One of the rarest and most luxurious natural fibers in the world, cashmere is a variety of wool that is obtained from Pashmina goats found in Ladakh. The Cashmere fiber is used in the making of the Pashmina shawl. While some references to cashmere shawls appear from the 3rd century, historical context believes Kashmiri Cashmere was introduced to the world by a 16th-century Sufi saint, Shah e Hamdan, who visited Kashmir with 700 craftsmen. With the development of manufacturing units in the valley, people from different corners of the world started visiting Kashmir. This led to the rise in the Kashmiri economy and Cashmere was exported to different parts of the world, especially Europe. The economy hence grew exponentially, and more and more people started to engage in the process of Pashmina shawl making. Cashmere artisans were one of the richest and most revered people in society.
How is Cashmere made?
Pre Spinning Process
The changpa goats start shedding their wool as the weather becomes warmer during springtime. The pre-spinning process begins with the collection of wool at the same time. It is estimated that one changpa goat produces around 80 to 450 grams of Cashmere per year. And to produce one Cashmere wrap, at least wool from three goats is used.
The process begins with combing the goat carefully and releasing the wool from its body. The goat rubs itself against rough surfaces like large rocks, shrubs, etc. to free itself from the burden of wool. The rest of the wool on the body is then combed using professional tools like a pin brush, a slicker brush, and a brush with natural bristles. The expert moves across the ribs and the belly carefully, taking his time. The wool hence obtained is impure, full of dust and dirt, and in desperate need of cleaning and sorting.
Dusting and Cleaning Cashmere
After extraction, the process of dusting and cleaning the wool begins. As much as 20% of Cashmere is lost as sand and dust are separated from the wool. Sometimes the raw wool is run through the raw wool as the impurities are too large to be sorted with hands. The raw wool is then sorted and detailed. In sorting, raw wool is classified according to the length and quality of the fiber. In detailing, the guard hair is separated from the fiber itself. Pure wool fibers are then mixed with natural glue to make them stronger and smoother. This process is called glueing. Pounded rice mixed with water is stored in a vessel & raw fiber is soaked into it for 2-3 days. The fibers are sifted out on the third day and then cleaned once again to remove the rice particles. The resulting strong, clean, and pure fiber is called Thumb (locally). This thumb is then given to spinners to spin it over traditional charkhas known as yinder in Kashmir.
The spinning process is considered the most intricate activity in the preparation of Cashmere. In this step, the thumb obtained is converted to long and delicate Cashmere fiber.
The thumb or pure tuft of Cashmere wool is held between the thumb and two fingers. The spinner turns the charkha wheel with her right hand and keeps moving the tuft of fiber upwards and downwards with the left hand in a balanced rhythm. The charkha's movement must be synchronized with the movement of the hand otherwise the fiber will break. Thus spinning a charkha is a skill in itself and needs precision and careful attention. Cashmere fiber is then obtained by spinning the yarn from the Yinder. It is fine, delicate, and warm. Later yarn is transferred over a wooden reeler for more strength (double the strength of a single yarn).
Spinning Pashm can even be done with the help of a machine, which is a modern alternative to hand spinning. The wool of Cashmere is sometimes spun over a machine (semi-automated) to increase the production of Cashmere wraps. Pure Cashmere wool is first mixed with nylon (or any fiber with great strength) to make it able to bear the harshness of a machine. Later, when the wrap is complete, it is treated with acid to remove the added component fiber. While the wrap prepared in this manner is pure, it does not have the traditional charm of handmade Cashmere. It is the handspun wraps that are often preferred over machine-spun pieces because they are more soft and lustrous. But handspun shawls take time to get manufactured because spinning a shawl itself takes months together.
In about 30 working days, it takes Yinder about 30 grams of pashmina yarn to spin 100 grams. Hence it is now a days preferred to spin a shawl with the help of a machine and then weave it by hand.
As soon as the weavers get spun yarn from spinners, they begin the pre-loom processes. Weavers get the yarn in the shape of hanks, thus the first activity that weavers perform is opening these hanks. The yarn is stretched over a thanjoor which is a large wooden stand consisting of two vertically standing iron rods. The yarn is stretched until it is long enough, after which it is wound over a precz (wooden spindle), and taken to be Yarun. However, if dyeing is required before Yarun, it is dyed first using natural dyes, as cashmere is unable to withstand harsh chemicals.
Two wooden spindles are taken outdoors and wound around 4-6 wooden rods, dug into the ground vertically. Two men walk back and forth around these rods and continuously keep winding the yarn on the spindles around these erected rods. These rods are woven with over a thousand threads. This process is considered crucial and labor-intensive.
From the iron rods, the yarn is removed after it is perfectly stretched. It is handed over to a professional warp dresser who fixes these yarns as warps in a loom. The process is not an easy one. It is believed to take more than 6 days to fix each warp into the heddles of the loom. The traditional Kashmiri loom is made of wood. It comes with a small bench enough for just two people to sit. More than a dozen rods are wrapped around the yarn on the loom as per the weave of the wrap that they need to create. The yarn has already been fixed into the loom. The process starts with the two men assisting each other. As one passes the yarn from behind, the other one pulls it through the loop. A 10% wastage during the weaving of Cashmere wraps is normal. It takes an average of around 4-5 days to weave a plain Cashmere wrap.
The result of weaving Cashmere is a plain fabric called thaan. From this thaan, wraps of different sizes are cut out as and when required.
Cashmere and Pashmina
The best use of Cashmere in the valley was done by making Shawls out of Cashmere wool which came to be known as Pashmina shawls. Pashmina shawls are a variety of cloth made in several different patterns. Plain shawls, embroidered shawls, and Kashmiri shawls are among them. Hence Cashmere was the wool used to make the shawls and Pashmina came to be known as the exquisite art of making shawls from Cashmere.
At Hanngul, we offer a mesmerizing range of 100% Cashmere products that are a perfect blend of traditional and contemporary patterns, crafted by keeping in mind the fashion trends across the globe.