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What is so special about Pashmina shawls?

December 2nd, 2020 | 8349 views
What is so special about Pashmina shawls?

The Pashmina shawl is one of the most sought-after wraps around the globe. Makers have fashioned Pashmina shawls through a lengthy and labour-intensive process. Herders ethically acquire fine Cashmere wool from a Himalayan goat and artisans process it for years to furnish the world-famous Kashmiri Pashmina. It is not only the process that makes it special but a number of other things too. These features make it popular amongst known celebrities and it has been so since the 15th century

What is Pashmina?

cashmere goat
Himalayan Cashmere goat in Ladakh region

To know what is so special about Pashmina shawls, we need to know what Pashmina is. Pashmina is the art of handcrafting luxury apparel and accessories from the downy undercoat of the Himalayan goat. The goat dwells in the Changthang area of Ladakh - India.

This region over 14000 feet above sea level is home to a community of herders. The Changpa tribe has been occupying the region for decades now. It is they who rear an exotic species of goats - known as Changthangi goats. And it is them who take us to the first milestone in Pashmina making, i.e., collecting wool from the goat.

Also read: The Trail of India's Cashmere Goat Men

Making of Pashmina

When it comes to surviving in the Changthang region, the weather, temperatures, and life are all quite challenging if not impossible. Already, the place cuts itself off from the rest of the world during snowfall in winter, and the temperature too is severe and troubling. In winter, Changthang experiences a temperature dip of -40 degrees Celsius making life an uphill climb. And it seems that no sign of life would be possible in such conditions, but there is. The Changpa tribe and their goats do manage to survive even in such grim circumstances. How the people manage life here is indeed difficult to perceive, but how the goat survives is even more fascinating.

Stunning land of Ladakh - All you need to know about the Pashm fibre
Stunning land of Ladakh

To survive a temperature of -40 degrees, nature has bestowed the Changthangi goat with fine Cashmere wool which grows over its underbelly neck and some sensitive areas of its body. The wool is delicate, fine, and exceptionally warm. This wool acts as an insulator and keeps the goat warm and active. Even though the diameter of this fine wool is just 12-16 microns, its warmth is such that never has an animal died due to cold, as long there was Cashmere over its body!

Collecting Cashmere wool

changthangi goat being combed
Cashmere goat gently being combed

In winters the same wool which helped the goat survive, makes it uneasy as soon as summer arrives. And why shouldn't it? After all, wool has extraordinary warmth and comfort. Feeling the same, the goat rubs itself against surrounding rough areas leaving some portion of the wool helter-skelter. Herders watch this agony and seek professional help to gently comb off the rest of the wool from the goat's body. Professionals arrive and use specialized tools, combs, and blades. This process takes a long time, as the professionals have to make sure that the animals aren't harmed a bit.

People often ask "Why are Pashmina shawls famous in Ladakh". Well firstly, Pashmina shawls are more famous all over the world than they are in Ladakh, the reason being affordability. Secondly, there are many women and men who love to wear Pashmina in Ladakh too due to its insulating and warming properties. Nothing is as warm, lightweight, and comfortable in winter as Pashmina shawls are. Hence be it Ladakh or any part of the world, Pashmina receives admiration in winter, as well as in fall or Spring.

Also read: 5 must-have Kashmiri Shawls for all times

Processing in Kashmir

People often ask, "What is so special about Pashmina". And we believe it is the entire journey from start to end that makes it special.

As soon as herders collect the wool, the animal is free but the wool is in a lump. To make it processable, herders clean it and send it to Kashmir. Kashmir is the place where masterly skillful artisans are able to process Cashmere manually. On its arrival in the valley, workers again clean Pashmina and later sort it and that's how the entire process begins. After cleaning and sorting, workers hand it over to womenfolk of the valley who spin it over a wooden spinning wheel. This step is crucial, as the gentle cashmere wool is easily breakable even by manual stress. Women, by a regular motion of hands and the wheel, make it possible to convert the lump of wool into fine threads, sometimes barely visible. Women assemble these fine threads for many days till a sufficient quantity is flocked together. Now is the time for weaving.

Handweaving of Pashmina
Handweaving of Pashmina

Weavers are usually men. As the Cashmere fibre reaches their handloom units, they sit in combinations of two or three and start weaving the fibre into the fabric. After an arduous process of 4-5 days, a luxurious and exquisite Pashmina shawl is contrived, still in its basic form.

Further processing

making of Pashmina
Artisan embroidering intricate designs on a Pashmina shawl

From the handloom unit, the shawls pass on to washers, who wash it on river banks. Then to dyers, who colour it as per the customers' preferences, and then again wash it. Later the shawl travels to embroiderers, who make simple solid shawl masterpieces. Hand embroidering each shawl might take several years depending upon the design. Artisans now work on Sozni embroidery and Papier Mache embroideries on Pashmina using fine threads and needles to cover the base in intricate designs. Tilla Dozi on the other hand uses metallic threads dipped in gold and silver to cover the base in shimmery classic motifs

Other than embroidery, a shawl can be patterned, printed, ombre dyed, or woven in Kani style. Being feathery light and unusually warm, the shawl looks as beautiful as it is comfortable. Not only shawls but huge demand from all over the world has led artisans to convert Cashmere wool into scarves, stoles, hijabs, handkerchiefs, sweaters, robes, and many more apparel and accessories. 

Pashmina runs in families

Pashmina has been special since it was discovered in the 15th century by Syed Ali Hamdani, who was a Persian saint and had come to visit Kashmir. Along with 700 craftsmen, he was responsible for training locals in handicrafts, one amongst which was Pashmina making. This was the art that was chosen by the most number of people, as it was preferred by royals of that time. Royal courts would have furnishing made in Cashmere. Pashmina was revered by Kashmiris and Kashmiri artisans were respected all over the world. They were the most well-known people of their time. 

Pashmina was back then a family affair. While some women would clean or spin Cashmere, men of the family would weave and embroidered shawls. Hence a Pashmina shawl would be a brand belonging to one or the other family. At a certain time, when the economy fell, women would sell pieces of their Pashmina to make some money. Hence Pashmina has an emotional connection with the people of the valley, and it is such that even after the industry is on the verge of extinction, it is these 70 and 80-year-olds, who haven't let go of it.

Also read: Kashmiri artisans - Hands behind the craft

What is so special about Pashmina Shawls?

Embroidered Pashmina shawls
The balletic gaze of the intricate hand embroidery illicitly defines the charms of the Pashmina shawls

Pashmina shawls, often regarded as the epitome of luxury and elegance, hold a special place in the world of fashion and textiles. These exquisite shawls are cherished for their unparalleled softness, lightweight warmth, and timeless appeal. In this section, we'll uncover what is so special about Pashmina shawls and why they are prized by connoisseurs worldwide.

Origin and Heritage

Pashmina shawls have their origins in the high-altitude regions of the Himalayas, particularly in countries like Nepal, India, and Tibet. They are crafted from the wool of the Changthangi goat, also known as the Pashmina goat, which is native to these harsh and remote terrains. The word "Pashmina" is derived from the Persian word "pashm," which means wool, and it reflects the Persian influence on the trade of these shawls centuries ago.

Exceptional Softness

Stretching the cashmere
Artisan stretching the cashmere to check the fineness of the fibre

What is so special about Pashmina shawls is their exceptional softness. This unparalleled softness is attributed to the fineness of the Cashmere wool fibres, which are incredibly thin, measuring between 12 to 15 microns in diameter. To put it into perspective, these fibres are much finer than a human hair.

The fine diameter of Cashmere fibres allows them to be woven into exceptionally lightweight and soft fabrics. When you touch a Pashmina shawl, you experience a level of softness that is hard to replicate with other materials. The luxurious sensation of draping a Pashmina shawl around your shoulders is akin to being enveloped in a cloud of warmth and comfort.

Warmth Without Bulk

Ombre Pashmina Shawl
Handcrafted in the warps and wefts of the most luxurious fibre in the world, Kashmiri Pashmina

Despite their lightweight nature, Pashmina shawls are renowned for their remarkable warmth. The fine Pashmina fibers have natural insulating properties that trap warm air close to the body, providing an incredible level of warmth without the bulk that often comes with other winter accessories.

This unique combination of softness and warmth makes Pashmina shawls the perfect choice for staying cozy in colder weather without feeling weighed down by heavy layers. They offer a comfortable and elegant solution for warding off winter's chill. As such when patrons ask us "What is so special about Pashmina shawls?", we recommend they wear them once to feel the luxury.

Versatility in Styling

Pashmina shawls are incredibly versatile when it comes to styling. Their generous size allows for a myriad of ways to wear them. You can drape a Pashmina shawl over your shoulders for an elegant and classic look or wrap it around your neck as a scarf for added warmth. The fine fabric drapes beautifully and adds a touch of sophistication to any outfit.

These shawls are equally at home with casual attire or formal wear. Whether you're wearing jeans and a t-shirt or a cocktail dress, a Pashmina shawl can effortlessly elevate your style. The versatility of Pashmina shawls makes them suitable for various occasions, from everyday wear to special events. This versatility answers the question "What is so special about Pashmina shawls?"

Also read: HOW TO WRAP A PASHMINA SHAWL AROUND THE SHOULDER?

A Wide Spectrum of Colours and Designs

Pashmina shawls come in a vast array of colours and designs, ranging from solid, classic shades to intricate patterns. This diversity allows you to find a Pashmina shawl that suits your personal style and complements your wardrobe.

Some Pashmina shawls feature intricate embroidery or hand-painted designs, adding a touch of artistry and craftsmanship to the already luxurious fabric. These details can make each Pashmina shawl a unique work of art.

Cultural Significance

What is so special about Pashmina shawls is their deep cultural and historical significance, particularly in the regions where they are produced. In Kashmir, India, for example, Pashmina weaving has been a traditional craft for generations. The art of crafting these shawls has been passed down through families, and it plays a vital role in the local economy.

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

Pashmina shawls have also been favored by royalty and dignitaries throughout history. They have been exchanged as gifts between leaders and have been worn as a symbol of prestige and honour.

Artisanal Craftsmanship

making of kani pashmina
Making of Pashmina Shawl

The creation of Pashmina shawls involves a labour-intensive and meticulous process. From collecting the wool during the molting season of Pashmina goats to sorting, cleaning, spinning, and weaving, each step is performed with great care and skill by skilled artisans. This feature is so special about Pashmina shawls.

The handcrafted nature of Pashmina shawls adds to their allure. It reflects the dedication and craftsmanship of the artisans who bring these luxurious creations to life.

Investment in Quality

Pashmina shawls are often considered an investment in quality and elegance. While they may come with a higher price tag compared to mass-produced accessories, their durability and timeless appeal make them a valuable addition to your wardrobe.

With proper care, a well-made Pashmina shawl can last for many years, and its classic design ensures that it won't go out of style. This longevity makes Pashmina shawls a sustainable and eco-friendly choice compared to fast fashion trends.

Also read: HOW TO PROPERLY CARE FOR YOUR PASHMINA?

Ethical Considerations

In recent years, there has been an increased focus on ethical and sustainable practices in the production of Pashmina shawls. Concerns about the treatment of Pashmina goats and the environmental impact of overgrazing have led to efforts to promote responsible and sustainable Pashmina production.

Many ethical brands and organizations are working to ensure fair wages for artisans, humane treatment of animals, and conservation efforts in the regions where Pashmina is produced. When purchasing Pashmina shawls, consumers can choose to support these ethical practices. What makes Pashmina shawls so special is the fact that these are easy to produce ethically, as long as manufacturers and sellers remain honest.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Pashmina shawls are special for a multitude of reasons. Their exceptional softness, lightweight warmth, and versatility in styling make them a luxurious and practical addition to any wardrobe. Their rich cultural heritage, artisanal craftsmanship, and timeless appeal add an extra layer of significance to these exquisite accessories.

Pashmina shawls are not just fashion items; they are symbols of elegance, craftsmanship, and cultural heritage. Investing in a Pashmina shawl is not only an investment in quality but also a connection to the traditions and artistry of the Himalayan regions where they originate.

Also read: TURNING THE WAYS FOR THE PLEDGE OF FINEST CASHMERE

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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