How The Magic Is Done - Technique Of Weaving The Pashminas Of Kashmir

Article of the Month - Dec 2022

This article by Prakriti Anand

(Viewed 284 times since Dec 2022)

Transforming fine bits of mountain goat furs into delicate wraps that surpass all other varieties of shawls and luxury fashion wear, the people of Kashmir weave Pashmina. The process and technique of making these indulgent pieces of traditional Indian wear are tedious and elaborate and require almost superhuman levels of patience. Lucky for us, the Kaarigars- Kashmiri craftsmen have mastered this craft along with the art of patience while dwelling in the valley, where Mother Nature herself trains them to be persistent.

Shawls worn by the people of Kashmir are usually “homespun”- made by men and women after collecting wool from the goats, at home. For the high quality, artistically embellished shawls that are appreciated by the refined international and national collectors of Indian luxury items, the production happens in the workshop or “Karkhana” of the master weaver, known as “Ustaad”. The value of the finished Pashmina is assessed by the time that went into the process, the labor dedicated to the different steps of production, and the intricacy of weaving and embroidery.

In Search For The Magic Ingredient: Collecting Raw Wool

The most important part of a Pashmina shawl, the fiber that brings to the woven textile its world-famed seamless silken feel, is collected from the skin of a domestic goat known as Capra hircus, Changthangi, or Changpa. This fiber is known as Pashm, more commonly as Cashmere, and grows naturally beneath the upper layer of the goat’s furs. Besides Pashm, another more delicate fiber is derived from two wild animals- the ibex and the chiru, who are found abundantly in the valley of Kashmir. This is called “tus”, availing which is a challenging task for the collectors.

Magic Of A Woman’s Touch : Processing The Raw Pashm

Once the hardworking collectors have the prized raw material, the coarse tuft needs to be converted into soft yarns. Womenfolk in the Kashmiri household take time from doing their everyday chores and masterfully complete this seemingly artless task. Unprocessed Pashm yarn contains natural oil, which is removed from the fiber by mixing it with rice flour. Each strand of Pashm is separated and placed on a wooden comb, thus removing any dirt or fine impurity from it. The strands are then spun into yarns, doubled, and twisted to give the gentle threads some resistance. During this process, the weavers have to take special care that they do not break too many tufts and yarns, a task which is extremely difficult owing to the fragility of the material.

The yarns are spun on spinning wheels or “yender”, done by women in the warmth of their homes. To process 50 grams of Pashmina, around 20-25 hours are devoted by the women which means that this procedure, much like any other step that undergoes in making a Pashmina shawl, is doable only for those who possess an abundance of skill and perseverance.

Colors from the Valley : Dying the Pashmina

After the yarns are obtained, natural colors are used by the makers to add seamless vibrancy to the Pashmina threads. Adding color to the yarns allows the weavers to have multiple colors on the same threads, which creates gorgeous patterns on the finished products. For some Pashminas, the weavers approach dying once the shawls has been woven, and dye the entire piece in one lovely shade.

Connecting the Threads : Weaving And Embroidery

The weaving of Pashmina takes place in looms placed inside the house of the weavers. Sitting on a bench attached to the loom, a male weaver operates the loom with his feet. The weft yarn (horizontally placed) for the weave is put inside a hollow cylinder, from which it slowly loosens without getting tangled.

Motifs Used In Pashmina

The elaborate patterns on the body of Pashmina shawls are inspired by the blossoming beauty of Kashmir valley- its colorful flowers, birds, animals, and medieval art and architecture. Mughal motifs such as floral vines and paintings of rare and exquisite plants and birds are found in plenty on the Kashmiri shawls. Five petalled flowers or “Punjdar”, a bunch of flowers, “Poshkar”, an almond motif or “Badamgar”, the flower of pomegranate or “gul-e-anar” are some of the floral patterns used by Pashmina craftsmen. Shawls with embroidery visible only on one side, are called “ekrukha”, and more intricately designed shawls on which embroidery appears on both sides are known as “dorukha”.

Based on the technique of embroidery, Pashmina shawls are categorized into-

Kani shawls, in which the thread for creating patterns is woven into the yarns of Pashmina.

Sozani or Sozni Shawl, where the sozankar (artist) stitches patch or herringbone patterns using fine silk threads on the body of the woolen shawls.

Ari or Aari Shawls, which use a specific technique of chain stitch introduced by Akbar. A curved needle or ari is used in creating vibrant motifs on the shawls in this method.

The entire process of creating a single Pashmina shawl can take from a month to an entire year, or even more, depending upon the intricacy of the technique. The wool that is used for Pashmina is produced only once a year, which means the Kashmiri craftsmen and women have to be completely in sync with the clock of Nature. The people of Kashmir engaged in the meticulous craft of weaving Pashminas use the woolen canvas of these shawls to display their love for their region and it is because of the tireless labor of these artists that the beauty of Pashmina continues to charm admirers in the modern world.

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