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What are Kalamkari shawls?

February 7th, 2022 | 2968 views
What are Kalamkari shawls?

The ancient art of fabric painting has started to become an essential pattern in Pashmina's making. Being widespread in the northern and western regions, we too adopted Kalamkari work in our certified collections.

Pashmina shawls have been a savior for the locals ever since these luxury wraps got an introduction in the valley for the first time. Other than being the greatest rescuer when the valley was at its coldest, Pashmina shawls were an investment. In fact, people would sell off pieces of these shawls during a financial need. Hence, Pashmina shawls are more than fashion accessories and receive greatly reverence by the older generation. And if you have grown up listening to stories about your grandmother's heirloom shawl passing through generations, it is definitely a Pashmina shawl.

The purpose of raw Cashmere wool being handwoven to make luxury Pashmina shawls was initially to keep one warm. It was a Sufi saint and traveler, who visited Kashmir. He discovered Cashmere wool in Ladakh, growing over the underbelly of an exotic goat. He ordered workers to craft a pair of socks out of it for the then king; the king found the socks immensely warm and comfortable.

But as time passed, Pashmina became more unaffordable for commoners. Now, it was a fashion accessory for the affluent. And as a fashion accessory, it had to adhere to certain rules. These rules included being appropriate for all ages and adapting every design. Thread embroideries of certain types, printed Pashmina shawls, shawls with laces, and monochrome shawls came into existence. Pashmina seamlessly adopted these very well, looking as elegant in one as in the other. One of the exceptionally exquisite patterns in Pashmina shawls is the kalamkari pattern.

What is Kalamkari?

The word Kalamkari comes from two different words 'Kalam' meaning 'Pen', and 'Kari' meaning 'work'. Hence Kalamkari literally means the work of the pen. A kalamkari is an art form, which includes drawing with a pen on fabric with hands; using a brush and a few natural dyes. Kalamkari art is common in Isfahan (Iran), and in India, in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. They use plant-based paints and dyes, and a naturally made bamboo brush, and handcraft brilliant motifs over the shawls. These shawls last long for generations to cherish.

History of Kalamkari

It is 3000 B.C when historians believe the art of Kalamkari dates back to. Archeologists too have dug up certain sites of Mohenjo Daro and found kalamkari patterns of some fabric rags. Some believe that in the 13th century, a group of artists travelled to teach pupils Hindu mythology. To do so, they would paint large pieces of canvas with vegetable dyes, and paint made from plant extracts. This was the first time that Kalamkari was done. Later, artisans used the art to make wall hangings to decorate temples and other religious places for Hindus.

Kalamkari under Islamic Rule

The art saw more modification and reached its zenith in the medieval Islamic rule. This was under the Golconda rule (Golconda Nizams rule). It was the Mughals who played a vital role in encouraging the development of the Kalamkari art. People called the artisans. who learned and practiced Kalamari, as Kalamkars, and this is how the name 'Kalamkari' emerged. Before this time, Kalamkari was called Pattachitra, ('Patta' meaning 'Cloth', and 'Chitra' meaning 'Picture'). Now Kalamkari received a high influence of Persian art under Islamic rule. It was the period when this art form was at its peak.

A Muslim shawl-making family shown in Cashmere shawl manufactory, 1867, chromolith., William Simpson.
A Muslim shawl-making family shown in Cashmere shawl manufactory, 1867, chromolith., William Simpson.

Soon after, the art saw a downfall. But it again saw a revival during the British rule, for being an exquisite handcraft. It was in the 18th century when patrons again demanded Kalamkari fabric. Some even began importing the same from the Northern areas of the Indian subcontinent. In this time, Kalamkari had already started to be done over Kashmiri shawls, which were called Kalamkari shawls. In today's scenario, Kalamkari shawls use organic dyes rather than chemical dyes. These are, hence, widely preferred over their non-sustainable counterparts.

Also read: Kashmir - The state famous for Pashmina Craft

Kalamkari work is of two different types

Not only hand painting is used to design a Kalamkari shawl. The technique has two different methods.
These are done over a shawl to make it a luxury piece.

The first one is the Machilipatnam style. Machilipatnam style means when artisans block paint the fabric. Artists specializing in this method use vegetable dyes.  They apply the dyes to the fabric with the help of wooden blocks. Also called Pedana Kalamkari, artisans carry it out at Pedana. Pedana is a town in the Machilipatnam area of Andhra Pradesh, India. This style evolved during the Mughal rule and the Golconda Sultanate patronized it. Artisans painted Wall hangings, clothing, large fabrics in the Pedana style of Kalamkari. As a matter of fact, a wall hanging from the 15th Century AD is still being displayed in Victoria Museum, London.

The second type is Srikalahasti Kalamkari. Srikalahasti style is actually the detailed hand painting over a shawl. This method uses a brush made from bamboo, and dyes extracted from plants, completely non-chemical. It is produced in a place which is called Srikalahasti in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. This style of art has been registered as one of the geographical indications (GI) from Andhra Pradesh, under the handicraft goods, by the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.

A new style saw its existence during the reign of the Mughals.. In this style, artisans used both hand painting, as well as block printing designs. Those shawls looked simply magical.

Process of Kalamkari art

The extraordinary process of Kalamkari involves a total of 23 steps, before completion. Artisans execute it with the help of specialized pens, handcrafted from the bamboo tree, and paints or dyes which are organic. It is stringently forbidden to use chemical or synthetic dyes in Kalamkari art. Hand painting the textile is labyrinthine, but the results are totally worth the labour.

To start with, workers soak a shawl in astringent and buffalo milk. They then sun-dry the material. Later, the design is handmade in several stages and not all at one time. Workers use bamboo or date palm stick pens primarily to craft intricate and highly delicate details. As far as dyes are concerned, workers use various roots, seeds, plant leaves, crushed flowers to extract them. The colours chosen then are usually bright and brilliant. Artisans often choose red, yellow, green, blue in their vivid shades to craft a Kalamkari shawl.

The introduction of contemporary methods in Kalamkari art

The paintings done on kalamkari have continued to awe strike the viewers because of the colours used. Vivid and brighter shades enhance the detailed artwork even more. This is the most distinctive feature of Kalamkari. Artisans mostly use reds, warm blues, and greens, yellow and black. Modern times have somewhat transformed art. The use of pigmented dyes is gaining more impetus, as extracting from plants seems ancient. Now mineral salts of iron, tin, copper are consumed. The best thing about this traditional art is that it did not lose a tad in its grace, transforming from conventional methods to modern ones.

Motifs used in Kalamkari Art

kalamkari pashmina shawl
A vintage at heart, a Pashmina shawl like this has never failed to impress

Before modernity influenced every realm of life, Kalamkari shawls featured motifs related to religion. Paintings of Hindu deities, some well-known mythological creatures, and symbols, scenes from famous folklores, and classics from Hindu Scriptures are the inspirations that artisans draw to make patterns. Contemporary patterns include flowers, peacocks, large paisleys, animal motifs, and even geometrical designs.

What are Kalamkari Pashmina Shawls?

When it comes to Pashmina shawls, artisans from Kashmir too imbibed this beautiful craft in pure Pashmina shawls. After painting Pashmina shawls with Kalamkari, artisans here hand embroider around the motifs in black. This is another step, in addition to the 23 steps of Kalamkari. After artisans hand-paint motifs onto the surface of the shawl, they choose a matching or contrasting thread to outline these motifs. This too takes a lot of time, as Kashmiri Sozni Kars (artisans specializing in Sozni Kari), give attention to each detail and each motif closely. The final result of a Kalamka.ri and Sozni rendezvous is simply beyond comparison.

Also read: Pashmina belongs to the Clan of Originality

Styles to wear a Kalamkari shawl

Kalamkari shawls carry a detailed, intricate design. These feature magnificent art and flaunt-worthy motifs all over the base. Hence the styles to wear them usually include those where the base is pretty visible. Here are a few styles to wear a handmade Kalamkari Pashmina shawl

  • Place it on your shoulders like a wrap, and bring the two sides to the front. This way the pattern on the shawl can be visible from two sides. 
  • Wear the shawl like a dupatta so that the patterns on the centre keep your front body covered, in a warm and elegant embrace.
  • Let the shawl drape over one shoulder, thus showcasing its entirety, both from the front and back. 
  • Let the shawl drape loose from your forearm as if you are not wearing it, or are planning to wear it later. 
  • Wrapping the shawl around your body, too, makes sure to flaunt this luxury piece to the onlookers. 

Washing, Drying, Ironing and Storing a Kalamkari shawl

Kalamkari Pashmina shawl is a delicate accessory. Hence one should wash it gently. The process of washing the Kalamkari shawl has to be extremely careful. The colours are natural, and hence should not be lost with vigorous washing. Kalamkari shawls should not be exposed to much sunlight, lest the colors fade. 

Washing: Kalamkari shawls are best washed in Cashmere shampoos or Pashmina shampoos because these are delicate. Add Pashmina shampoo to lukewarm water, and soak your Kalamkari shawl in it for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove soap water with your hands by gently squeezing the shawl between your hands. 

Drying: Do not wring the shawl. Dry the shawl in shade, and not in direct sunlight. 

Ironing: Ironing a Kalamkari shawl shouldn't be done directly. There should be a cotton cloth placed in between, or simply a steam iron should be used.  

Storing: Store the shawl in a dry, moisture-free place. Keep mothballs along to stop any infestations. Wrap the shawl in a muslin cloth or paper wrapping. Avoid plastic at all costs.

Handwashing a Kalamkari Pashmina is considered a better option against dry cleaning. Taking proper care of your shawl will increase its life, and it will be a companion for generations to come.

Pashmina shawls and Pashmina.com

Be it Kalamkari Pashmina shawls, hand-embroidered shawls, Printed Pashmina, Laced Pashmina shawls, Kani shawls, or other categories of Pashmina, we master each assortment in terms of variety, patterns, and elegance. Each piece from our classic collections is unique, and exclusive, with features that are unparalleled. Our artisans take months or even years together to perfect each piece. From the time when Cashmere is acquired from Ladakh in Spring to its sale in winter, each step is carefully and meticulously carried out, and that is how we end up with pure, authentic, and the best quality Pashmina shawls. 

Sustainability and Pashmina.com

kalamkari shawl
A scene has been chosen by the artisan, and he plans to draw it with the help of natural paints and a bamboo pen

Ethical production, sustainability, and fair trade are the core values at Pashmina.com. Be it Kalamkari shawls, Kani shawls, or Hand-embroidered Pashmina shawls, every single piece from our assortment repels cruelty to animals or the planet as a whole. The shawls are ethically acquired from Ladakh, where their raw material is grown over the underbelly of a goat. The goat naturally sheds a portion of the wool; the rest of it is gently combed off (and not sheared or plucked off) its body. 

The wool, called Cashmere, is not sent for spinning to convert it into yarn. Yarn is handwoven using traditional handloom and manual techniques to transform fine yarn into luxury shawls. The shawls are still plain, which are hand-painted in the realms of Kalamkari (when handcrafting a Kalamkari shawl). Later these are hand embroidered in the realms of Sozni embroidery (a fine thread and needle embroidery pattern used to embroider delicate, intricate designs). This leads to the completion of a Pashmina shawl, sold in the market for the patrons of the art to cherish. 

Also read: What is a Sozni shawl?

We, Pashmina.com, are the largest curators of pure and handcrafted Pashmina products in the online space. We are on a mission to revive this dying art by spreading our wings throughout the world by way of our online platform. Our website serves as a window to our range of products that are luxurious and have the highest quality. We offer the widest range, certified quality, luxurious packaging and free shipping to over 150 countries.

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