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The Journey of Pashmina

Royal admirers of Pashmina,
Pashmina not only today has patronage from all over the world. There are times when this art is favored with royal patronage. Kings, queens, royal families and nobles around the world knew Pashmina. In fact, they have a large collection of scarves that are passed down through the generations.
In the 16th century, when the birthplace of Pashmina – Kashmir was under the rule of the Mughals, Pashmina was discovered. And the then Mughal kings were attracted only by its appearance. Later, the aesthetics of this art spread more and the French monarch Napoleon Bonaparte gave his wife Josephine Shawl Pashmina. It is believed that at that time she owned several hundred scarves. In Iran, the rulers wore and gave Pashmin as a gift during their meetings with other rulers. In India, Maharaja Ranjit decorated his yard with hand-embroidered Pashmina scarves. The current scenario is not very favorable for Kashmir and the producers of Pashmina. Yet Kashmir is still considered the king of all Pashmina fabrics.

Are Pashmina Scarves on display in museums authentic?
Some Pashmina scarves still appear in their original form. Over time, however, most of these expensive scarves are worn out and recycled.
There are parts of worn scarves that could be saved. These parts can be included in other scarves from the rafugars and made in completely new designs. Sometimes the client rejects certain parts of the design even in new scarves. These discarded parts will be cut and replaced with a different design or model seamlessly to form a completely new design.
This technique leads to the recycling of many scarves and the formation of many new patterns and shapes. The most remarkable among them are the “chand-dar” or lunar model. This is a square piece of Pashmina with a round shape in the center and at the corners a fragment of a late 18th century Kashmiri scarf on display at the Ashmolin Museum, University of Oxford.

How was the hand-embroidered scarf first designed?
In the 18th century, as the demand for Kani scarves grew, so did the complexity of the design. To weave an intricate scarf from Kani, it takes two weavers for three years, blocking in turn a huge amount of capital for a long period of time. To counteract this problem, Kani scarves are woven according to the design of the panels. The different parts of the design are then sewn together to form a solid scarf. Rafugars sew the panels with such precision that it is difficult to tell where the seams are. This reduces the time required to make a complex scarf from Kani, from three years to 6-8 months. But this greatly increased the number of looms used and Kani’s weavers working on them. In particular, a Rafugar known as Ali Baba decided to touch the design and pattern of Kani with thread and needle, using the chain stitch. He was very pleased with the result and continued to develop the whole design through embroidery. He later modified it further, using Pashmina threads for embroidery. This improves the result of the Kani scarves and the chain stitch.

What is the history of hand-embroidered scarves from Pashmina?
The technique of hand-embroidered scarves from Pashmina belongs to families who have studied, taught and passed on the art through the generations. These skilled craftsmen have carefully made an exquisite scarf from Pashmina, for a period of five years. The most exquisite scarves, with embroidery visible on both sides, are rarely available nowadays. These double-sided or “do-rukha” scarves are worn by royal families. In fact, these are those scarves that have been presented to foreign nobles and rulers as gifts.
Foreigners are amazed by these exquisite scarves with elegant handmade and become the object of desire of everyone. These exquisite scarves are so loved by the French Empress Josephine that she decided to present them to her friends at the royal court.

Presentation of embroidered scarves
Initially, embroidery reproduces a twill tapestry and requires many minutes of observation to tell the difference between the two.
An embroidered scarf takes a quarter of the time to be ready, compared to Kani scarves, which have a similar design. Therefore, its price is much lower than Kani scarves. In terms of appearance, embroidered scarves are spectacular. Reduced time to make an embroidered scarf leads to significantly less taxation than Kani scarves.
The more intricate designs of scarves increase their cost. Embroidered scarves with relatively lower prices are beginning to gain popularity. These embroidered scarves are known as “Amlikar scarves” and originated in the 18th century.
The design to be embroidered on the scarf is outlined with perforated lines. It is then printed on the scarf using a fine powder in a contrasting color through the perforations. Once the tracing is removed, the outlines will be visible on the scarf so that the embroiderer can start working. Nowadays, however, embroiderers can use wooden blocks with carved patterns to make the outline of the scarf.

What types of yarn are used for embroidery on Pashmina?
Embroidery on Pashmina scarves is done with the help of two types of yarn. They can be embroidered with silk yarn or a synthetic material known as “staple”. Silk yarns, are very fine, give a more delicate and refined look to the scarf. Because silk yarn is very shiny, it adds shine to a scarf.
The main yarn, although thicker and less shiny, has the ability to retain its color much longer than silk yarn. Once the embroidery is complete, the floats on the back of the scarf are cut with scissors, giving it a clean look. Thanks to this feature, even when the scarf is not designed to be double-sided, it is very difficult to distinguish between the front and the back!

What types of motifs are used on Pashmina scarves?
There are many designs and patterns that are woven on Pashmina scarves. The most popular include the following.

Buti: This motif is a small unique flower design. It can also depict a root structure.

Buta: This motif is multicolored and much larger than Buti.

Buta-buti: This motif is between the sizes of Buta and Buti.
It is larger than Buti and yet smaller than Buta. This particular motif may include double, triple or even quadruple colored branches. But they are always less than Buta.

Khat-rast: This pattern is striped and runs the entire length of the scarf. Sometimes it includes Buti in the stripes.

Almond / Ambi / Kairi:This motif is known around the world as “Paisley”. He was the dominant motif in most scarves.

Lahariya: This motif is in the form of a zigzag and is usually used to depict water.

Shikargah: Shikargah means hunting. This motif in scarves depicts jungle scenes with many animal and human figures.

Zanjeer: Literally means chains, this is the design of the horizontal border and covers the main motifs, such as Buta, paisley and others. 

Hashiya: Hashiya is the vertical border woven along the length of the scarf.

Cypress:This motif is denoted by a group of flowers and leaves coming from a single stem. Often the stem is accompanied by a root structure. Many times the upper part of the flower has an inclined head, which gives it an asymmetrical motif.

Bouquets: This motif means a complex group of flowers, sometimes the leaves are missing, but there is always a large motif in the center, surrounded by smaller flowers. Often the stem comes out of a proportionately small vase or vessel.

Various patterns and designs appear among the embroideries. The flexibility provided by the embroidery technique allows embroiderers to create many more motifs and designs, which is somewhat limited by the Kani technique

Embroidered scarves peaked in the mid-19th century. This happens when embroiderers develop a new technique in which the scarf has two different colors on both sides. They are called “do rukha” scarves, which means two-tone. The technique mimics the weaving of kani scarves on the wrong side of the embroidered scarf. This is done by weaving a different colored thread through the fabric of the motif to mimic the weaving of Kani. Embroidery of do rukha scarves made with Kashmiri yarn ceased to exist in Kashmir after the mid-19th century. In fact, this term is not recognized in Kashmir today.