Kashmiri Pashmina, often known as Pashmina, is an extraordinary fabric cherished for its softness and warmth. It was once worn by kings and queens, and Kashmiri Pashmina is still seen as a lavish material. This unique fabric is made by skilled craftspeople in Kashmir, India. They have been passing down their knowledge for generations. Pashmina shawls, in particular, are known for their timeless beauty, and making them by hand requires great skill.
The word “Pashmina” comes from a Persian word, “Pashm” which means wool. Pashmina is made from the wool of a special kind of goat found in the high mountains of the Himalayas. These goats can handle extremely cold temperatures, even as low as -40º Celsius.
History and Origins
Pashmina shawls from Kashmir were famous in ancient Rome, around 2,000 years ago. But it was in the 15th century, during the time of a Kashmiri king named Zain-ul-Abidin, that Pashmina shawls really took off. He encouraged weavers to try new things, which led to beautiful designs appearing on plain shawls.
In the 16th century, the Mughal Empire in India was thriving, and so was the Pashmina shawl industry in Kashmir. King Babur, who started the Mughal Empire, gave special robes made with expensive fabrics, including Pashmina, as a Sign of Honor. These robes became very fashionable among important people. The weaving of Pashmina shawls reached its highest level of artistry, with detailed embroidery. At its peak, about 40,000 people were working in the shawl industry in Kashmir.
By the 18th century, Pashmina shawls were a big hit in Europe, especially in France. It all began when a governor of Kashmir sent an Orange Pashmina shawl to someone in Iran. Eventually, it reached the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. His wife, Josephine, wasn’t impressed at first, but once she tried it on, she was amazed at how warm and delicate it felt. She ended up owning hundreds of Pashmina shawls and spent a fortune on them. This made Pashmina very popular in Europe. In fact, Empress Josephine gets credit for making Pashmina shawls famous there.
Influence In Europe
Interestingly, in India, only men used to wear these shawls, but in Europe, they became a must-have for women. They named the fabric “Cashmere” after the place it came from – Kashmir ( because they cant pronounce Shit Right ). Pashmina became so loved that there was even a rule in 1846 saying that the princely state of Kashmir had to send Three Pashmina shawls to Queen Victoria every year.
As Pashmina’s popularity grew in Europe, so did the number of imitations and cheaper copies. The British tried to create similar raw material, even by bringing the Changthangi goats to England. They also tried using other materials like Australian Merino wool and silk, but it wasn’t the same as real Pashmina. Machine-made copies started showing up in Paisley, Scotland, and while they weren’t as good as the original, they became popular because they were cheaper. This led to people asking for the imitation shawls instead of the real ones.
Pashmina Goats and Their Keepers
The Changthangi goats live in the Changthang Plateau, way up in the mountains. They’re taken care of by Changpa nomads, who are always on the move, searching for grasslands for their animals. These goats are crucial for the Changpa people’s survival in this tough environment. In this community, having a lot of animals means you’re well-off. Families usually have around 80 to 100 goats, along with some sheep and yaks.
For the Changpa people, goats are very important. They see them as a sign of having enough money. During the cold winters, the goats grow thick, warm fur. When spring comes, the Changpa gently comb the goats to collect the Pashmina wool that naturally falls off. This process doesn’t hurt the goats at all. They only take the wool from the neck area. The wool from one goat is really special. It takes the wool from three goats to make one Pashmina shawl.
The Making of Kashmiri Pashmina
The journey from raw Pashmina wool to a beautiful Pashmina shawl is quite a process. After combing, the raw wool is carefully cleaned by hand to get rid of any dirt. Then, it’s combed and sorted by how fine it is.
The best quality yarn is made from the longest and finest Pashmina fibers. Traditionally, this yarn is spun by hand using different tools. In Kashmir, they use wooden wheels called “Yender”. In Ladakh, they use a special spindle made of willow wood called “Phang”. It used to be mainly women’s work to learn how to spin wool, but now machines are being used more.
The yarn is then set up on wooden looms and woven into Pashmina fabric using traditional methods. One of the most popular patterns for Pashmina shawls is the diamond pattern. The natural colour of the Pashmina fabric is usually beige-brown or cream-white. After weaving, the Pashmina fabric is dyed by hand to create the solid-coloured shawls that are so well-known. Besides shawls and scarves, Pashmina fabric has been used for centuries to make blankets, gloves, hats, and even outer coats.
For those who want an even more special touch, Pashmina shawls can be decorated with delicate needlework that’s been passed down for generations. Master craftsmen use different styles of embroidery to turn a shawl into a true work of art.
While Kashmir is where Pashmina weaving is most famous, other places like Basholi in Jammu, and the Bhotiya community in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, have also played a part in its history. Munsyari in Uttarakhand, for example, is known for making some of the finest Pashmina in the world. And Ladakh, with its unique spindle, offers a slightly thicker but equally charming version of Pashmina.
Pashmina accessories are famous for being incredibly soft and keeping you warm. They come in different sizes, from regular scarves to big shawls.
In the 1990s, everyone went crazy for Pashmina shawls, especially in Kashmir where they’re called “Pashmeen”. So many people wanted them that there weren’t enough to go around. During this time, some companies didn’t play fair. They sold things as Pashmina that weren’t really Pashmina. Some shawls had a mix of cashmere and silk, while others even had regular sheep’s wool in them. Some companies were even more sneaky and sold shawls made from fake materials like viscose, but they still called them “Pashmina”. This was confusing for people because it didn’t really mean what it was supposed to mean.
The journey of creating Kashmiri Pashmina is a true masterpiece of artistry. Starting in the mountains of Changthang, it has traveled from rugged terrains to local markets, making its way into the hearts of people around the world.
Here, Check Our Post on Kashmiri Handicrafts: The Rich Artistry Of Srinagar.
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