About Kashmir Shawls it is said, "Of all Indian textiles none excels in beauty, colour, texture and design as the famous Kashmir Shawl".
Shawls are produced by two techniques, loom woven or Kani shawls and the needle embroidered or size shawls.
The basic fabric is of the three types - Shah Tush, Pashmina and Raffal. Shah Tush (King of wool) passes through a ring and is also known as the Ring shawl.
It comes from a rare Tibetan antelope living at a height of over 14000 ft in the wilds of the Himalayas. Pashmina is known the world over as cashmere wool, it comes from a special goat (Capra hircus) living at an altitude of 12000 to 14000 ft reared by shepherd nomads around famous Hongkong lake in close vicinity of western Tibet. The raffle is spun out of merino wool tops and is a popular type of shawl.
The shawls are embroidered in floral motifs, and various designs available range from Neemdoor, Doordaar, Paladaar, Baildaar, Jaalis and Jammas, with the help of a needle.
Whereas Kani shawls are woven on looms with the help of Kanis. Kanis are small eyeless bobbins used instead of the shuttle.
John Irwin in his well-known book, "Kashmir Shawls' says." The local tradition held so far is that the founder of the shawl industry was Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin.
Until the 19th century, all Kashmir shawls were made by hand. It took between six months and a year to make one shawl.
These antique shawls were made from pashmina wool, taken from the under the hair of pashmina goats living in the high-altitude plains of Tibet, Nepal and Ladakh.
This highly sought-after wool was imported into Kashmir — which lies on the borders between India, Pakistan and China — separated by colour, spun into yarn and woven on a loom.
Before the 17th century, the pashmina wool was not dyed, and so Kashmir shawls were white, brown, grey or black. Later, it became more fashionable to colour the wool with natural dyes of dark blue, red and saffron yellow.
Depending on their condition, some shawls can be worn while others are best left for admiring — an old or fragile shawl or fragment can be hung on the wall in a frame or a stretcher.
More durable shawls should be worn, or periodically taken out of storage to be enjoyed because keeping them folded for long periods can damage their fibres. Store your shawls individually wrapped in cotton clothes, in a dry place away from direct sunlight.
Clean them with cashmere detergent. Very fine pieces should be cleaned by a specialist restorer and cared for in the same way as a suzani textile .