The Shimmering Shawls of Kashmir
Fabulous masterpieces to carry.
India is probably the home of shawls. John Irwin of the Victoria and Albert museum, London, tells us: “The Italian traveller Pietro della valle, writing in 1623, observed that whereas in Persia the scial or shawl was worn as a girdle, in India it was more usually carved ‘across the shoulder’. According to Baron Charles Hungel, local tradition has it that the founder of the woven shawl industry in Kashmir was Zain-ulAbidin, called the Akbar of Kashmir.”
The Kashmir shawls are justly world famous for their delicacy of workmanship, the most celebrated being the old “ring shawl”, so named because it can pass through a signet ring.
In woolen materials the most coveted is pashmina, made out of the wool from the under belly of the Himalayan pashmina goat, which this animal grows when it lives 14,000 ft. or more above sea level. The finest is obtained after very selective sorting. The finest is obtained after very selective sorting. The finest is shatush, a soft dreamy fabric that almost melts to the touch. A shatush can be drawn through a ring and is therefore,
called a ring shawl and though extraordinary light, it is nevertheless amazingly warm.
The best grade of fleece, soft, silky and warm, is the aslitus, derived from the wild animals, and collected from shrubs and rocks against which the animals have themselves rubbed off the fleece on the approach of warm weather. This was the fleece used for making the celebrated “ring shawls” of Mughal times.
Amongst shawls, Kashmir holds the world title. The most complex of shawls is called jamavar, from jama, a rabe and vas, yardage. The weaving is somewhat as in tapestrip laborious and time-consuming as numerous kanis or shuttles loaded with rich coloured threads are moved around even in a single weft line because of the constant almost fantastic change of colours which can be even as many as 50 in a single piece and because of the use of a large number of shuttles ( kanis) it is popularly called kani shawl. Dyeing is also a very special job done by specialists. It is said that in the old days something like 300 tints of vegetable extraction were used.
The most important job is the pattern drawing which is transferred to a graph by a highly skilled craftsman, rated higher than a weaver. The colouring is, however, done by the colour caller with black-and-white drawing before him, beginning at the bottom and working upwards, calling out each colour, and the number of warps along which it is required to extend until the pattern is covered. All these designs are then transcribed into a coded pattern that the weavers can decipher and guide others by calling out aloud the number of warp ends to be covered in a particular coloured weft. A second weaver sits on the loom to accelerate the process and the chief weaver recites the weft repeat for him to follow. In some shawls there are two-sided weavers, usually of the same design but sometimes in different colour schemes known as do-rookha.
The mango ( kairy) design, also known in its westernised version as paisley and probably the most popular, is seen in countless varieties. The woven designs are often enhanced by embroidery and one finds the main woven motifs in the background later connected by embroidery. The colour combinations are often fantastic, like magenta with pink, marune with red, a shocking pink against a brilliant turquoise, and so on.
Before the actual weaving of the shawl, six other specialists are concerned in the preliminary preparation: the warp-maker, warpdresser, warp-threader, patterndrawer, colour-caller and the pattern-master.
The warp-maker twists the yarn into the thickness required for the warp, this being generally 2000 to 3000 double-threads; the warpdresser then starches the warp and the warp-threader passes the yarn through the needles of the loom.
The pattern-drawer or naggers is a very important person and receives the highest pay. He may sometimes colour his own designs, but usually this is left to the colourcaller known as the tarah guru. With the drawing in black-and-white before him, the latter calls out each colour, from the bottom upwards, and the number of warps along which it is required to spread. These instructions are noted down by the pattern-master, the ta’lim guru, and translated into a kind of shorthand that the weaver can understand and follow. The above specialists prepare the warp threads of the main part of the shawl, while a separate group similarly prepares the warp for the narrow border.
The Emperor Akbar was a great admirer of Kashmir shawls and started the fashion of wearing them in duplicate ( do-shala) sewn back to back, so that the underside was never seen. Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain.
THE KASHMIR SHAWLS ARE JUSTLY WORLD FAMOUS FOR THEIR DELICACY OF WORKMANSHIP, THE MOST CELEBRATED BEING THE OLD “RING SHAWL”, SO NAMED BECAUSE IT CAN PASS THROUGH A SIGNET RING.