Types of Pashmina Shawls: The Many Flowers in a Garland

Article of the Month - Dec 2022

This article by Prakriti Anand

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Table of Content

  • Introduction

  • Kani Pashmina Shawls

  • Jamawar Shawls

  • Authentic Kashmiri Sozni or Suzani Embroidery Pashmina Shawls

  • Kashmiri Aari Work Pashmina Shawls for Women

  • Chaadar Or Loi

  • Pashmina Scarves and Stoles

  • Conclusion

The valley of Kashmir has collected its countless flowers, placed them in a bunch, and presented that fragrant bouquet to the fashion world as its luxurious Pashminas. Nourished by ideas and techniques from all over the world, Pashmina shawls come in a fascinating range of weaves and drapes, each one more stylish and comfortable than the other. Choosing your favorite Pashmina from a huge collection of these shawls can be a difficult task, made even more complex by the different names and categories within these Indian wears. Allow us to help you take a closer look at the “Taana-Baana” (warp and weft) of Pashmina, from where seeing the beautiful differences within Pashmina varieties becomes a bit easier.

Based on the method of weaving, Pashmina shawls can be broadly divided into – a) “till” or “kanikar”, in which the designs are woven in between the warp and weft of the shawls, and b) “amlikar”, where the patterns are embroidered after the shawl, has been woven. Shawls are also categorized as “dorukha” (embroidery appearing on both sides) and “ekrukha” (design revealed on one side, with the other side showing the underside or rough side of the needlework). Besides these broad groups, there is a list of Pashmina shawls whose popularity traveled from the valley of Kashmir to the markets of Egypt and Persia, from the court of the Mughals to the cupboards of European aristocracy, and continues to charm the contemporary experts and enthusiasts in the realm of extravagant fashion.

Kani Pashmina Shawls

The weaving technique for Kani Pashmina shawls is suggested to have originated in the weaving styles of the tribes of Central Asia and Persia, who stitched everyday use textiles such as blankets using tools similar to a Kani needle. During the cultural exchanges between Kashmir and these regions, the sophisticated technique became a favorite of Kashmiri weavers.

During the 18th and 19th centuries in Kashmir, Pashmina weavers popularly used small wooden pins known as “Kani” filled with vibrant threads. The master craftsman sat with the instruction list called “Taalim”, and read it out loud to his students or understudies who followed the instructions, inserting the Kani needle from the warp end at the points which were dictated to them. Due to this mind-blowing, “blind” method, where the weaver has nothing but the voice of the master guiding him, he is known as “Khandwao”- one who can work with alertness but blindly.

The Kani Pashmina shawls represent the mesmerizing natural beauty of Kashmir in the stunning floral patterns that are woven on the woolen fabric. Historically, the wool for Kani Pashmina shawls came from Ladakh, which was woven by Kashmiri weavers, who borrowed from the vibrant artistic tradition of the Sikh kingdom of Jammu. To date, the body of a Kani Pashmina shawl reminds one of the multitudes of inspirations and efforts that went into making these wonders.

Jamawar Shawls

Jamawar- to be worn as a “Jama” or upper body garment that wraps around the torso and covers most of the body is a widely loved variety of Pashmina. Now found in the wardrobes of both men and women, Jamawar shawls started their journey as a piece of women’s fashion. During his reign, the French emperor Napoleon gifted a number of these shawls to his queen Josephine, after which the rich and royal of Europe created whooping demand for this luxury Indian wear.

In India, the gracious length of a Jamawar shawl made it the favorite of the royals, including Emperor Akbar whose love for Pashminas is well known. The Mughal ruler used shawls as an integral part of his regal attire and experimented with styles and forms of wearing these shawls. Kani weave Jamawar shawls which were picked by the royals came to be known as “Shah Pasand”- "regal choice" and their sorts still represent the best of Jamawar style.

Authentic Kashmiri Sozni or Suzani Embroidery Pashmina Shawls

Sozni or Suzani is a detailed embroidery done by Kashmiri Sozankar who uses the finest silk threads on delicate Pashmina wool, creating stunning patterns. A very thin sequence of silk threads recreates the complex figures found in the royal Mughal inlay works, from which this style picks its inspirations. In the early days of this embroidery, Sozankars made rumaal (handkerchief) and cloth pieces to be worn on the head which was sold in the Egyptian market, and shawls which were used by the local populace. The entire field of a Sozni Pashmina shawl is filled profusely with floral vines, local and Mughal motifs, and popular designs such as the Jaal- network of flowering creepers, reminding us of the woven magic of a Kani weave Pashmina.

Kashmiri Aari Work Pashmina Shawls for Women

Named after the curved needle or awl used in the embroidery, the introduction of Aari or Ari to the Pashmina weavers is attributed to the Mughal emperor Akbar. The ari needle pierces through the fine woolen fabric and forms a hoop before it is pulled gently to form a chain stitch. In Kashmiri households, homemade carpets and spreads were covered in this embroidery, which is known for its elaborate and colorful appearance. Similar to the other kinds of Pashmina embroideries, flowers and floral motifs dominate the imagination of Aari weavers, who draw their ideas from the vibrant figures of Mughal miniatures and the “gul” (flowers) of Kashmir.

Chaadar Or Loi

Made with the coarse, comparatively strong yarns of Kashmiri wool, a Chaadar or Loi is for everyday draping, worn mostly by male peasants who are completely wrapped in these large and warm shawls. The Chaadar has a worn-out look, appreciated by people who have a taste for a unique and rugged style. Weavers use the Kani technique in making the borders of this Chaadar which infuses their austere fabric with a touch of vibrancy.

Pashmina Scarves and Stoles

Beloveds of modern men and women, scarves and stoles woven from pure Pashmina wool mark the presence of traditional Kashmiri weaves in contemporary fashion. Whether it is ethnic or Indo-western attire, or your casual winter look, adding a Pashmina scarf to your wardrobe gives you a luxuriant and chic appearance with ease. Double-shaded, monotone, and embroidered Pashmina scarf and stole are thus favored by the young generations of Indian ethnic lovers as a statement of fashion in their outfits.

These varieties in Pashmina shawls represent only a few of the most popular variants of woolen apparel. The painstaking process of making a Pashmina did not stop the weavers from welcoming the numerous inventions and new introductions in the design and technique of Pashmina. Makers also experimented according to the taste and preferences of the elite patrons of Pashmina, each of whom ended up adding a bit more to the colorful tapestry of Pashmina. Today when we hold any kind of Pashmina shawl in our hand, we must remember the creativity, spirit of innovation, and resilience that the earliest weavers and buyers of Pashmina displayed. It is because of them that contemporary fashion lovers have this handpicked selection of Pashmina shawls and other woolen goods from Kashmir, for a fashion statement that is comfortable, royal, and unforgettable.

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