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Pashmina - A Prized Possession from the Valley of Flowers

by Sundari Silks 21 May 2021
Pashmina - A Prized Possession from the Valley of Flowers

A 15th-century Kashmiri craft of weaving woollen fabric, Pashmina translates to 'gold wool' in Persian and is practised by the highly skilled craftspeople of this region using time-honoured techniques. This rare and revered fabric has a magical allure and regal demeanour making it highly sought after across the globe. Not just in the present day, but even far back in history, this handwoven treasure flourished under the patronage of the royals and nobles. Its origin can be traced back to the Mughal rule but over time its aesthetics and design style was subject to the influence of the French.

Pashmina is believed to be one of the finest art forms in the world and is held in high regard for its complex techniques and pristine quality. Derived from the Urdu/Persian word ‘Pashm’, it refers to the fleece or wool obtained from the Changthangi Goats that are only reared in Ladakh, 15000 feet above sea level. The wool is collected during spring when the goats shed their coats and subsequently grows back during the winters. The exotic wool goes through a time-consuming spinning process, before which it is treated in a mixture of rice water to give it the highest degree of softness. Its signature earthy colour palettes are obtained from organic dyes made of indigo, lac, sunflower and saffron. This is followed by multiple processes consists of hand-spinning the yarn and decorating it with traditional Tilla Dozi and Sozni embroideries.

The weaving process called Wonun starts with combing out of the fleece and separating it into individual fibres, along with 15 more intricate steps. The completed weave is washed in spring water by striking it repeatedly against a smooth stone, which gives it the renowned gossamer and gleam. If one observes the deft and expert movements, the weaver works similar to a pianist by simultaneously using both hands and feet. Each step along the way is distinct and unique to this craft. An authentic Pashmina embroidered fabric is said to resemble a twill tapestry, where the designs are traced and imprinted on the fabric before the artisan begins the handiwork. 

Exotic and exuberant, the designs and motifs embroidered by hand on a Pashmina textile are the living legacies of the centuries-old weaving families. Iconic patterns adorn the body of this weave that rose to prominence through the royal patronage of Mughal emperors, French monarchs and the regional Maharajas. The most beloved motifs of this weave include Khat-Rast (a striped pattern that runs across the length of the fabric), Paisley (an iconic mango-shaped design, also known as ambi), Zanjeer (a horizontal border resembling a chain and enclosing the main motifs) and Cypress (a cluster of flowers and leaves emerging from a single stem).

An expensive and exquisite weave, Pashmina requires a great deal of care and attention to retain its delicate nature and expert handiwork. Right from washing to folding to storing, the right steps must be followed. One such special trick passed down through generations is to avoid hanging your Pashmina weave in the closet as it can cause the fabric to stretch and lose its shape. Instead, fold and stack it to keep the fabric crisp. At Sundari Silks, we seek to bring forth the essence of India through our collection of handcrafted weaves and also by opening up a platform for our community to learn more about its rich culture and heritage.
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