Pash­mina: Kash­mir’s Winter Won­der!

Pash­mina and Kash­mir seem to be charm­ing syn­onyms of each other and Brinda Gill tells you just why the re­la­tion­ship be­tween this trea­sured fab­ric and In­dia’s crown state must be ac­knowl­edged and cel­e­brated the world over.

Apparel - - Contents -

Pash­mina shawls in Kash­mir have been tra­di­tion­ally wo­ven from pashm— the soft, un­der-fleece that is combed from the do­mes­tic goat Capra hir­cus that lives in the moun­tains of Ladakh and Ti­bet. Soft to touch and light to drape; plain and lightly em­bel­lished, elab­o­rately em­broi­dered or graced with in­tri­cate wo­ven mo­tifs; and seam­lessly blend­ing weave and em­broi­dery—all these fac­tors con­trib­ute in mak­ing the leg­endary pash­mina shawl epit­o­mise lux­ury and el­e­gance. And it is the beauty of this wool and the hand-work in­volved that has made pash­mina one of the most sought af­ter tex­tiles in the world.


The ori­gins of shawl weav­ing in Kash­mir are traced to the pa­tron­age of Sul­tan Zain-ul-Abidin, who in­tro­duced this art in the val­ley in the 15th cen­tury. The weav­ing of pash­mi­nas flowered with the re­fined aes­thet­ics and pa­tron­age of the sub­se­quent rulers in Kash­mir and this fact is made vis­i­ble in the mo­tifs and pat­tern­ing seen on the pash­mi­nas. Re­flec­tive of the skill of Kash­mir’s craftsper­sons, a va­ri­ety of pash­mina shawls con­tinue to be wo­ven and em­broi­dered in the state and are

avail­able at dif­fer­ent price points. What is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the pash­mina shawl-weav­ing process here is that the en­tire fam­ily gets in­volved in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process. “Weav­ing pash­mina shawls is the main in­dus­try of Kash­mir. As the pashm yarn is del­i­cate, it has to be hand-spun. Hand-spin­ning of wool into yarn is done by women at home. The weav­ing and em­broi­dery of pash­mi­nas is then done by men, work­ing from home. It is a home-based oc­cu­pa­tion, and the young gen­er­a­tion learns from the elders in the fam­ily,” says Zahid Ali, Part­ner, Kash­mir­loom.


Pash­mina shawls are wo­ven by the painstak­ing, dou­ble in­ter­lock twill tapestry tech­nique us­ing nu­mer­ous spools. As each spool is wound with one colour, the weaver can work ei­ther with a limited or a large colour pal­ette. This al­lows him to create shawls with elab­o­rate and in­tri­cate wo­ven mo­tifs in­cor­po­rat­ing sev­eral colours. The use of sev­eral colours in a shawl is a re­flec­tion of the pro­fi­ciency of the weaver, and re­quires im­mense skill and pa­tience. And it is this hered­i­tary skill that has helped the Kash­miri weaver to con­tin­u­ally create weaves as per the re­quire­ments of the mar­ket/client. Sim­i­larly, mas­ter­ing em­broi­dery skills has helped them create elab­o­rately em­broi­dered pash­mina shawls. Most shawls bear one-sided em­broi­dery. Ex­pe­ri­enced em­broi­der­ers also create em­broi­dery that ap­pears sim­i­lar on both faces of the shawl. Skilled em­broi­der­ers create dif­fer­ent mo­tifs on ei­ther side of the shawl by split­ting the warp and em­broi­der­ing a dif­fer­ent mo­tif on each side. An elab­o­rately worked shawl such as this, can take up to two years to com­plete.


The pash­mina mar­ket today has grown to in­clude both the tra­di­tional as well as new styles of pash­mi­nas. “Broadly, there is the lower seg­ment worn by young col­lege stu­dents, then the pure pash­mina seg­ment worn by the older women, and then the col­lectible pash­mi­nas— which may be old or new, elab­o­rately wo­ven/em­broi­dered pash­mi­nas— bought by clients who recog­nise their value and have the bud­get for them,” says tex­tile de­signer So­hel N Weld­ing­wala, Honeycomb In­ter­na­tional bou­tique, Ahmedabad, who stocks old as well as new pash­mi­nas, some of which have been wo­ven or em­broi­dered to his spec­i­fi­ca­tions. In his store, one would find both tra­di­tional-style and con­tem­po­rarystyle pash­mi­nas as he finds that there is a de­mand for pash­mi­nas fea­tur­ing tra­di­tional mo­tifs as well as for those fea­tur­ing checks, stripes and squares; these are in de­mand as some cus­tomers like pure pash­mi­nas with a dif­fer­ent look. So­hel has also taken the ini­tia­tive of hav­ing yarn dyed with vegetable colours, as it is eco-friendly and greatly ap­pre­ci­ated, es­pe­cially by for­eign buy­ers. Among his de­signs are looseweave, 100 per­cent, hand-wo­ven pure pash­mina stoles of 28” by 80”, which are just about 65 gm in weight. Through these steps, he en­deav­ours to craft and pro­mote pure pash­mi­nas and thus de­velop the mar­ket for them.

The team at Kash­mir­loom as well has been bring­ing out new styles of pash­mi­nas, some of which fea­ture metal­lic yarn, and are at the same time re­viv­ing old mo­tifs. “Some of the looms have been up­graded to en­able skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced weavers weave two-layer pash­mi­nas on the loom it­self, which re­sults in two dif­fer­ent colours or pat­terns on ei­ther side of the shawl. We also weave pash­mi­nas with real zari metal­lic yarn that is 95 per­cent sil­ver and 5 per­cent gold. Broadly, the cost for pure pash­mi­nas is R 7,000 for a stole and R 12,000 for a shawl; the price for an elab­o­rately em­broi­dered shawl gen­er­ally os­cil­lates be­tween R 1,50,000 to R 2,50,000 while an elab­o­rately wo­ven shawl is about R 1,50,000,” says Zahid.



Re­cently, over 20,000 pash­mina goats died be­tween Fe­bru­ary-March 2013 in the Changth­ang re­gion of Ladakh due to un­prece­dented and heavy snow­fall. “The loss of such a large num­ber of pash­mina goats in turn, has led to a short­age of pash­mina fi­bre this sea­son and the price of fi­bre has risen. As all pash­mina yarn is hand-spun by women, due to short­age and high prices, hand­spin­ning of yarn will also be ad­versely af­fected and this in turn will af­fect the liveli­hood of the spin­ners”, says Zahid. This sit­u­a­tion has led to other va­ri­eties of wool be­ing sourced from Ti­bet/Mon­go­lia that does not have the fine­ness of pash­mina wool. To ad­dress sim­i­lar nat­u­ral calami­ties in the fu­ture, the Govern­ment of In­dia through its Min­istry of Tex­tiles has launched a ma­jor pro­gramme for the de­vel­op­ment of pash­mina and pash­mina de­vel­op­ers in the Ladakh re­gion dur­ing the 12th Five Year Plan. This plan en­vis­ages a new Pash­mina Wool De­vel­op­ment Scheme with a spe­cial pack­age and fi­nan­cial al­lo­ca­tion of R 41.21 crores.


The trou­bles for the pash­mina in­dus­try don’t just end here! As the pashm yarn is del­i­cate, a 100 per­cent pash­mina shawl can only be hand-wo­ven, and then hand-em­broi­dered. Elab­o­rately wo­ven and em­broi­dered shawls take more than a year to com­plete. How­ever, the mass pro­duc­tion of ma­chine-wo­ven shawls has dented the de­mand for gen­uine pash­mina shawls. “Man­u­fac­tur­ers in Am­rit­sar and Lud­hi­ana mass pro­duce ma­chine-wo­ven shawls fea­tur­ing sim­i­lar mo­tifs and colour com­bi­na­tions. These shawls are priced much lower than hand­crafted pash­mi­nas and are mar­keted as pash­mina shawls. How­ever, it is just not pos­si­ble for a hand­crafted pash­mina to be priced so low,” says Zahid. He fur­ther ex­plains that there is no reg­u­la­tion re­gard­ing the fi­bre con­tent of pash­mi­nas. “So while Kash­miri pash­mi­nas are ei­ther 100 per­cent pash­mina yarn or a blend of pash­mina and silk yarns, there are man­u­fac­tur­ers who use 5 per­cent pash­mina yarn and 95 per­cent syn­thetic yarn to ma­chineweave shawls in pash­mina colours and mo­tifs; some­times they even use or­di­nary wool and silk! These shawls look at­trac­tive and are in­ex­pen­sive; and with the con­sumer not know­ing bet­ter, he/she is fooled. This has af­fected the de­mand for au­then­tic Kash­miri pash­mi­nas,” says Zahid. “While there is a good de­mand for pash­mi­nas in In­dia and around the world, there is also the need to create greater aware­ness about pure pash­mi­nas, i.e. pash­mi­nas that are made with 100 per­cent pashm yarn and are 100 per­cent hand-made in terms of the weave, em­broi­dery and fin­ish­ing. The soft­ness, tex­ture and look of a pure pash­mina shawl is com­pletely dif­fer­ent to one which is a blend of other yarns or is not 100 per­cent hand­made. This dis­tinc­tion has to be made and con­veyed to cus­tomers”, says So­hel.


Pash­mina craftsper­sons strongly re­it­er­ate the need for cre­at­ing aware­ness about au­then­tic pash­mi­nas and the ef­fort that goes into craft­ing one of them, in or­der to make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence to the de­mand. Sev­eral craft or­gan­i­sa­tions are tak­ing ef­forts to pro­mote au­then­tic pash­mina weaves by sourc­ing them di­rectly from craftsper­sons. Neela Shinde, Mem­ber, Mum­bai-based Param­parik Kari­gar, an or­gan­i­sa­tion of tra­di­tional master craftsper­sons, ex­plains, “Param­parik Kari­gar pro­motes tra­di­tional craftsper­sons from across the coun­try to nur­ture their craft. The or­gan­i­sa­tion

en­cour­ages the weavers of Kash­mir to con­tinue weav­ing pash­mina shawls that fea­ture tra­di­tional mo­tifs as well as new pat­terns or colours. Through ex­hi­bi­tions, the or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides pash­mina weavers with a plat­form to gen­er­ate aware­ness about the tex­tile as they in­ter­act with the cus­tomers. Over time, as buy­ers have learnt that au­then­tic pash­mi­nas are avail­able at the Param­parik Kari­gar ex­hi­bi­tions and that the ben­e­fits reach the craftsper­sons as well, these ex­hi­bi­tions have been re­ceiv­ing a good re­sponse. Fur­ther, as there are a va­ri­ety of pash­mi­nas in terms of work and prices, the pash­mi­nas ex­hib­ited, cater to the re­quire­ments of a num­ber of dif­fer­ent cus­tomers.”


Along with cre­at­ing aware­ness, a sus­tained brand­ing ex­er­cise needs to be un­der­taken in or­der to ed­u­cate cus­tomers about true pash­mi­nas as well as to en­cour­age the pash­mina weav­ing in­dus­try. As the word ‘pash­mina’ is used by man­u­fac­tur­ers of mass-pro­duced pash­mina im­i­ta­tions that have a low per­cent­age of or some­times no pashm yarn, pash­mina craftsper­sons feel there should be a reg­u­la­tory body that in­sists on shawls bear­ing a la­bel that clearly states the com­po­si­tion of yarns used, the name of the pro­ducer and that the weave is a Kash­mir pash­mina. “The govern­ment should step in to work on the Ge­o­graph­i­cal In­di­ca­tion of pash­mina shawls. This will give the Kash­miri craftsper­sons an iden­tity. There are many skilled and ex­pe­ri­enced pash­mina weavers in Kash­mir and this move will help them and the in­dus­try in Kash­mir, and will also en­cour­age the younger gen­er­a­tion to take up the craft. If the next gen­er­a­tion is dis­cour­aged from sourc­ing a liveli­hood by weav­ing pash­mi­nas, the in­dus­try and the craft will be af­fected,” warns Zahid.

Pash­mina needs to be greatly cred­ited with in­creas­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of Kash­mir as a vi­brant tourist state and is a clas­sic winter rage on the fash­ion scene too! And as such, the In­dian govern­ment must take the nec­es­sary steps that are needed to keep this craft alive and flour­ish­ing.

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