Kashmir is known world over not only for its natural beauty but also for production of one of the finest quality scarves & shawls prepared by Kashmiri artisans. First woven in India, Pashmina scarvees are the staple handicraft item from valley of Kashmir. Known for their warmth, softness, elegance and desirable aesthetic value, Pashmina Scarves today enjoy their own exclusive state of popularity worldwide. Scarves are made worldwide using many kind of wool, silk and fibres but Kashmir product has its own place among customer’ mind across the globe for its softness and warmness. Travellers coming to India always aspire to get pure pashmina scarf from stores located in various cities. The word “Pashmina” has been derived from a Persian word “Pashm” that means soft gold. It is the quality and texture of this fabric that has made it the king of all fibers. In the list of all natural fibers, Pashmina is considered to be the most elite, luxurious and high priced fiber. The wool of Pashmina is basically a down fiber that is derived from a special breed of goat “Capra Hirus” which is indigenous to the mountainous region of Central Asia. In India, this breed of goat is commonly known as “Pashmina goats” and can be easily located in the high altitudes of Himalayan regions. Zian-Ul-Abidin is considered to be the founder of Shawl industry in valley and since then this art has been transferred to generation over generation to make some of the finest quality shawls. Initially the use of Pashmina fabric was restricted to Kashmir only and it is for this reason that the fabric of Pashmina is also known as Cashmere fabric. However, today the term “Cashmere” has been accepted as a marketing term for labeling Cashmere products and goods on global platform but is still in process to get recognized under the Wool Products Labeling Act of the Federal Trade Commission.
The primary source of Cashmere fabric/Pashm wool is the inner hair coat of Pashmina goats. In every spring season either the goat itself sheds its inner wool or the artisans cut off their soft inner layer. These shed off hair are then processed further to obtain the fine and soft Pashmina fabric. Here is a brief look on a traditional process.
Pashmina wool is harvested from Animal body during three to four months of the year which from Feburary till May. The animal is found on high altitudes and combing the hair is the next step followed to take out the hair from animal. Once the hair is collected, its sorted by Kashmiri womens which can be done manually and by machine also these days. The hair collected has lot of dirt and rough material like leaves, threads which are extracted from body of animal thus combing has to be done 3-4 times repeatedly with comb so that all impurities are minimized in the process.
Once the hair is extracted, its glued with pounded rice and left for couple of days to increase the softness and strength of the thread. Pashmina is once again combed to remove all small traces of rice powder if any.
The wool is then used for process of spinning on a traditional hand made machine popularly known as Charka and its being used to convert it into a yarn. The process involves revolving a wheel from right hand and managing the thread on left hand side. Wheel is continuously revolved to make finest quality of yarn. These days, lot of machines are also used to convert them into a yarn but charka is the best and most popular technique. Post spinning, yarn is dyed if required in various colors and once dying is completed, it goes to the next stage.
Weaving is the second last step in the process which can again be done by hand or by machine. Top qualities are always hand weaved which again involved working on a wooden or iron structure known as thanjoor. Weaving involves warp and weft which helps in holding the thread together .
Once the weaving is done, Shawl is sent to purzar for removing any extra threads and giving the final touches on the Pashmina shawl which involves clipping, brushing and washing the final product before its available for sale.
The term Pashmina has been used quite ambiguously and misleadingly by marketers across the world. Pashmina is the word derived from India for the finest quality of wool which comes from Kashmir. Marketers across the world have been using term Cashmere, Kashmir, Pashmina alternatively but Cashmere and Pashmina are synonyms only. Sellers have also been using term Pashmina from 100% Cashmere scarves to ones that are mixed with Silk and even Polyster. Products that are blended with Cashmere and Silk fibers must clearly specify the percentage of Cashmere and Silk fibres as per textile and custom regulations. With the advancement of technology, manufacturing of Pashmina has upgraded to new levels but still it cannot beat the aesthetic value of traditional hand woven Pashmina fabric. Undoubtedly, Pashmina fabric is no less than a soft gold.
Some uselful tips to check quality of your Pashmina/Cashmere product:
- Fine quality Pashmina scarves will never have fringes tied in the end. They are generally left open by artisans while mix or impure qualities will always have fringes tied in the end.
- Best quality Pashmina scarves will always be very light in weight, the weight can vary from 100 gm to 300 gm depending upon the design and workmanship.
- Take a thread out of your Kashmir product and burn it, the fine quality will burn smoothly and completely while mix qualities will leave some plastic in the end.
- Smell the hair which you burnt to know its animal hair or not. Though this is not 100% assured way but yes pure wool thread will burn easily and turns into ash.
- Pure Pashmina/Cashmere scarves can easily pass through a small ring. Remember some blended scarves too can pass through ring test but this can surely help you knowing the quality of wool.
- Fine quality Pashmina scarves will always feel very smooth and natural. Never get misguided by feel as some mixed qualities also feel quite smooth but not natural.