All you need to know about the Pashm Fibre or Pashmina Wool
There is a land far away from the noise of civilization, where biting, chilly winds make their headway. Its much like the Arctic wastes of Siberia and Alaska. These are the highlands of Kashmir. Here 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 same time, it also protects them from plummeting temperatures as low as -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. This triggers hormonal changes in these animals and they start to gradually shed this undercoat, which now doesn’t really serve any purpose.
The luxurious fibers that are procured from these undercoats are collected and combed out by local communities. These are generally recycled by them for their own use. Several species have been domesticated for time immemorial and harvested sustainably for local use.
Of all these animal fibres, it is Pashm that is the most famous, which is internationally known as Cashmere. 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 Pashmina Goat of Ladakh
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 civilization. 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 Pashmina goat. It is the fibre of this Pashmina goat that is considered par excellence and has assumed the name of cashmere all over the globe.
Also read: The Trail of India's Cashmere Goat Men
Emergence of Cashmere
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. Even though the origin was not much known. From at least the 16th century until the early 19th, Kashmir was the only region where the locals had the skills to fully utilize the qualities of pashm. This means not just its warmth and fineness, but also to weave the fibre into a textile of superlative quality became an object of desire for nobility as well as the social elites.
From the third decade of the 1900s, cashmere emerged as a premium fibre. It was known for the highest quality of woven fabrics in the developed world. This led to the 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
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 a 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 pocket forms, which is what lends it an extraordinary warmth and finesse.
For the artisans of Kashmir, it is believed that the length of the fibre is dependent on the extremity of harsh conditions the Pashmina goat withstands. This is the reason why earlier the goats from western Tibet were preferred.
As far as the colour of Pashmina 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. These form the mainstay of most antique and contemporary Pashminas.
Also read: 7 Reasons To Love Cashmere
Pashmina and Pashmina.com
We, at Pashmina.com, are one of the world’s largest curators of pure and handcrafted Himalayan cashmere products. Each of our pieces epitomizes the highest levels of quality and royalty, making you feel no less than nobility yourself. Our range of shawls, stoles, scarves, and hijabs 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!