Pashmina is world-famous today in the world of wool garments and much sought after. It is a fact that Pashmina is the warmest and the most luxurious wool garment and has always been considered precious. The beauty and the rarity of a pashmina garment puts it up on the pinnacle of wool garments. Though many people know about Pashmina, there’s also an immense amount of mystery around its origins, how it’s made and what makes it so exclusive.
At Zaina by CtoK, we work exclusively with talented artisans in Kashmir who produce the most exquisite and original Pashmina shawls and other garments for our valued customers. The making of Pashmina garments involves several laborious steps and it is the artisans and a whole host of skilled workers who work hard and long to produce these beautiful garments. Here we let you in on a few of the secrets behind this precious material.
Pure Pashmina - Getting down to the basics
It is an exclusive and rare type of cashmere wool that comes from a specific mountain goat called Changthangi goats. These are species of goats that are herded by the Changpa nomadic tribes on the high-altitude mountain slopes and arid plateaus of Changthang, Ladhak. The Changpa are traditional shepherds who make a living by herding goats, sheep and yak. The Changthang plateaus are at an altitude of about 14,600m above sea level. The temperature here can reach down to a frigid minus 30 degrees centigrade.
Creation of Pashmina yarn - a step by step process
1. The fine down - and the right time to start collecting it
To keep themselves warm in such extreme climatic conditions, as the winters set in the Changthangi goats grow a warm and fine down on their throat and underbelly. In late spring, this same thick down that kept the goats warm and cosy in the snowy winter begins to make them uncomfortably warm and they start trying to take off their fleece by themselves. They do this by sometimes repeatedly rubbing themselves against a fence or passing through bushes several times. When this behaviour in the goats is observed by the shepherds, they know that they must start combing the goats right away.
2. Combing of the woolly
Using a set of special combs, the shepherds carefully comb the goats in several steps to collect the fleece without breaking the fibre. They work on the bigger areas like the underbelly first and then go on to the ears, neck etc which yield shorter fibres.
3. Buying and segregating the wool
Once the snow melts, it is this fleece that brought down to Leh and is sold as raw pashm fibre in the markets of Leh where our Kashmiri weavers purchase them. These are then cleaned, sorted and segregated first according to their fineness and then according to their colour which could be white, light grey, cream or brown.
Our dedicated artisans and their families are fully involved in the spinning of the wool to make yarn. The women in the family have honed their skill in spinning of pashmina wool with years of practice. They painstakingly clean and spin the very fine and fragile pashm into yarn. The process of spinning is manual and is done in the following steps.
- Sorting - where the wool is sorted as per quality and length of fiber. At this time any grease or other physical impurities are removed. The guard hair, that is the coarse hair that is not used to make the pashmina yarn is also removed.
- Washing - the yarn is washed with water.
- Carding - In this process, the entangled fibres are separated and straightened manually using two wooden combs.
- Spinning ~ Finally, the untwined carded fibre is spun on a traditional wooden spinning wheel with utmost care to avoid breakages. There is no way to do this with a mechanical spinning wheel since the wool is so delicate and must be treated carefully.
The end result is a yarn so fine and precious that it’s just about 14 microns thick.
Pashmina and Cashmere - the connection
The name Pashmina comes from the Persian word for wool – Pashm. But is pashmina cashmere? Or is cashmere pashmina? This is a question that many connoisseurs of pashmina often have. Pashmina used to be exported to various countries in the world and it came to be known as Cashmere because it comes from Kashmir. Kashmir Pashmina, hence, became standardized as Cashmere. It’s considered to be the warmest fabric there is.
Not all Cashmere is Pashmina
Only the Cashmere made from the very finest wool that comes from the Changthangi goats are considered as Pashmina. These are the only garments that we source directly from our artisans and retail on www.zainabyctok.com.
There are other kinds of Cashmere widely available now and these are made from wool found in Mongolia, Nepal and China. These are sometimes mixed with other types of yarn or even synthetic yarn so that it’s possible to spin and weave them using machines. This is a faster process and many garments can be produced quickly. However, this is the very antithesis of what Pashmina is, what it stands for and what makes it so valuable and precious.
Pashmina - the most valuable woollen garment
Pashmina garments are among the most valuable garments that are produced with wool. There are a few important reasons for this.
The raw material
The raw material that is required to make a pashmina garment is hard to collect in large quantities – the wool from the rare Changthangi goats is limited in quantity and must be collected in the shearing season only. Each goat provides as little as 500 gms of pashm each year – all of which are short fibres. Apart from this, each female goat has just one offspring in each year. This means that the herds do not increase so much in number very quickly.
The process of creating Pashmina garments
The skill required in spinning the pashmina yarn from these short fibres is manual, difficult, with very few people being skilled in this art. They must be hand-spun on a charkha so that the delicate fibres are not damaged. For example, our artisans can spin up to just 10gms of pashmina yarn in three days and so it takes us several weeks to get enough yarn to make one pashmina garment.
The embellishments on the Pashmina garment
Other factors that drive up the value and preciousness of pashmina are the detailed embroidery on it or special weaves that are used to create woven shawls or scarves.
In effect, pashmina is a precious material. The cost of pashmina is directly proportional to its value as well as the immense effort and skill that goes into producing garments using this material.
Pashmina Garments - Naturally Lightweight
It’s also known that pashmina shawls are usually quite lightweight. This is because the pashmina wool is exceptionally fine and thin – just about 13-19 microns (1/1000th of mm). To put this in perspective, a strand of human hair is 200 microns thick. This makes the pashmina garment extremely light for its size.
At #ZainabyCtoK, our pashmina shawls can be as light as 180gms! And our pashmina stoles can weigh as little as 95gms! However, in the case of embroidered pashmina, the garment is woven tightly, making it a bit heavier. A larger amount of raw material is required for a tight weave to be able to take the weight of embroidery.
The Lengthy Process of Creating a Pashmina Garment
The fact that the pashmina wool is so fine, makes working with it a difficult and slow process. Often, each pashmina garment takes as long as 5-6 months for our artisans to make - including time spent in spinning the yarn, weaving the garment, embellishing it with embroidery and finishing it.
Just the spinning process that we detailed earlier, takes a couple of months to make the quantity of yarn required for one shawl. The weaving takes about 10 days for a simple weave. The embroidery itself, being so detailed, can take another 3 months.
In these times of quick fashion and factory produced ready-made garments, pashmina is a beautiful example of something that takes time, is done manually and with painstaking attention to detail.
Pashmina – The Perfect Gift For Your Loved Ones
When you want to show your loved ones how special they are to you, what better way to do it than to gift them something authentic and special like one of our Pashmina garments? Not only is it a real treasure, but it’s also gorgeous to look at, plus it keeps you warm and toasty. In short, it checks all the boxes for a classy and thoughtful gift for every occasion or even no occasion.
A Pashmina Garment - a Family Heirloom
Kashmir Pashmina garments are often a family heirloom and last generations if taken care of well. Since not many pieces are crafted each year, owning a pashmina becomes so much more desirable.
A Rich History
It can be said that there’s not really a great mystery behind each Kashmiri pashmina, but truly a rich history. A story of precious raw material, several hundreds of hours of skillful crafting process, a group of talented craftspeople, creating something of everlasting beauty that we can enjoy forever.
At www.zainabyctok.com, we are proud to bring to you a whole range of these authentic, rare and precious beauties directly from the artisans of Kashmir.
Written by Supriya Subramanian for Zaina by CtoK