The term pashmina has in recent years become corrupted by its use to describe cheap manufactured scarves from other parts of India and the Far East. But, if we are interested in finding the true meaning of pashmina, we must look to Kashmir and to the work of the artisans whose families have had their skills passed down to them over seven generations since the time of the Murghal Empire.
A real pashmina, hand-embroidered by a Master craftsman is becoming increasingly rare to find as Kashmir becomes politically isolated from the rest of the world. ‘Door to the Himalayas’ would like to introduce you to just a few of the artisans who are engaged in the craft of pashmina.
1.Collecting Pashmina wool
The Pashmina journey begins early summertime when Himalayan farmers from remote Himalayan villages climb up into the mountains to comb the soft fleecy under bellies to collect the wool of the Lena Rama a wild goat that lives mostly in the Chang Thang area of Ladakh. (not to be confused with ‘Shatoosh’).
2.The Hand spinning process
The wool is far too delicate for mechanical spinning and weaving processes and so it is carefully hand spun by thousands of women across Kashmir who like Rubeena (pictured below) are highly skilled in this task. The finer the thread, the finer the shawl. Watching Rubeena’s face light up as the thread spins ever longer is an absolute joy!
The hand-weaving process is usually done by men highly skilled in working with fine threads of pashmina. These threads are so delicate that it is impossible for them to be machine woven.
Since childhood, the three Mazoor brothers have been weaving together at home in Srinagar. With approximately 2,200 warp threads and 100,000 weft they can proficiently produce a pashmina shawl in one week!
The next stage in the process involves the hand-block printing of design on to the fabric. Each individual design has a name and some blocks date are over a hundred years old and have been passed down through families for generations. Other blocks are newer and more modern in design.
The process involves the use of a temporary natural black ink which is first placed onto the hand, and then the block is patted several times into the hand before it is pressed onto the fabric. It is a very fast and incredibly accurate process.
Abdul Wahid and Abdul Hameed are two brothers who have been working together in their hand-block printing studio since childhood.
They work on all fabrics, from silk saree fabric to fine wools, cashmere and pashmina.
5. Hand embroidery
The printed shawl is now passed on to be hand embroidered. For fine pashmina this is mainly the work of the master craftsmen (65-85 years old) such as Noor- Mohd–Ganayee, Gulam Hader, Karim Abdullah and Galam Nabi. All experts and passionate about ‘keeping the art of their fingers alive’.
A high quality fully hand embroidered ‘ Jamawar’ shawl can take up to three and a half years to embroider and in that time the piece becomes ‘like a friend' to the craftsman .
6. Washing and pressing
Finally the shawls are gently washed in a cold, mild detergent solution to remove the dye and dirt that will have gathered over the months and years in production. Dried and pressed they are finally ready for sale. In total the process involves 9 families all specialists in their particular area.
At ‘Door to the Himalayas’; we select directly from Srinagar (the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir) to bring you the very finest samples of Kashmiri work. Therefore, we aim to ensure that a fair price for both yourself, the consumer, and the craftsmen and women.
When we purchase a fine shawl or scarf, whether it be in fine wool, cashmere or luxurious pashmina, we know that not only are we providing a livelihood to many families, but we are also helping to keep this age-old tradition alive. See the hand embroidered pashminas in the shop.