The basic fabric of the Shawl can be wool, silk, cotton, linen etc. The woolen shawls that comes from Kashmir is a Royal Possession of every person in India and Abroad since ages. Different kinds of wool are used to make shawls. The simple Kashmir wool, the finer Kashmir wool called ‘Pashmina’ which is very famous for it’s warmth and softness, it comes from the special specie of the Himalayan goat. The Government has set up height altitude farms for the breeding of the goats in the higher reaches of Kashmir and Ladakh. Wool is sheared from these goats twice a year and maximum wool do come locally from the tribals of Ladakh.
Every process involved in making Pashmina shawls is all manual and no machine or artificiality is involved. It is all done by the hands of both men and women of the Srinagar. Spinning is done by women and weaving, working and embroidery is done by men. We manufacture and export large quantities of shawls ranging from 15$ to 1000$ U.S. Huge range of qualities from 100% Merino wool, to the finest of Pashmina’s are available. You can have these shawls plain or embroidered or special custom designed. We make shawls on order to suit every taste and eye. High range of colours are available and designs are traditional, classic as well as new modern designer wear. Right now different types of Pashmina have taken the world by storm. You can have the following varities of Pashminas to suit your status and taste. Pashmina/silk
The shawl weaving industry of Kashmir is as old as its hills. It is to be believed that the industry flourished in the days of the “Korvas” and “Pandavas” and that the shawls of Kashmir reached as far as Rome wherein, they adorned the local beauties particularly those in the Caesar’s court. The industry suffered several setbacks over the ages, but, it was due to the efforts of Shah-e-Hamdan, the renowned central Asian Saint, that, shawl making as an industry was revived, on a large scale in the later part of the 14th century. Syed Ali Hamadani, who introduced Islam in Kashmir, brought with him nearly 700 pious and saintly disciples mostly artisans and craftsmen – who were spread all over the valley, not only to popularize Islam as a faith, but also to teach and train the local people in the making of various arts and crafts, which would one day be world famous. His arrival in Kashmir was the beginning of a total & complete revolution, encompassing all aspects of life in the valley, and its requirements – social, economic & cultural.
However, it was during this period, during the reign of Zain-Ud-Abidin the most beloved Badshah (King) of Kashmir, that, the shawl weaving industry reached its peak. It was their, beloved king, who breathed life back into a dying enterprise by encouraging and popularizing it as a cottage industry. It is he who taught people to work in their homes during winter and earn a living. It is therefore, no wonder, that this period is widely recognized as a New Era in the history of the shawl industry of Kashmir.
What gives this beautiful, woven fabric its fine silky texture. A special wool known as Pashmam. Pashmam comes from the flossy undercoat/ fleece of a Domesticated Tibetian Goat, who has its habitat in the Himalayan region of China, Tibet, Ladakh and Kashmir. This special wool grows beneath the rough outer layer hair of the animal mainly in the area of its belly. This handsome animal resembling a mountain goat (slightly bigger than a deer), has long horns & is about 85 cms tall at its shoulders. It lives at an altitude of 12000-14000 ft. above sea level where the winter is extremely severe.
The Making of the Pashmina Shawl
The Pashmina shawl has to roughly pass through 36 stages of work to reach its final shape wherein it becomes ready for use. As many as 36 categories of skilled and semiskilled professionals are involved in the process of the making a Pashmina Shawl.
1 ) Collection of Raw material
The first step in the process, consists of collecting the raw material from high altitude regions in the Himalayas. As soon as summer sets in the tribal of Kashmir, Ladakh, parts of China, etc. go to the higher regions to collect mostly by batter system, the raw material. They usually travel with the flake by flake. The raw wool thus collected is handed over to its collector-buyer in the hilly to townships who pass it on to the traders in the Srinagar. While a big quantity of the raw material is collected in the Ladakh region, the bulk of it comes from Tibet and other parts of China via the mountain passes. The concerned traders in Srinagar sort it out according to grades and shades before fixing its price strand-wise. The raw material is then sold out to petty shop-keepers who are known as “Phumb-Wain”-Wool retailers. They are called petty shopkeepers because if our costs a casual glance at such a shop, one would find a lonely man sitting idle in a corner of his shop with no merchandise around except a small cloth bag and jute bag. However it is in these bags that he stores his valuable merchandise-1/2 kg of material in the cotton bag and a kg or more of Pashmina, a less costly wool, in the jute bag. A small old type balance hangs in front of him and three four long birch stick above him in the ceiling. The stick has different shades of the costly raw material wound on it to serve the purpose of a show-case. The love shopkeeper is usually seen either separation rough bain from the soft stuff or counting threads of the yarn spun by the poor lady who sits in front of him expectantly, accompanied, on occasions, by a small boy of her household. It is normal practice for such ladies to receive a fresh supply of the raw material for spinning as soon as they hand over to the “Phumb Wain” the yarn spun by them over a period of time.
As a gesture of good will, the boys accompanying the ladies are rewarded with the couple of coffers after the buying and selling process is completed. The ladies too receive some money by way of charges for spinning after the cost of the fresh supply is deducted from it.
2 ) Spinning
The process of spinning the world’s most expensive shawl “The Pashmina” starts in the house of a poor lady. Women above the age of 40yrs., are generally engaged in spinning which is a time consuming process, requiring a lot of efforts and patience. The process begins with the sifting of the rough hair & the soft hair. The other members of the family lend a helping hand. The soft raw wool is stretched carefully, bit by bit, to complete the process known as “Puch Nawun”. The raw material is then rid of dirt and dust with the help of a 4″ wide comb mounted on a foot operated wooden stand. This operation is known as “Absawun”. When the raw material is thoroughly combed and cleaned, it is then placed in an oval shaped engraved wooden trough (known as Tathal in the local language) roughly three feet long.
Some quantity of broken rice is soaked in water for some time before it is coarself powered with a stone pestle and sprinkled over the combed wool. The powered shift is known as “Khari Oat” and stone pestle as “Kajwath”. The wooden trough containing the combed wool mixed with rice powder is kept aside for three to four days. Though the web rice powder emits a foul smell, it makes the raw wool whiter and softer. That is how our ancestors treated the raw material and the practice is still in vogue. The spinning is usually started on a Saturday, the first working day of the week for the local artisans and craftsmen. It is also considered auspicious. The eldest lady of the house sits in a corner of the room early in the morning and spinning wheel is placed before her. As a rule, alms are given to the local needy or itinerant beggars before the lady starts her spinning wheel. The spinning wheel which is locally known as “Yander” is made of wood, it is three feet long with a wheel on its right side and a thin iron rod about a foot long called “Yander Tal” fixed in two grass spindles called “Kaun”, on its left side. The iron rod is connected to the wheel with a piece of which serves as a beef.
A piece of straw (known as “Sochne Tul”) is mounted on the thin side of the iron rod and the yarn spun by the lady is wound on it to facilitate its removal from the rod when each round of the spinning process is completed. The lady holds a woollen puff in her two left hand fingers supported by the thumb as the operation spinning begins with the turning of the wheel. While turning the wheel to the left, the arm of the lady goes up and down rhythmically without much effort to spin the delicate yarn. During spinning the delicate yarn gets cut a number of times, but the lady at the wheel restores it painstakingly, yet promptly. She repeats the exercise till the round is complete, yielding a small quantity of the soft, delicate yarn.
3 ) The Yarn
The yarn mounted on a piece of straw is called a “Phamb Leeat”. Three or four such mounted straws are kept in an earthen bowl called “Kondul” marking the beginning of the second phase when it is turned and twisted. On the wheel to make it foreplay and thus firm yet fine. So spun, the yarn is then mounted on a wooden spool known a “Prechh” wherefrom it is transferred on its edges. Locally it is known as “Yaeran Doul”. The yarn is called “Pun” (thread). Ten rounds of the yarn tied together with a cotton thread at one or two points (known as gand) serves as a unit paid to the spinner is always proportionate to the fineness of the yarn, the finer variety always brings in more money. A bunch of yarn is known as “Puyoe”. It is usually sold to the shopkeeper from whom the raw material had been purchased. At this point, the buying pattern changes from weighing to counting. Two knots (Gand) of yarn numbering twenty threads are called a “Jora” (Two). It is in the process of counting that unlettered women artisans get at times cheated at the hands of unscrupulous buyers. Payment for the staff bought is made as per the market rate per “Jora”. Ordinarily, a women worker can spin ten to fifteen grams of Pashmina in a day.
4 ) The Weave
Now begins another phase of the process of production. The shopkeeper (Phamb Wain) sorts out the spun stuff purchased by selling it to the weaver jorawise. The weaver, in turn, sorts it out from the view point of shade and fineness. Finally the spun yarn is used as warp and the thick yarn as weft. The weaver then counts the stuff jorawise and weighs it, before making entries in a registered maintained for the purpose. The yarn is then put in a home-made starch which consists mainly boiled rice-water known as “Maya”. It stays like that for a couple of days in a copper bowl called “Dul” before it is spread out in sunshine to dry. The dried yarn is then untied and mounted on a wooden spool known a “Preeh” and the process is known as “Tulun” which is generally completed in open spaces. Four to six iron rods about 4 feet in length are driven into the ground, at a shaded spot by two persons working in opposite directions.
5 ) Fixing of Threads in SAAZ
The yarn is then taken to another expert called “Bharan Ghour “. “Bharan” means to inset and “Ghour” stands for the concerned worker. This expert takes a week or so to fix each thread of the warp in the Saaz. Thereafter the “Saaz” is taken to the weaver home where he mounts it on the loom locally known as “wan” with the help of other artisans. The loom is a tiny frame made of old unpolished wood with four to eight slings below the weaver feet. A wooden plank of fixed at the back of the loom with the help of cotton string serves as a bench for the weaver. The weft is made into cones mounted on the straws by using the ages old practice of transferring the yarn from the wooden spool to the spinning wheel. The cone of the yarn is known as “Moakh”.
6 ) Weaving
Now starts the weaver job. He begins his work on a Saturday. He invokes Gods help and blessings as soon as he sits on the improvised bench and goes on humming a tune throughout the day. Working on the loom keeps both his hand and feet busy. A competent weaver can ordinarily weave three to four inches of cloth in a workday of 8 hours. Physical fitness and mental alertness coupled with steadfastness are the essential attributes of a good weaver. For weaving ordinary cloth, the weaver uses four paddles but in the case of cloth with the design like “Chashmir Bubbul”(eye of the nightingale) he has to use all the eight paddles below his feet. In the process of weaving the shuttle in thrown from left to right carefully. Due to delicacy of the thread it often snaps and it has to be refixed with extra threads that hang about in the front of the loom. During the weaving process there is about 10% wastage of thread/fiber. The woven cloth is called “Than”.
After the fabric is dismounted from the loom it is immediately washed in herbal soap called REANTHA C (Small black nuts). After this, the cloth passes over to the person called “PURZHHAR” for clipping, this is a rather delicate job. It demands lot of meticulousness. The Purzghar mounts the cloth tightly on two round wooden trunks, about two feet in diameter and four feet long these are called “MOUND” the cloth is stretched on two sides of log with about a one meter wide gap between the two logs. He performs the finishing, with a twizer called “WOUCH” which is about 2 inches wide with a four inch long handle. The extra uneven and loose threads are removed carefully. About a half meter of cloth is finished in a day, by an expert. The cloth is brushed by a special natural brush obtained from a maize plant called “KASHER” or Cob!
7 ) Washing
Now the cloth goes for the final washing. The professional washerman called “DHOBI” washes the cloth in running water with natural soap. The washed cloth goes for the final finishing on the “CHARAK”, which is a wooden frame about 2ft. x 4ft. with two wooden rods 6″ in diameter, attached at the corners. The cloth is rolled on the frame kept for few days and finally ironed, now the cloth is ready for sale. The cloth is sold to stores by agents called “DRAL”. The final price is fixed by calculating the labour from petty shopkeepers, who lend out fibre for washing to the broker as well as covering the cost of the raw material. The cloth is sold by yards or by a piece.
8 ) Selling of Cloth
The cost of the raw material for the Pashmina could range anywhere from Rs5000/- to Rs10000/- a kg. The minimum micron being 11 to 15 about 1100 to 1800 threads are used for the best quality in warp. The hair separated from the raw material is sold to the ragsellers by shopkeeper in the batter system by weight, either for dry sift or for utensils. They in turn sell it to the felt makers who mix it with wool and make the “Namda” rugs.
9 ) Dying
The Pashmina Shawl is manufactured in different varieties, such as plain, double colour, stripes etc. To make the colours the thread is dyed first and then woven. While the plain cloth can be dyed later also. As natural dyes have become distinct the German dyes are in practice. Now once again we are reviving the natural dyes.
10 ) Embroidery
The embroidery on the Pashmina is a complete fashion in itself. Usually senior craftsman past the age of forty are engaged after being screened and tested for the purpose. Workers with good hand writing are preferred. The shawl is taken to a special drawing master for designs, he is called “NAQASH”. After the designs are sketched, the fabric goes to the master craftsman, who creates the colour schemes while several more craftsman approve the same. The time taken by a single shawl to get embroidered, ranges from two to five years depending upon the density of embroidery demanded by the design. During the process a craftsman’s fingers get swollen if he works continuously for a long time. He has to work on different material for a change to avoid nimble fingers from getting damaged.
Silk thread is used for embroidery. The craftsman has to twist the raw/silk as per the requirement and size of needle hole. Interestingly so, the thread is put in needle by twisting it with the leftover thread to avoid the knots on either side of fabric, such is the intricacy of the fabric. By the embroidery the craftsmans vision also gets affected. His day starts at 5 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. His food is served at the break, in the working room only. At times when an old craftsman dies while working on a shawl, it becomes difficult to find a suitable person with a matching hand to complete the shawl. The embroidery worker is least paid in the shawl industry. Though many craftsman have earned honours and laurels for their craftsmanship, the contemporary generation, are not lured in this direction due to the meagre wages that they are paid.
11 ) The Elegance of Pashmina
The Pashmina shawl is soft, very warm, elegant and very imperial in its looks. It has the real pride of Kashmiri craftsman and is regarded as a status symbol by those who adorn it. The cashmere switers that are made in Scotland and other places are not real Pashmina. It is a blended yarn spun that is imported from China and woven only, but cannot compete with the Kashmir Pashmina.
Huien Tsang the Chinese traveller admired the delicacy and softness of the Pashmina, indicating that its origin dates back a very long time. THIS SHAWL IS AN HEIRLOOM THAT GAINS VALUE FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION. Yet another precious marvel in textiles from Kashmir is “Jamawar Shawls”, it is woven on wooden needles these shawls were woven till early nineteenth century, but now the craftmanships exists no more. These shawls are antiques and sold as antiques.
The Pashmina is a precious and rare gift of God to the people of Kashmir, the land of Moses and Jesus with the blessings of many saints who bestowed on the artistic and patient people who undertake the cumbersome yet marvellous art of Pashmina manufacture. This they do despite the low returns. The artisans ( weavers & craftsman) and sellers are mostly polite, tolerant, noble and pious and every one of them tries to save from their earnings to undertake the Hajj Pilgrimage “to Maccca”. In the sixth century AD there were few traders in Kashmir who had links with the outside world, Shaw Brothers is one of such firms founded by our forefathers in 1840. Actually our ancestors travelled to Kashmir all the way from BUKHARA of Central Asia. It was during the tenure of the great king BUD SHAH (A testimony to this engraved on the epitaph in the kings graveyard where our ancestor has the title MALIK UL TIJAR (Master of trade).
It was during the last century that traders came down to big cities in India, during winter times with their merchandise for selling it to the rich & elite clientele of royal and social standings, where they were invitees in their homes. In Calcutta elephants used to be sent to receive the famous traders. This trade is called hawking, and continues to this date. We are the fifth generation carrying forward the same business. We are encouraged to enter in to the same trade and make it embark on modern lines. The techniques and traditions have a nostalgic flavour and we are trying to be innovative explore the market and control the quality which is very challenging. There is an old saying that this trade should have the Longitivity of NOAH, Tolerance and Patience of JACOB and the Treasure of HAROON and same is true. To come forth, and fulfill these, demands a lot of fortitude in the contemporary fast ages.