Pashmina refers to what is famously known in the West as “Cashmere” and translates to “soft gold” in Kashmiri. Pashmina is known to be one of the finest cashmere in the world. Though China is the producer of the largest volume of Pashmina, Ladakhi pashmina, with a lower micron count than that of China, is considered the highest grade of cashmere.
Contrary to popular belief, the raw material for Pashmina does not come from sheep’s skin. The frigid climatic conditions in the Ladakh region make the mountain goats develop a layer of super-fine fleece under the thick outer layer of fur. The fleece of goats is combed and not sheared, as the goats shed their fleece in the summer naturally. It is called “Taar” and is very soft and fragile.
The unique trait of Pashmina fabric is that it can only be handspun and handwoven since the fiber is too fragile to be used on power looms.
Pashmina shawls are made of three varying proportions of silk, wool, and pashmina, while the purest form of Pashmina shawl is made with hundred percent pashmina without any additions. Pure pashmina is found in two colors – white and varying shades of brown – which are the natural colors of the goats from which the fleece is obtained.
A plain full-length Pashmina Shawl takes about eight to fifteen days to weave and the duration increases with the intricacy and detailing on the shawl. The embellishments found on Pashmina Shawls are some of the finest works in the world. They majorly contain four types of work on them; Kani, Sozni, Aari, and Tilla.
Kani is an art indigenous to Kashmir and its roots can be traced back to 3,000 BC. The pashmina shawls with Kani needlework adorned the Mughals and were coveted by Caesar. They are known to be unparalleled in their intricacy and detail. A fully embellished Kani Pashmina Shawl takes about twenty-four months to complete and the outcome of this hard work is breathtaking in its detail.
Sozni is considered to be the most complex form of embroidery in the world. Each step in the making of the designs requires a specialist who makes the designs (Naqash), a woodcarver for making stamps, a block printer who stamps them on the fabric (Chapangur), an artisan who does sample embroidery over the print (Tarahguru) and one last person who approves and suggests changes (Voste). Only after the fabric has been taken through all these stages is it given for embroidery.
Aari makes use of “Aar”, a crooked hook that looks like a crochet needle, to sew fine concentric circles that are properly aligned to create the desired patterns. The aari work is differentiated by the number of colors used. Poskar uses more than three colors to sew flowers in full bloom while Roskar makes use of three colored threads for flower buds.
Tilla is the work that is found on the borders of women’s cloaks and uses imitation gold and silver threads. Copper threads also make an appearance in these works.
No matter how many fabrics and weaves come into being, we know that Pashmina will always have its special place in the history of weaves.