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Home > Textiles in India > Textiles of North India > Jammu and Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir

Chamba RumalThe state of Jammu and Kashmir comprises of Jammu Province, the Vale of Kashmir and Ladakh. Jammu Province is bounded by the Ravi River to the east and the Jhelum to the west, and is bisected by the Chenab. To the north of Jammu lies the Pir Panjal range of mountains, which separate the beautiful wooded and fertile vale of Kashmir from the rest of India. Kashmir is itself connected to the east by a series of high passes to Ladakh.

Jammu lies in the foothills of the Himalayas, with easy communications to neighboring Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, and its textile tradition has much in common with that of the neighboring states. Phulkaris, similar in composition and technique to those of Punjab, were made in Jammu, as were rumals, in the Chamba style.

The most notable textile products of Jammu Province are still the block-printed calicoes of Samba, a village about thirty miles south of Jammu where the hand printing of textiles is a very long-established industry. Indeed, Samba is reputed to have been a centre of textile production long before many other famous Indian textile towns. Vegetable dyeing on hand-woven cotton sheets was once the norm, with sonehri (gold) and rupehri (silver) printing a speciality, but now aniline dyes are used on mill-made cloth. Designs are most probably Persian in origin, with motifs of flowers and arabesques often in reds and greens on a yellow background. Animals, flowers and insects as well as human figures are also part of the contemporary printing repertoire, with bedspreads, tablecloths, masnad (floor coverings) and yardage being the main articles of production. Hand printing is also practised in Jammu city and the surrounding area.

The beautiful Vale of Kashmir is justly famed for its textiles, above all for the Kashmiri shawl. Zain-Ul-Abidin (1420-70), the ruler of Kashmir who was reputed to have brought weavers from Turkestan to the valley, is believed to have laid the foundation of the Kashmir Shawl Industry.

In the Ain-i-Akbari, the annals of the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar (ruled 1556-1605), revealed that his wardrobes were full of shawls. Akbar introduced the fashion of wearing Kashmir shawls in pairs, stitched back to back, so that the undersides were never visible.

[ Shawls | Carpet | Namdas | Papier Mache | Crewel Furnishings | Silks and Tweeds | Pherans ]

Kashmiri ShawlsThe origins and development of the Kashmir Shawl owe to Kashmirs location, cut off as it is by the Pir Panjal range and to its position at the crossroads of some of Asias great Trade Routes. Kashmirs relative geographical isolation ensured that a concentration of skilled workers could be built up and maintained. Its position from the trade routes of Tibet and from Turkestan gave it virtually exclusive use of the raw materials needed for shawls and roads west to Afghanistan and Persia and south to India gave it access to markets for its textile products.

There are three fibers from which the Kashmiri shawls are made- wool, Pashmina and shahtoosh. The prices of these three cannot be compared - woolen shawls being within the reach of the most modest budget, and Shahtoosh being once-in-a-lifetime purchase.

The classical Kashmir shawl was woven out of Pashmina wool, whose main source was the fleece of a central Asian species of mountain goat, the Capra Hicus. This fleece grows during the harsh and extremely cold winter, underneath the goats outer hair and is shed at the beginning of summer. There are two grades of pashmina. The finest grade is known as asli tus that comes from wild goats. The second grade comes from the fleece of domesticated goats and it is this grade that has always provided the main bulk of the yarn used by Kashmir looms.

Kashmir shawls are also known as kani shawls and jamawars. Woven in the twill-tapestry technique, the weft threads of these shawls alone form the pattern. They do not run across the full width of the cloth but are by wooden spools known as tojli, woven back and forth across each section of the warp threads using the particular thread required by that part of the pattern.

An Armenian named Khwaja Yusuf, who visited Kashmir in 1803 as a buying agent for a Constantinople firm, introduced the concept of the amli, or needlework shawl, which would imitate the loom-woven shawl but would be much less expensive to produce and would escape the government duties levied on loom woven shawls.

The deterioration of the traditional Kashmir shawl production is well documented, and the story of declining standards and of mass production resulting from the need to meet a foreign and seemingly limitless market demand is a salutary tale for folk craftwork worldwide. Exports created a fashion market in Europe and very soon stimulated competition from there. The first mention of an Indian woollen shawl being worn in Europe is in one of Lawrence Sternes Letters to Eliza (1767).

In the 1780s and 1790s, attempts were made first in Norwich, and then in Edinburgh, to imitate Kashmir shawls, and by 1808, weavers in Paisley were producing their own shawls to a Kashmir pattern. In response to this British initiative, production of Kashmir shawls was begun in Mimes, Lyons and Alsace, in France.

By the beginning of the nineteenth century, Western Europe, and Napoleonic France in particular, was caught in the grip of an oriental romanticism. The wearing of genuine Kashmir shawls and their European replicas was highly fashionable; the colourful patterned borders of these shawls set off the plain textures of the classically inspired garments then in vogue. The Jacquard loom, first used in 1818 by French weavers, greatly simplified the weaving of complicated designs. Consequently, from 1818 on, the designs of French Kashmir shawls became increasingly elaborate and covered a larger area of the fabrics surface. This in turn influenced the design of shawls in Kashmir.

Throughout the mid nineteenth century, it was the European, specially the French taste, which dominated the shawl design in Kashmir. By 1850 and 1860, the export of shawls to Europe increased many folds, but this expansion was a prelude to the sudden collapse of the industry.

Three important factors led to this collapse: firstly, Kashmir shawls could no longer compete in quality with the best Paisley and Lyons shawls. As patterns were dictated from Europe, there was a two-year gap between the design being sent out to Kashmir, and the return of the finished product, so that the latest shawls were already outmoded by the time they arrived. Kashmir shawls were also more expensive than those of Lyons and Paisley. Secondly, the Franco- Prussian War of 1870 meant the complete collapse of the French market for Kashmir. Thirdly, Paisley and other imitation shawls were now cheap and plentiful, and much more likely to be worn by a working girl than by a member of the leisured classes. Thus, expensive Kashmir shawls were both priced out of the market and had lost the cachet and exclusivity of high fashion. The collapse of the industry in Kashmir was followed by a famine and the weavers were condemned to destitution and starvation. Only the needle workers were able to salvage something by turning to the embroidery of coverlets, tablecloths and other domestic items for the home and tourist market.

JamawarKashmir still produces many beautiful textiles, though most now have a uniformity of style that inevitably comes with catering to the mass market. There is today, however, output which has vivacity and individuality and matches masterful techniques with the beauty of classical design. Kashmir shawls are still made all over the valley. The weaving of kani loom-woven pashmina shawls has been revived at the ancient weaving centre of Basohli in Jammu Province, but nearly all the Kashmir shawls made today are patterned by embroidery rather than by weaving. Only a fraction of these shawls are woven out of pashmina wool. The majority is made out of a yarn called raffal, introduced at the beginning of the twentieth century, which is spun out of merino wool. There are about one thousand handlooms weaving raffal shawls in Srinagar, as also are many powerlooms. In order to cut down on import costs, the rearing of pashmina-bearing goats is being encouraged in the high, arid Changthang region of Ladakh. With government help encouraging a more scientific breeding policy, yields are improving, and the nomadic owners of the goats are also receiving a much better price for the pashmina, which should further improve production.

Whilst shawls are embroidered with a needle, much of the embroidery done in the Kashmir valley is ari work. As with the weaving, embroidery is a male profession. The ari work is used to decorate clothing, wall hangings, rugs, cushion covers and whole rolls of furnishing fabric, with varying complexity of design.

Woolen shawls are popular because of their embroidery work, which is special to Kashmir. Both embroidery and the type of wool used results in the differences in its price. Wool woven in Kashmir is raffal and is 100% pure. Many kinds of embroidery are worked on shawls - sozni or needlework is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Motifs, usually abstract designs or stylized paisleys and flowers are worked in one or two, occasionally three colors, all subdued.

Another type of needle embroidery is popularly known as Papier Mache work because of the design and the style in which it is executed. This is done either in broad panels or either side of the breadth of a shawl, or covering the entire surface of a stole. Another type of embroidery is ari or hook embroidery. Its motifs are well-known flower design finely worked in concentric rings of chain stitch.

Pashmina is unmistakable for its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of the ibex found at 14,000 ft. above the sea level, although pure pashmina is expensive, the cost is sometimes brought down by blending it with rabbit fur or with wool.

Shahtoosh, the legendary ring shawl is incredible for its lightness, softness and warmth. The astronomical price it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of raw material. High in the plateau of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 meters, roam Pantholops Hodgosoni or Tibetan antelope. During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed and it is these, which are painstakingly collected until there are enough for a shawl. Yarn is spun either from shahtoosh alone, or with pashmina, bringing down the cost somewhat. In the case of pure shahtoosh too, there are many qualities-the yarn can be spun so skillfully as to resemble a strand of silk. The shawls made from such fine yarn are extremely expensive. They can only be loosely woven and are too flimsy for embroidery to be done on them. Unlike woolen or Pashmina shawls, Shahtoosh is seldom dyed-that would be rather like dyeing gold! Its natural color is mousy brown, and it is, at the most, sparsely embroidered.

The Kasmir shawl is known all over the world for superfine quality of wool, its intricate designs and remarkable craftsmanship, a reputation it has had for centuries.

Sometimes a shawl was offered as a ransom for the king or offered as tax in recognition of the suzerainty of a powerful ruler. Even today Kashmir makes a vast range of shawls like the kani shawl woven in kanihama, which is only a shadow of what was woven earlier, the double colored pashmina, dhussa, the mens long shawls with its woven border, and the very fine amli or embroidered shawls.

ShawlThe kani shawls, which are woven pashmina shawls, are also called jamewars and have an all-over pattern originally used in making the jama, the coat worn by men. They are woven on a fame-loom using countless needles called tooji, which have woolen thread colors attached to them. The master weaver and his helper use written instructions known as talim to weave the shawls. The talim indicate the color and the number of warp threads to be covered. The weaver throws the weft across and after that he calls out the design on the basis of which the different colored threads are woven in. Even today intricate patterns are woven using this technique in the village of Kanihama, which lies on the road to Gulmarg. The technique used earlier was similar to the tapestry technique, which had non-continuous weft threads and is different from the ones used today.

Kashmir has been famous for kani shawls for many centuries. Ain-e-Akbari written during the time of Akbar, mentions them. In the 18th century they had become so popular that merchants from all over the world used to come to Kashmir to purchase them. They were then worth their weight in gold. Later cheaper imitations of these shawls were woven in England and France, thereby ruining the market for the original handwork of Kashmir.

The embroiders, originally, were called rafugars or darners. During the 18th century and early 19th century the designs of the shawls became so complicated that the shawls began to be woven in small pieces by different weavers. One set of weavers would produce the borders, another would prepare different sections of the cross border, and yet another set would prepare section of the central portion; these were then carefully matched and stitched together by the rafugar. In fact, one of the methods to test whether a shawl is an original Kashmir kani is to check from its back whether it has been woven in separate pieces or is in a single piece. It was in the 18th century that to cope with the growing demand for kani shawls, embroidered shawls known as amli, which imitated the woven technique, were introduced. Later the embroidery workers projected their skill on them and produced a variety of motifs and techniques.

All-over embroidery designs worked in either a trellis pattern known, as jal or hunting scenes known as shikargah were very popular. The all-over patterns worked with delicate fill-in stitches are produced even today and can stand well against the finest products of the world.

Embroidery has been developed in to a fine art in Kashmir. One proof of it is the dorukha, double sided shawl. The right side of it cannot be easily distinguished from the wrong side. There are also doranga-dorukha, which are double-sided and in two colors, the design on one side being reproduced in another color on the other side. The finest variety of all, however, as the aksi reflection, in which the design is produced on one side by splitting the warp threads into half, leaving the other side plain or embroidered with another pattern.

The Himalayan, zone produces other varieties of shawls and tweeds too, but the local people make them primarily for their own use. There are shawls woven from local wool carrying checks, with cross borders woven in bold colors and using motifs inspired by Buddhist traditions. The chorten commemorative building, vajra, thunderbolt, and the swastika are the common motifs. These shawls have come to be known as Kalu shawls though they are woven all over the Himachal region.

Pure Silk CarpetCarpet
A Carpet is a life long investment-it may well be the single most expensive purchase during your trip to Kashmir. Kashmiri carpets are hand made and they are always knotted, never tufted. Only if one watches the manufacture of carpets, one can realise the amount of skill involved in its making. Stretched tightly on a frame is the warp of Carpet. The weft threads are passed through, the talim or design and color specifications are then worked out on this. A strand of yarn is looped through the warp and weft, knotted and then cut. The yarn used normally is silk, wool or silk and wool. Woolen carpets always have a cotton base (Warp and Weft).

Silk usually have cotton base. Sometimes when the base is silk, the cost increases proportionately. Occasionally, carpets are made on a cotton base, mainly of woolen pile with silk yarn used as highlights on certain motifs.

When the dealer specifies the percentage of each yarn used, he is taking into account the yarn used for the base too. Therefore, a carpet with a pure silk pile may be referred to as 80% silk carpet.

Carpet weaving in Kashmir was not originally indigenous but is thought to have come in by way of Persia. Till today, most designs, are distinctly Persian with local variations. One example, however, of a typical Kashmiri design is the tree of life. Persian design not withstanding, any carpet woven in Kashmir is referred to as Kashmiri. The color-way of Carpet, and its details differentiate it from any other carpet. And while on the subject of colors, it should be kept in mind that although the colors of Kashmiri carpets are more subtle and muted than elsewhere in the country, only chemical dyes are used-vegetable dyes have not been available now for about hundred years.

The knotting of the carpet is the most important aspect, determining its durability and value, in addition to its design. Basically, the more knots per square inch, the greater its value and durability. Also there are single and double-knotted carpets. You can quiet easily identify one from the other on the reverse of the carpet. The effect that it has on the pile, too, is important. A double-knotted carpet has a pile that bends when you brush it one way with your hand, and stands upright when it is brushed in other direction. A Single knotted carpet is fluffier and more resistant to touch.

Far less expensive are these colorful floor coverings made from woolen and cotton fiber, manually pressed into shape. Its price varies with the percentage of wool. A Namda containing 80% wool is more expensive than the one containing 20% wool. Chain stitch embroidery in woolen and cotton thread is worked on these rugs. 

Papier Mache
Papier Mache All Papier Mache objects, at the first glance, look almost the same and one always find the price difference quite unreasonable. However, besides at least three different grades of Papier` Mache, some are actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however, is not to deceive the innocent buyer, but to provide a cheaper product for someone who wants the look of Papier Mache.

To make Papier Mache, first paper is soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and allowed to dry and set before being painted and varnished.

Paper that has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product. When the pounding has not been thorough, the finish is less smooth.

The designs painted on objects of Papier Mache are brightly colored. They vary in artistry and the choices of colors, and it is not difficult to tell a mediocre piece from an excellent one. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only color, or as the highlight for certain motifs, and besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of the gold used which determines the price. Pure Gold leaf, which has the unmistakable luster, is far more expensive than bronze dust or gold poster paint. It also has much longer life and will never fade or tarnish.

Varnish, which is applied to the finished product, imparts a high gloss and smoothness, which increases with every coat.

Cardboard, usually indistinguishable from Papier Mache, gives slightly when pressed firmly. Otherwise the only difference is in the price, cardboard being cheaper than Papier Mache.

Chain Stitch Chain Stitch and Crewel Furnishings
Because of the high quality of embroidery done on wall hangings and rugs, Kashmir is in great demand all over the world.

Chain stitch, be it in wool, silk or cotton, is done by hook rather than any needle. The hook is referred to as ari, Hook work covers a much larger area than needle work in the same amount of time.

All the embroidery is executed on white cotton fabric, pre-shrunk by the manufacturers. The intrinsic worth of each piece lies in the size of the stitches and the yarn used. Tiny stitches are used to cover the entire area. The figures or motifs are worked in striking colors; the background in a single color, made up of a series of coin sized concentric circles which impart dynamism and a sense of movement to a design. The background fabric should not be visible through the stitches.

Crewel is basically similar to chain stitch. It is also Chain stitch done on White background, but here the motifs, mainly stylish flowers, do not cover the entire surface, and the background is not embroidered upon. Wool is almost invariably used in Crewelwork and color ways are not as elaborate as in Chain stitch. They make excellent household furnishings being hand or machine washable.

Tweed WeaveSilks and Tweeds
Sericulture and tweed weaving are more important industries in Kashmir, with departments of the State government closely monitoring the process. Interestingly, just as little or no raw material for tweed comes from Kashmir, almost no weaving and printing of silk is done in the state. However, the cocoon reared in Kashmir is of the superior quality, yielding an extremely fine fiber, and any silk woven from this thread becomes known. The fineness of the yarn lends itself particularly well to the weaves known as chinon and crepe de chine, in addition to the universally recognized silk weave.

Tweed on the other hand is woven in Kashmir with pure wool. The resultant fabric, made with imported know-how, compares favorably with the best in the world. It is available by the length occasionally as ready to wear garments.

This garment, somewhere between a coat and a cloak, is eminently suited to the Kashmiri way of life. Mens pherans are always made of tweed or coarse wool; womens pherans, somewhat more stylized, are most commonly made of raffel, with designs of ari or hook embroidery at the throat, cuffs and edges. The quality of embroidery and thickness of the raffel determines the price.

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