives in the harsh weather, thanks to their natural hair that shelters them like a warm cocoon.
Be it goats, antelopes, camels or yaks, these animals grow an undercoat that is coarse but superfine at the time same time and protects them from plummeting temperatures as low as minus 40 degree Celsius. These dark, winter days soon turn into long and pleasant environs. With the onset of spring, the temperatures rise, and the days lengthen which triggers hormonal changes in these animals and they start to gradually shed this undercoat, which now doesn’t really serve any purpose.
The luxurious fibres that are procured from these undercoats have been collected and combed out by local communities and generally recycled for their own use. Several species have been domesticated for time immemorial and have been harvested sustainably for local use.
Of all these animal fibres, it is Pashm that is the most famous, which is internationally known as Cashmere or pashmina wool. In India, the fleece of the Tibetan goat, from which the classic Kashmir shawl is woven, is called pashm and is derived from an Urdu word that means raw fibre. However, pashmina is the yarn spun and the material that is woven from pashm.
The Prized Goats of Ladakh
It might come as a surprise to many that the earliest animal to be domesticated for human needs, in fact as long as tens of thousands of years, are goats. These animals primarily provided for milk and meat essential for survival in this desolate land. Almost all goats, be it wild or domestic, grow a downy undercoat which is hidden beneath their shaggy overcoats. Only a few breeds are habituated to this extreme cold and produce this ‘soft gold’ that is worth harvesting. There are certain regions, apart from Kashmir in India that propagate the growth of this fibre, and that includes parts of Russia, China and Mongolia.
The stunning land of Ladakh had long been cut off from all kinds of civilisation, but little did the world know that this would be the home of the prized Tibetan or Changthangi goat, who has taken the world by storm with its diamond fibre. The herdsmen who raise it locally call it changra or the northern goat. It is the fibre of this goat that is considered par excellence and has assumed the name of cashmere all over the globe.
For millennia, nomadic herdsmen have spun and woven goat hair into cloth for their personal use. In fact, several historical accounts recount that fine materials were woven from goat fleece in India and West Asia in ancient and medieval times, but the origin was not much known. From at least the 16th century till the early 19th, Kashmir was the only region where the locals had the skills to fully utilise the qualities of pashm, which means not just its warmth and softness, but also to weave the fibre into a textile of superlative quality, which came to be the choice and object of desire for nobility as well as the social elites.
From the third decade of the 20th century, cashmere emerged on to the forefront as a premium fibre for the highest quality of woven fabrics in the developed world. This led to production in staggering volumes of pashmina wool and later led to selective breeding. This led to evidence that both genetic as well as environmental factors lead to the growth of the undercoat, which did raise the possibility of producing this fibre in temperate climates.
How Cashmere whispers tales of quality
A textile fibre is generally judged as per two distinctive factors – firstly the fineness and secondly, its length and both together reflect the quality of a finished product. At times, colour is also considered significant. For the sake of information, a fibre diameter is measured by the micron, which is 1/1000 of a millimetre. It is intriguing to know that the micron count for pashm or pashmina wool somewhere falls between 13 and 19, while human hair is close to 70 microns. Can you now imagine the fineness of this fibre? When these fine fibres are spun, a range of air pockets form, which is what lends it an extraordinary warmth and softness.
For the artisans of Kashmir, it is believed that as much as the goat withstands extreme conditions, the length of the fibre is dependent on that. This is the reason why earlier the goats from western Tibet were preferred.
As far as the colour goes, it is the colour white that is desired by most since it can be dyed in a barrage of shades. For this reason, these breeds commonly produce white fibre. The browns and grey, which are also a part of the palette of natural colours, are considered self-coloured and form the mainstay of most antique and contemporary products.
We, at Pashmina.com, are one of the world’s largest curators of pure and handcrafted Himalayan cashmere products. Each of our pieces epitomises the highest levels of quality and royalty and will make you feel no less than nobility yourself. Our range of shawls, stoles, scarves and wraps will enrapture the world with its beauty and sublime softness. It’s not just the beauty and exquisiteness that we are concerned about; credibility is what sets us apart from the rest. Our pieces are first painstakingly handcrafted with the finest designs and reflect the highest quality of craftsmanship. After this labour of love sees the light of the day, it is sent for quality assurance to the Crafts Development Institute, Ministry of Textiles as part of Govt of India that certifies each product. After all, you deserve a product that’s as warm and real as you!