Arrayed with a blanket of snow, agitated with a few disturbances or fighting societal issues, the valley of Kashmir often remains shrouded from the rest of the world. But what lies under the dense layer of clouds is a small world, brimming with magnificent art and crafts. Yet the outside world remains least aware of it.
Since times immemorial, Kashmir has been the hub of handmade wonders. Be it shawl making, embroideries, or architecture, the valley in its reposed state houses antique, traditional, and heritage crafts. Irrespective of foreign trends and influences, the valley has always clung to what its locals create - like that, is timeless.
Types of Kashmiri Shawls
One should know that its not just Pashmina shawls which are a product of the valley of Kashmir. Kashmiri embroideries see a wide range of base materials. Wool, Pashmina and Shahtoosh shawls are three main types of shawls. Consequently over all these types, magnificent motifs in exquisite embroideries are hand done.
Shawls made from Sheep wool are most commonly used in Kashmir, as soon as winter season arrives. There are categories in Sheep wool shawls too according to the finesse and quality of the wool. Sheep wool shawls host all types of embroideries, as they are thick and strong. Sheep wool is about 20-25 microns, which makes products made from it bear more weight than Pashmina or Shahtoosh. Embroideries done on Woolen shawls include Sozni, Tilla, and the bulky Aari embroidery
Pashmina shawls come from Ladakhi goat, which grows Cashmere wool in winters. It should be noted that this Ladakhi goat is found over 14000 feet above sea level, in a region which experiences -40 degrees temperature in winter. But because of Cashmere wool growing all over its body, the goat remains safe and comfortable.
As soon as summer arrives, the goat rubs its body against rough surfaces, trying to get rid of the same wool. Thereupon, it is collected by herders and processed to make Pashmina shawls. Pashmina shawls are fine, and do not bear the weight of thicker embroidery variants. Hence Sozni, Tilla and Papier Mache embroideries are chosen for Pashmina.
Shahtoosh shawls are banned currently, due to the animal cruelty associated with it. These shawls were made from the hair of the wild Chiru goat, found in the Himalayas. Shahtoosh fibre was exceptionally fine and soft and its diameter was just 8-12 microns. Hence, embroidery atists choose mostly Sozni embroidery for Shahtoosh
The most popular shawls in Kashmir and overseas is Pashmina shawl. Hence we today discover Pashmina and popular embroideries done on it.
Pashmina - and Popular Embroideries
Pashmina, and popular embroideries done on it, made the shawls more famous, and cherished. Briefly here are some of the most common embroideries done on Pashmina shawls.
One such craft from the realms of age-old embroideries is Sozni Kari - or thread embroidery. It is done usually on Pashmina shawls. In fact, it was introduced to the locals by the 14th-century Islamic saint - Shah I Hamdan. He bought with himself some 700 artisans to train the locals in this meticulous art. Consequently, it was usually farmers who took this art as a profession. Farmers used to work over Pashmina shawls during a time when farming wouldn’t need day-long efforts! Since then, till now the art of making an embroidered Pashmina provides livelihood to many artisans in the valley.
What is Sozni Embroidery?
Sozni Kari, an art, almost 500 years old, is one of the most intricate and sophisticated forms of hand embroidery. This is one of those special crafts that is practiced only in the valley of Kashmir. The base is usually Pashmina. However, the embroidery can be done on any soft fabric, jackets, handkerchiefs, pocket squares, scarves, and alike.
Sozni embroidery requires massive hard work and concentration of the maker. Moreover, if done over a Pashmina shawl, it takes each shawl some two to three years to complete. The artisan must sit with his workpiece for a period of 6-8 hours every day to create the labyrinth designs. The shawl carries these for centuries together. As a matter of fact, sometimes the embroidery patterns are so dense that the Pashmina base is barely visible.
Sozni Embroidered Pashmina - The Process
Sozni Kari is done with the hand using a small needle and fine threads of infinite hues and shades. Consequently, the art becomes so intricate that over an area of 1 centimetre, a motif can be embroidered in 5 stitches, and over the same area, another motif can be embroidered with 500 stitches, both looking equally and extremely graceful.
The process of making a Sozni embroidered Pashmina is a meticulous one. Consequently it includes a series of steps to be followed in order.
Step 1: Choosing the base
The first step is to choose the fabric over which embroidery is to be done. Even though the embroidery looks exquisite over a Pashmina shawl, it can be done over apparel too. Fabrics like wool, silk, cotton, and other soft ones are usually chosen.
Step 2: Choose a design
The next step is to pick a design. Firstly, the Naqash carefully draws a design which is embroidered over a fine graph paper.
There are a number of designs that a Kashmiri Naqash usually designs. Traditionally the paisley design was the most popular. Nonetheless, Animate motifs such as the local sparrows, parrots, or butterflies are also made in alluring shades. Else, the world-famous fruits and flowers of the valley are embroidered which grace the Pashmina shawls in unique patterns. As importantly, the heritage Chinar motif holds a special place over the Pashminas. It can be seen over borders or all over the base of these masterpieces. Nevertheless, the charm that each motif emanates from is nothing less than spectacular.
Step 3: Carving the design
On the basis of what the Naqash has designed, a woodblock is carved in the same design by a specialist wood engraver
There are a number of motifs which the Naqash designs.
Step 4: Stamping the Pashmina shawl
Following, this wooden block is dipped in ink and stamped over the shawl as an outline for the embroider to imitate.
Step 5: Choice of colors
As soon as the stamped Pashmina shawl is taken to a master artist, it is him who determines which colours should be used by the embroider. Later another master artisan called “Voste” approves or disapproves of the design, and recommends changes.
Step 6: Embroidery
Now, the shawl is ready to be sent to an embroider, who, with his years of experience and skill, embroiders the shawl in the approved colours.
Step 7: Washing
As soon as the Pashmina shawl completes its time with the embroiderer, it is taken to a spring for wash. Using mild washing agents, the shawl is washed by specialist washers.
Types of designs in Sozni Embroidery
Undoubtly, embroidered Pashmina varies from one shawl to another. And some patterns are thick, some are more loose and some are condensed such that the base is hardly distinguishable. Depending upon the design, Sozni embroidered Pashmina shawls have been classified as follows:
Pattern 1: Dordaar Pashmina Shawl
In this pattern, the embroidery spans over the borders as a vine of motifs. The border can be one, two or three inches wide. Hence, these type of shawls can be worn for casual occasions.
Pattern 2: Palladar Pashmina Shawl
A Palldar shawl hosts embroidery motifs over two sides - width wise. Semi formal occasion or even casual occasions, therefore, call for such shawls.
Pattern 3: Bootidaar Pashmina Shawl
Small booties of embroidery motifs spread all over the base of this Pashmina shawl. These can be used for casual use, as well as formal occasions.
Pattern 4: Jalidaar Pashmina Shawl
As a result of the masterly skill of the artisan, an intricate needle work spreads all over the base, in a loose pattern. This design showcases the embroidery as well as the underlying luxury base of Pashmina.
Pattern 5: Jamawar Pashmina Shawl
Similar to the Jalidar pattern, this embroidery spans all over the base, but in such a dense pattern that the base gets the least attention. These can be used for wedding occasions, for the bride herself, or as a gift for the bride.
Shimmers of Tilla Dozi
Cuddling a needle with his wrinkled hands, One of our artisans started working over a white shawl with a bright gold thread. Simultaneously he started explaining to us this skill which he had perfected for over 60 years now.
“It's not just today or some years back. Tilla embroidery has found patrons during the Mughal era when the royals discovered the grandeur of this craft. Originally, the embroidery was done using real gold and silver threads which made the heritage pieces ethereal. In the event, the precious metals were beaten into flat wires, made into threads that were used to enrich the apparel of the royals or brides. Not everyone could afford them”, he said boastfully.
Nowadays it's not real silver and gold, but ordinary metals coated with a layer of these precious metals. It makes Tilla affordable for all.
Making of a Tilla Embroidered Kashmiri Pashmina
The beginning of Tilla embroidery starts with a designer or ‘Naqash’ who draws a design of his choice on tracing paper. He then perforates this design with a specially designed needle. This process is called ‘Trombun’ which locally means ‘Perforating’. Next, this perforated paper is placed over the Pashmina shawl and a duster dipped in ink is moved over its surface. When the tracing paper is removed, the Shawl underneath gets the outline of the design to be embroidered over it.
This stamped shawl is then passed over to the embroider who chooses two threads to embroider it. One of the threads is the golden or silver thread. The other one is a cotton or silk thread of the same colour which is used to attach the tilla thread tightly to the base of a shawl for an enduring effect. When done with the embroidery, the shawl is sent for washing and then for ironing. That how we get to the final piece - a gossamer Tilla embroidered Kashmiri Pashmina shawl - looks-ing nothing less than exquisite.
Motifs chosen for a Kashmiri Pashmina
The shimmers of Tilla embroidery fall over the delicate depths of Pashmina in a number of designs and popular motifs. Drawing inspiration from the scenic beauty that nature has bestowed over the valley, traditional tilla designs often reflect the same over apparel, shawls, sarees, and phirans. Accordingly, some prominent motifs that are usually embroidered in Tilla are:
- Paisley motif (Badam)
- Lotus motif (Pamposh)
- Rose motif (Golab)
- Maple motif (Chinar)
- Iris motif (Sosan)
In addition to this, various kinds of birds, animals, and even human motifs are embroidered in several patterns with sheer finesse and acumen.
Machine Tilla vs Hand Tilla
Back in the days, Tilla embroidered garments would be a form of keepsake for the entire world. The nimbleness of the hands which worked days and nights together with this craft would be held privileged in every part of the world. But with the advent of modern technology, machines started to intervene in the process of handicrafts too. Tilla embroidery was also one of the crafts which would be done with the help of a machine and continues until now.
However, the true patron of this art never settles for less and always looks for the opulence that is possible only when tilla is done with the hand. The grandeur of hand tilla is such that women who wore Tilla embroidered phirans never wore jewelry along because they never felt the need for the same. It is said that when done with the hand, Tilla acquires an antique look with time, and matures like an artifact.
Even if the times have changed and modern traditions have taken over the cultural space, yet a Kashmiri bride’s trousseau is considered incomplete with the absence of a Tilla embroidered phiran and Kashmiri Pashmina shawl, which the bride wears and carries to her next home.
Papier Mache Embroidery
Papier Mache is the art that uses waste paper and creates marvels out of it. Someone who is aware of Papier Mache will be absolutely bewildered as to how the same could be done over a shawl or any fabric for that matter. But the two crafts are totally different, it's just that they look alike.
Papier Mache Embroidery is a type of embroidery which is done by hand using a needlepoint. Resembling the designs made in Papier Mache, this embroidery requires covering the underlying base with vivid embroidery. This is achieved as a result of the continuous overlapping of the thread. The needle used in this form of embroidery is comparatively thicker than the one used in traditional sozni.
In a Papier Mache Embroidered Pashmina, fine count thread is embroidered with stitches extremely close to each other which gives a somewhat embossed effect. The thread used should be a high-quality fine count silken thread and intricate such that the base fabric partially disappears.
Other Types of Pashmina Shawls
Its not just embroideries which make Pashmina shawls the exquisite accessories that they are. Several other embellishments are done on the fine base. Mainly two types of Pashmina shawls, unembroidered, are world famous.
One of the most magical craftsmanship in Kashmir is the Kani weave. Small sticks, called Kanis are introduced in the weaving process. Colourful threads are wound around these wooden bobbins, and then step by step these threads are blended into the weave. Thus comes to life a Kani shawl which gained such popularity in the ancient world that even Europeans could not get their hands off it. It was Empress Josephine who owned hundreds of Kani shawls, and gifted several to her friends and relatives too.
Kalamkari is a process in which the base is hand painted with large brushes. 'Kalam' means 'Pen', and 'Kari' means 'Work'. Special brushes are dipped in vegetable dyed or ink, and marvelous patterns are hand drawn over the base (here Pashmina). Sometimes, as soon as the painting dries, Sozni embroidery is done over them as outline.
It is believed that this embroidery is the most meticulous and difficult to achieve, thus making it quite rare. The use of brilliant colors and an extraordinary finesse is what gives birth to the final product. The shawl looks nothing less than a painting. It takes an artisan multiple hours with such an embroidered Pashmina shawl. And that too when the embroidery consists barely of a floral wine, not to ask about a fully embroidered one.