Handlooms of Jammu and Kashmir

  • Know about the handloom products of Jammu and Kashmir.

The textile tradition in Kashmir has a glorious history of the world-renowned tapestry that is very popular. May it be Kani shawls or Amlikar needlework, even today the hand-woven textile products are a speciality of the many Kashmiris skilled weavers.

 

A little history first

In Kashmir, the earliest records of tapestry designs go back as far as the seventh century. In the sixteenth century Mughal period, however, there was a boom in the popularity of Kashmiri shawls in the country. Primarily worn by Kings and royal courtiers, the uniquely gifted work of many weavers found its ways beyond the Indian Sub-continent during this period. It was only in the mid-1800s, that Kashmiri shawls became popular among the European elite mainly the French. In the late eighteenth century, the industrial age appeared, which bestowed a certain global acknowledgement of this art-form.

 

The fabric behind a great shawl

The shawls which are known for their inimitable tapestry design use a fibre known as Pashm or Pashmina. The fibre normally comes from the fleece of a wild Cashmere Asian Mountain goat known by its scientific name as Capra hircus.

 

The goat sheds its wool in the early days of June as the summer approaches. Shawl-maker usually gathers this wool which is characterised by its exclusive properties, to make a good Pashmina shawl. The fibre is only 15 micron in thickness along with being extremely regular in structure, making it a perfect fibre for ‘fine spinning’. Many sources of fibre are mixed to augment the quantity of the raw material making the Pashmina shawls unique by way of it being soft, silky and warmer than others.

 

Kani Shawls or Jamawar

Credits and read

The beautiful tapestry among the Kashmiri textile is more evident in its most popular version. The Kani shawls are made from special ‘Kani needle’ as each shawl takes around a year or two to be done by the traditional method. This is a tradition that was revived in post-independent India and is identified by its characteristic intricately woven designs. These pashmina figure-shawls are composed of discontinuous coloured weft interlocked within each other. These gorgeous looking shawls are entirely made of wool, however, in some instances, a little cotton is added. The motifs are a beautiful imitation of nature displaying flowering plants with vivid colours.

 

Amlikar shawl

The Amlikar or Amil needlework is another speciality of Kashmiri artwork, as these shawls are filled with rich colours and beautiful motifs of flowers. Made entirely of Pashmina wool, the needlework is only one to have an embroidery stitch parallel to the darning stitch, made possible by some of the divinely skilled rafoogars (darners). These are so delicately woven that the needle never really penetrates the entire fabric during the entire making of a particular shawl.

 

Dourukha shawls

Reference and credits

This is a type of woven shawl which you should look out for. With its multi-coloured pattern, the dark coloured outlines highlight its contrast with the rest of the shawl. But the thing that makes it more unique is that the artisan achieves the same effect on both sides of the shawl.

Kashmiri shawl motifs

Credits and good read

From early simple designs to the intricate motifs that are seen today, Kashmiri shawls display an ancient art of a fascinating nature.

 

There are a few basic characteristics you can identify with Kashmiri embroidery. The formative imitation of natural beauty that a Kashmiri motif may display includes the depiction of flowers, leaves enriched with diverse colours, such as yellow, white, black, blue, green, purple, crimson and scarlet.

 

Brilliantly crafted embroidery flows smoothly with the surface of a shawl and the rich colours together become an integral part of the entire fabric. The contrast among the different part of a shawl mainly the gallery and field are what draws our eyes in.

 

Kashmiri Pashmina


Pashmina is synonymous with Kashmir; hence was called ‘cashmere’ when it spread to the west. A luxury fabric woven in the region since decades, Kashmiri Pashmina is a combination of both material and traditional process. Developed and refined by Kashmiri artisans to make the fabric incredibly light with strength and lustre, this process is believed to retain the uniqueness of Pashm - the reason why bona fide Pashmina cannot be woven on machines.

A morning at the master weaver’s studio gives an understanding of the process of Pashmina weaving from the fibres of Pashm that is 1/10th the width of human hair, to spinning gossamer-like yarns and weaving fine fabrics.

 

The editor found Pashmina shawls being woven in village Darkot near Munisyari, Uttarakhand. The weaver said they get Pashmini fibre from Tibet. To see album 

Carpets

Carpet weaving in Kashmir in India arrived with the Mughals. The craft flourished in Kashmir and the place has today become a hub for quality rugs.

 

The patterns are influenced by the Persian style blended with Indian designs. One typical Kashmiri Indian pattern is the tree of life. While most carpet weaving has shifted to the countryside, carpet workshops can be spotted in the heart of Srinagar, where weavers knot 900 times in a square inch. Fine silk and wool carpet weaving, introduced by the Persians during the 14th century, has flourished in Kashmir since the Mughal times and is still among the most expensive in the world. Traditional Persian designs and motifs are hand knotted on a simple vertical loom, reciting a ‘talim’, the written design script of instructions. The designs are still named after famous Persian cities, such as Kashan and Hamdaan.

A good article on Carpet-making in Kashmir

 

The Editor found excellent carpets at the Tawang Craft Centre (Arunachal Pradesh). To see album

Namdahs

Credits

Far less expensive than the carpets are the Namdahs, which are excellent and vibrant floor coverings for winters, made by felting together layers of wool and cotton fibre and manually pressed into shape. Prices vary with the percentage of wool - a Namdah containing 80 per cent wool being more expensive than the one containing 20 per cent wool. Chain stitch embroidery in woollen and cotton thread is worked on these rugs. A specialty of Yarkand during the Mughal times, the Kashmiri embroidered Namdahs became renowned in the last century and it is fascinating to actually see this unique felting process being done by foot even today in the old part of the city.

 

Pherans

This garment, somewhere between a coat and a cloak, is eminently suited to the Kashmiri style of life, being loose enough to admit the inevitable brazier of live coals which is carried around in much the same way as a hot water bottle. Men's pherans are always made of tweed or coarse wool; women's pherans, somewhat more stylized, are most commonly made of raffel, with splashes of Aari or hook embroidery at the throat, cuffs and edges. The quality of embroidery and thickness of the raffel determines the price.

Sozni Embroidery

Credits

A craft introduced by mystics, Sozni is the needle embroidery with a unique darning stitch and is considered a meditative practice even today to immerse oneself in the divine.

The master embroider works with a single strand of silk on Pashmina and spends years in embellishing each Jamavaar shawl with intricate designs and motifs. The

mystical almond buteh, the signature motif for all fine Kashmiri shawls, later became the ‘paisley’ after its imitations were produced in England.

Tilla Embroidery

Credits
The Tilla embroidery with yarns of gold and silver zari is another distinct ornamentation on pherans and shawls, the best of them being found around Zaina Kadal and a must in every Kashmiri girl’s trousseau. The gold yarn called Tilla is arranged in intricate swirls and held down with minute stitches like a couching stitch.

 

Shahtoosh Shawls

Shahtoosh shawls are made from the wool of the Tibetan antelope. These shawls are very light and soft. They are extremely expensive because the wool used in making these shawls is scarce. The soft hair from the throat of the antelope is used for making these shawls. A few of this hair fall off naturally when the antelopes graze. They are collected and are then used in weaving shawls.

Shahtoosh shawls may either be pure or mixed with Pashmina in order to reduce the cost. The specialty is that they are so finely woven that the entire shawl can pass through a ring. It is for this reason that such shawls are known as ‘Ring shawls’. They are usually not dyed and are used in their natural color i.e. light brown.

 

Kashmiri silk

Like Kashmiri tweed, Kashmiri silk is also famous. Weaving and printing of silk are generally not undertaken in Kashmir. However, cocoon rearing is undertaken on a large scale here, which yields the best quality of silk. Rearing cocoons is one of the major occupations of the people of Kashmir.

 

Kashmiri embroidery or (Kasida)

Locally known as Kasida, the designs used in this embroidery are inspired by the natural beauty of the Valley. Landscape designs, Chinar leaves as well as mythological figures are commonly used in Kasida embroidery. Usually, such embroidery is done on woolen or cotton cloth. Embroidered shawls are now being styled as stoles.

 

Pheran

Pheran is the prominent attire for Kashmiri women. Pheran usually has Zari embroidery on the hemline, around pockets, and mostly around the collar area. Ladies prefer suit and Burkha during summers and Pheran during autumn. The headdress of a Kashmiri woman is a brightly colored scarf or Tarang which is stitched to a suspended cap with a cloth around it which extends down towards the heels. The Tarang is an integral part of the wedding attire among Hindus.

 

Kashmiri Pherans and Silk images

Credits

Saree-printed Kashmiri silk

Credits

 

Kashmiri embroidery on Shawls

Credits

Amlikar shawl

The Amlikar or Amil needle work is another speciality of Kashmiri artwork, as these shawls are filled with rich colours and motifs of flowers. Made entirely with the Pashmina wool, the needle work is the only one to have an embroidery stitch parallel to the darning stitch, made possible by some divinely skilled rafoogars (darners). These are so delicately woven that the needle never really penetrates the entire fabric during the entire making of a shawl.

 

Dourukha shawls

This is a type of woven shawl which you should look out for. With its multi coloured pattern, the dark coloured outlines highlight its contrast with the rest of the shawl. But the thing that make it more unique is that the artisan achieves the same effect on the both sides of the shawl.

 

The purpose behind this article is to document and promote this craft.

 

To read all articles by author

 

To read all articles on Traditional Textiles of India

 

Author Trishna Patnaik is a self-taught artist based in Mumbai, Trishna has been practising art for over 14 years. She is now a full-time professional painter pursuing her passion to create and explore to the fullest. She conducts painting workshops across India. She is also an art therapist and healer who works with clients on a one to one basis. Not to forget her quality writings on Indian Art and now Textiles for esamskriti. She fancies the art of creative writing.

Receive Site Updates