Pashmina! The word sound like royalty in itself. For over a thousand years the finest craftsmanship of Kashmir artisans' hand spinning and weaving a masterpiece has been a token of sophistication on a different level. The gorgeous and elegant Pashmina shawl has been the statement of class for the elite. From locals of the valley to the royalty of England, it has earned its way in the closet of all. Owning a genuine Pashmina is a dream of all women. Its elegance can transform any dress into a head turner; can make any lady stand tall. Throughout history; kings, queens and other nobility were the only ones who could afford to have shawls made from this ultra luxurious fabric.
It is said that in the 14th century, when a Muslim Saint Mir Ali Hamadani came to Kashmir along with 700 craftsmen from parts of Persia and visited Ladakh for the first time he found that the Ladakhi goats produced soft wool. He took some wool and made socks and gave them as a gift to king of Kashmir, Sultan Kutabdin. Afterwards Shah-e-Hamdan suggested to the king that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool. Ever since, Pashmina shawls have been worn by the royalty and the elites in the region for centuries.
What are you wrapped into?
The word Pashmina is derived from the Persian word Pashm which literally means “soft gold”; a special type of wool derived mostly from the Changthangi goat (capra hircus) indigenous to the Himalayan mountain ranges. Besides the Himalayas, Pashmina goats are also found in China and Mongolia and the fibre hence produced is named after its origin. Pashm is the animal-hair fiber forming the downy undercoat of the Kashmiri goat and is referred to as the King of fibers. The Kashmiri Pashm is considered to be the finest of all fibres with a range 12 – 13 μ and a fibre length of 55 to 60 mm. It is this finesse which lends it its rarity and earns it a special place in the world of luxury fashion. Among all the places it is produced in, it is the Kashmiri Pashmina, pPopularly known in the west by the name Cashmere or Cashmere Pashmina, which is considered as a piece of luxury for the elaborate process of hand spinning and weaving that follows.
The Journey from a Pashm Fibre to a Pashmina Wrap - The Process
Before making its way into the world of luxury fashion, the classical Kashmiri Pashmina traverses a long and elaborate path which begins at an altitude of over 15000 feet somewhere in the mountain regions of Leh, the home to breathtakingly beautiful and rare Changthangi Goats. The Goat, in a regal demeanor, combats the cold climates of the mountains with his rich and plush wool, which comes to be known as Pashm or Soft Gold. The finest of this Pashm is known to grow on the Himalayan Ibex’s underbelly. Come summer and the goat sheds its wool through a natural process before regrowing a fresh fleece at the advent of winter, leaving it behind for the knowers of its worth to gather and process it with utmost skill and dedication. The wool hence collected every year during the period of March to May is harvested using a specialized comb. A manual process of dusting the Pashm follows to remove adhered impurities like sand, dust, and more. The Pashm is then sorted on the basis of its finesse, length, and color. It is this sorting which determines the grade and hence the price at which the Pashmina would later be sold. Generally, a whiter, finer and a longer Pashm fiber what is considered to be the most premium.
The harvested Pashm fiber is then sent to the Valley of Kashmir, where it is about to meet the most skilled of craftsmen who will get it ready for the world to indulge in. On its arrival, the Pashm is first dehaired. The process filters out the outer coat of guard hair for the Pashm to be processed further. Removing the outer guard hair helps improving the appearance, handle and quality of the final product. The dehaired fibre is now fit to be spun into yarns.
The process of spinning the Pashm fibre has traditionally been done by the womenfolk over a Charkha like wheel known as Yinder. Operating the Yinder is altogether a skill of the hand. Women impale the dehaired raw Pashmina repeatedly on an upright comb which is set on a wooden stand. The combed Pashmina is obtained in the form of a Tumb followed by gluing with soaked rice. The Pashm, which is now hand spun is now ready to meet its weaver.
And hence we arrive at the next and perhaps the most important step in the sojourn of the Pashm – its weaving. The weaver first winds the Pashmina yarn on a small flange bobbin manually using Parota. He then sizes the yarn in hank form using Saresh as an adhesive to improve its strength and weavability. The Pashmina yarn is then mounted over a handloom from which it is woven by skilled artisans into warps and wefts to form luxury wraps and apparel. The weave hosts beautiful designs – the Chashm e Bulbul, ribbed weave and more. The wraps or apparel hence conjured is given varied colors using dyes by the Rangur. The luxury Pashmina is then washed and ironed for the final finishing to refine it's grandiose.
The Pashmina hence hand spun and hand woven is styles into a solid pattern. It is then passed onto a Sozni Or Tilla Kaarigar (Artisan of Sozni Or Tilla Embroidery), who crafts intricacies of Kashmiri floral and fauna over its sumptuous base. The resulting piece manifests the meticulous effort of the multitude of people involved in its making and brings true justice to their craftsmanship in terms of its regality and simplistic sophistication.
What is Your Pashmina Type?
With the advent of new technologies, what was initially a pure handicraft now witnesses the intervention of machinery at certain levels. Hence, it becomes imperative to familiarize oneself with its types and what sets them apart.
1. G.I. Certified Pashmina
Kashmiri Pashmina has been registered under the Geographical Indications (G.I) of Good Act of India on 09-12-2008. The registration is an acknowledgment of the fact that the handicraft is unique and is produced in a particular area with traditional knowledge and skills, special to the region. Kashmiri Pashmina G.I. mark labeled product has a covert (readable under UV light) and a visible unique code, which can be searched on www.kashmirpashmina.secure-ga.com to verify authenticity. Specifications for a Kashmiri Pashmina to quality for GI seal are:
a. It should be made of 100% Pashmina Fiber having fineness of below 16 microns and obtained from the under fleece of mountain goat "Capra Hiracus"
b. Handspun on traditional wheel (Charkha)
c. Woven by artisans traditionally and skillful developed unique handloom specific to it.
2. Hand Spun and Hand Woven Pashmina
Handspun over a Yinder and Handwoven over a loom, this variant of Pashmina is the original classic which has been revered across the world for its regality and grandiose. What sets it apart from the GI Pashmina is the certification. The latter is a Certified version of a Kashmiri Pashmina whether the former is not.
3. Machine Spun and Hand Woven Pashmina
This variant of Pashmina witnesses intervention of machinery at their spinning stage. However, our Pashm fibre is so fine, it does not possess the strength to pass through the mechanized giants. Hence, a little portion of poly fibre (preferably nylon) is added to raw Pashmina to give it the strength to pass through machines. Once spun, the entire yarn is carbonized which eliminates the presence of this poly fibre, though not completely. A negligible 5 – 6% of the nylon remains while the yarn proceeds for hand weaving.