A Kani shawl has a unique demeanor and is the best pashmina that you can ever buy. Kani shawl comes from Kanihama, a small village 20 kilometers away from the main city. 'Kanihama' derives from two words, 'Kani' meaning wooden sticks, and 'Hama' meaning village. Kani weaving is a craft that employs small sticks of wood known as 'Kanis'. It has a distinct Mughal pattern that is woven into the fabric and is made by hand with wooden needles. Every shawl has knots. Kanis is woven into magical patterns with colorful weft threads. In Kashmir, Kani shawl weaving is said to be an ancient tradition that was brought here from Persia long ago. It is made from a forest wood known as 'poos tul.' A total of 15000 Kani looms were active in the valley during the rule of Zain ul Abideen (Budshah).
The story of Kani and Pashmina began in the snow attired valley of Kashmir. Winters are harsh and a hurdle to almost everything, except for art. Since time immemorial, artisans here have made crafts as their primary occupation, and this tradition continues today. In the stillness of the outdoors, women remain busy spinning fine Cashmere into yarn. Their days remain engrossed in the gossamer fine yarn, as do their thoughts. Kashmir's winter season is when art flourishes in each house, eventually penetrating the world in the summer when the valley emerges from winter's veil.
Kani Shawls of Kashmir
Shawl weaving is to Kashmir what creativity is to an artisan. These are inseparable from each other. In terms of creativity, there is always one masterpiece made by an artisan that he himself considers to be his best work. This is also true for the Kani shawl, the masterpiece of shawl weaving in Kashmir. Handwoven Kani Shawls are considered nothing short of magic due to their patience, creativity, and love for the work. Kani artisans are unique in the world of weaving due to these attributes.
The Kani shawl is a product of time. In Kashmir, Kani shawls take years to complete, especially those with motifs all over the base. The intersection of the warps and wefts is magical, and hence it takes a whole lifetime to complete. It takes years of the artisans' life, his artistic creativity, his skill, and the instructions from the older generations that they have learned over time.
Kashmir is revered for its Pashmina art. Women not only love and cherish it, but they are emotionally attached to it as well. The Ladakhi cashmere, which is spun into Pashmina shawls, has been a source of income for women since the 15th century. Therefore, it is not just a piece of fabric they create, but a bundle of memories that bring them great joy.
Kani weave and Pashmina are simply magical together. Watching and experiencing the way the warps and wefts meet in a Pashmina or Kani weave is simply fascinating. The Kani shawl of Kashmir spread its wings in Europe.Kani shawls were so beloved by European royalty that Empress Josephine - a fashion icon - owned over a hundred of them. This expensive and meticulously crafted art was unique to shawls made of wool or silk and was not done on any other type of shawl. It was the best decision of the artisans to feature Kani weave on Pashmina shawls, as the shawls prospered like anything.
Making of a Kani Pashmina Shawl
Kani weaving begins once Cashmere yarn has been spun. Ladakh produces cashmere, which comes from a rare goat species. During the moulting period, goat herders gently brush out the goat's soft fur. Cashmere is raw fleece that must be processed. The fleece is first cleaned and then sent to Kashmir for processing.
When it arrives in Kashmir, women clean it thoroughly as soon as it arrives. Each fine thread is separated and any guard hair or waste products attached to it are removed. For a few days, the fleece is soaked in a paste of rice water to make it strong and shiny. The fleece is washed again after removing it from the paste, and then spun.
Kashmiri Cashmere is spun using a wooden wheel, which is a traditional method. Using their hands and the spinning wheel, women spin raw wool lumps into threads. Wool chunks are converted into fine yarn through this process. These yarns have a diameter of about 12-16 microns. It is used for weaving the warp. And this is not just any weaving. It is the enchanting Kani weave.
Introduction of Kani into Pashmina
Usually, a designer or a Naqash begins by drawing a design on graph paper. This is given to a taran guru, who converts it into a coded pattern called Talim. Weavers follow this talim to determine how many warp threads need to be covered with a particular coloured weft. A weaver starts weaving the shawl like a carpet and introduces the colours of the wefts with the help of Kanis, or small wooden bobbins, around which coloured threads are wound. This means that Kani shawls do not have embroidery and their motifs are made up of colored threads in the weft. This is the unique feature of Kashmiri Kani shawls. Kani shawls are masterpieces crafted out of patience and skill.
Kani shawl artisans have a level of concentration that is difficult to comprehend. Each artisan can weave a Kani shawl a maximum of one inch per day, depending on the complexity and intricacy of the design.Kani Shawls can take anywhere from 3 to 36 months to weave.This enthralling process takes the artisans up to 8 hours a day. Kani Shawls are so complex that only the most skilled and knowledgeable artisans can weave them properly. Techniques and know-how are traditionally handed down from forefathers to future generations
The amount of labour, time and skillful craftsmanship that goes into making a Kani shawl is worth observation. This makes Kani shawls one of the most expensive accessories in the world.
Kani Shawls are housed in world's finest museums like Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris and the department of Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. And it surely does not come as a surprise to any patron of this majestic art.
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