History of Kashmir textile crafts
The Kashmir region of India is famous for its shawls and textiles known for extraordinarily beautiful designs and exquisite materials. The history of shawl and textile art of Kashmir goes back more than 700 years. According to a UNESCO report from 2014, it was the Iranian born Syed Ali Hamadani who shaped the culture, architecture, arts and crafts of Kashmir. Hamadani brought special skills and knowledge to Kashmir that gave birth to an entire industry. In 14th century Mir Ali Hamadani came to Kashmir along with 700 craftsmen from parts of Persia. He also went to Ladakh, and for the first time in history the extra soft wool produced by Ladakhi goats was discovered by him. Hamadani, after giving a pair of socks knitted from cashmere wool to the local king as a present, suggested to the ruler that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this soft wool.
The earliest documentary references to the Kashmir shawl industry appear in literature of Akbar’s reign (A.D. 1556-1605). By the 16th Century the Kashmir shawl industry had become a well-established one, and it was King Akbar who promoted the manufacture of shawls in Kashmir. The Emperor was an admirer of the shawls who not only kept his wardrobe well stocked with them, but also introduced some new ways of wearing these shawls. During this period the Kashmiri shawls were already popular gifts to send to distant countries. For instance, King Akbar also presented a gift of Kashmir jamawar shawl to the Queen of England.
Kashmir shawls were first worn in fashionable circles in the West in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, and by 1800 the shawl trade between Kashmir and the West was well established. Shawls from Kashmir were also mentioned in the early records of the English East India Company as being useful articles of bribery. Imports from the East India Company in the first half of the 17th century made paisley and other Indian patterns so popular, and the Company was unable to import enough to meet the demand.
The shawls became a highly desirable and stylish accessories among European women, especially after Empress Josephine famously received Kashmir shawls as gifts from Napoleon. The popularity of the Kashmir shawls in Europe was also related to the romantic ideas and an illusion of the ‘mysterious and unchanging East.’
Cashmere or Pashmina? Authentic Viscose Pashmina?
Shawls from Kashmir are made using different materials such as regular sheep wool, silk, mixture of silk and cotton or other materials. The most famous material coming from Kashmir is pashmina. However, most people don’t exactly know what pashmina is. Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge is often effectively used in marketing and selling products as 100% pashmina that really have no pashmina in them. The truth is that the market is inundated with “pashmina wannabes” from wool, acrylic, viscose, polyester or mixture of these fabrics sold as 100% pashmina.
The word pashmina is an indigenous word for cashmere, and comes from an old Persian word pashm referring to a weavable fiber (sheep wool, shahtoosh, and cotton). In Kashmiri language the word pashmina means "soft gold." Pashmina is a very fine type of cashmere wool, which is the fiber woven from the undercoat of special breeds of long-haired domestic goats living in high altitude of Himalaya. The first textiles made from it were woven in Kashmir. This wool comes from four different breeds of the Cashmere goats of Himalaya region: 1) the Changthangi or Kashmir Pashmina goat from the Changthang plateau in Kashmir region, 2) the Malra from Kargil area in Kashmir region, 3) the Chegu from Himachal Pradesh in northern India and Pakistan, and 4) Chyangara or Nepalese Pashmina goat from Nepal.
The most expensive authentic Pashmina shawls are made from Changthangi goat´s (Kashmir Pashmina) wool. These shawls have so high price because of the special craftsmanship that goes into creating each shawl, and the rarity of this specific type of wool. The Changthangi breed makes up less than 0.1% of global Cashmere production. One distinct difference between Pashmina and other Cashmere goat´s wool is the fibre diameter. Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner (12-15 microns) than other types of generic cashmere fibre (15-19 microns). Cashmere is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and 33% lighter.
The Changthangi goat sheds its winter coat every spring, and regrows it again in winter. One goat sheds approximately 80–170 g of the fibre. This under fleece is collected by combing the goat, and not by shearing as done with other fine wools.
Similarly to other areas of Kashmir design and craft, the Kashmir shawl designs also have significant influences from Persian art. For instance, during Mughal period a characteristic motive of Kashmir shawl-design was a slender flowering plant with roots combining the delicacy of Persian floral ornament (that it was derived from) with the naturalism characteristic of seventeenth-century Mughal art. Also, during the later time periods this motive merged with another well-known Indo Persian decorative motive – the conventional vase-of flowers.
Another well-known motif is a Paisley or Paisley pattern, which is a term in English for a design using the buta or boteh, a droplet-shaped vegetable motif of Persian (i.e. Iranian) origin. The floral motif was originated in the Sassanid Dynasty and later in the Safavid Dynasty of Persia (from 1501 to 1736), and was a major textile pattern in Iran during the Qajar and Pahlavi Dynasties. In these periods, the pattern was used to decorate royal regalia, crowns, and court garments, as well as textiles used by the general population.
Dancer Qajar Persia, Persia - Qajar & Safavid Periods paintings
Buta is a very popular symbol not only in Iran, but also in Azerbaijan, Turkey and countries of the South and Central Asian countries. Patterns and ornaments of buta motifs can be found on Azerbaijani rugs, kalaghai and textiles, paintings of decorative-applied arts of Azerbaijan, and in decorations of architectural monuments. It is woven using gold or silver threads on silk or other high quality textiles for gifts, for weddings and special occasions. In Iran and Uzbekistan its use goes beyond clothing – paintings, jewelry, frescoes, curtains, tablecloths, quilts, carpets, garden landscaping, and pottery also sport the buta design.
Some scholars believe that this motif is a leaf of a cypress tree, and it is a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity. It is a bent cedar, and the cedar is the tree Zarathustra planted in paradise. The "bent" cedar is also the sign of strength and resistance but modesty.
Such designs became very popular in the West in the 18th and 19th centuries, following imports of post-Mughal versions of the design from India, especially in the form of Kashmir shawls, and were then imitated locally.
Paisley motif used by fashion designers Pierre Balmain (left) and Jil Sander (right), below.
Examples of Silkroad Treasures hand embroidered shawls from Kashmir, below.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in crystals, different cultures, and good stories. As a linguist I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.