Cashmere Pashmina (also known as "Pashmina") is one of the world's finest and most luxurious wool. The origin of this wool is in the Changthang plateau (which extends from Western and Northern Tibet to parts of China and Ladakh in India). The source of Pashmina is the special Changthangi goats, which can survive harsh winters in the high altitudes of Chanthang plateau and develop a soft, warm undercoat which is combed in the spring season to collect the raw Pashmina fibres.
The shawls made from Pashmina fibre were initially used amongst the royal and prominent members of the society. Weaving a Pashmina is an age-old tradition in Kashmir and can be done only by skilled artisans who have learnt the craft of handling this delicate wool from their forefathers.
If anyone is looking to buy a special shawl, it is likely that they are looking to purchase a pure Pashmina. But to truly understand and identify the authentic quality of this shawl, you need to understand how they are made.
How Are Pashmina Shawls Made?
- Step 1 - Combing the Pashmina Fibre: Pastoral nomads of Changthang (who also domesticate and take care of Changthangi goats) comb the goats in Spring to get the raw wool fibre.
- Step 2 - Cleaning and Sorting: The raw wool is dusted to remove impurities such as sand, dust and other particles. The spinners (mainly women) comb the wool and clean wool fibres and segregate them according to their fineness. These days the initial cleaning and carding process can also be done by machine.
- Step 3 - Hand-spinning: The carded fibre is then hand-spun by women artisans on Charkha (a manual, wooden spinning wheel). Hand-spinning Pashmina is the most complex process in the entire Pashmina making value-chain and due to this reason, handspun Pashmina is rare and hence valued more.
Step 4: Transferring yarn to Pritz - Typically Kashmiri women spinners sell handspun yarn in the form of hanks ( in simple terms a measurable unit of bunch/loop of yarn) . The hanks are then transferred manually to Pritz (a wooden wheel reel) and then it is used in warp creation process.
- Step 5: Warp Making - The weaver holds the Pritz in his hand and walks forward and backward along the distance of 10-15 vertically placed iron rods (walking approximately 12 km in this back and forth movement around the rods). This way the yarn gets wrapped around the iron rods and these rods help in holding the warp together.
- Step 5: Weaving on the Loom - Once the warp is ready it is transferred to the loom for weaving. In uncomplicated words, warp is a series of yarns which you would see vertically along the length of the loom and it crosses with the weft horizontally to create woven Pashmina fabric.
- Step 7 : Hand-dyeing - Dyeing can happen either after the shawl is woven or can also happen after the yarn is read and the yarn is dyed before putting on the loom.
- Step 6: Embellishment - Once the shawl is weaved, it may be embellished in various ways (e.g. hand embroidery, hand painting, crystal embellishment).
Difference Between Cashmere And Pashmina
Now that we know the intricate processes that go into creating Pashmina shawls, you also need to understand if Pashmina and Cashmere are the same or not. While Pashmina and Cashmere are used interchangeably but there is a difference.
Pashmina is a type of Cashmere, but not all Cashmere is Pashmina. Both Pashmina as well as Cashmere can be handwoven and may appear similar but these are the main differences:
Spinning: Cashmere yarn is usually machine-spun but Pashmina yarn is even finer and hence breaks when put on any machine and hence is always hand-spun.
- Diameter: Pashmina fibres have a diameter between 10 to 16 microns, while Cashmere fibre can be up to 19 microns in diameter
- Making Effort: Usually pure Pashmina is more expensive than Cashmere, this is because fine Pashmina fibre is relatively less easily available and the making process requires far more skilled artisans (especially the hand-spinning step)
So far we have learnt and understood how Pashmina shawls are made and how different they are from Cashmere shawls and scarves. But another thing that you need to know when buying an original Pashmina Cashmere shawl, is how genuine or rather real it is.
How To Identify True Pashminas?
There are tons of fake Pashminas available in the market currently. That is why it is important to understand how to identify a real Pashmina:
Burn Test: This test can help you recognize the difference between a synthetic fibre from a natural one. You can do this test by burning a string from your shawl. If it burns quickly and gives a smell of burnt paper, you can quickly identify that it is fake. However, if it emits flames and smells like burnt hair, you can believe that it is indeed Pashmina. Other natural wools, for instance Merino wool too can pass the burn test, so it still cannot be determined fully that the fabric you are testing is indeed a Pashmina.
- GI Mark : GI (Geographical Indications) Mark is the authenticity seal for a true Pashmina Cashmere. The testing process to get this mark on a Pashmina is done at Craft Development Institute (Srinagar) and involves extensive quality testing. Only products that pass all the below criteria get a non-removable GI seal stamped.
- Material is 100% Pashmina Cashmere (and not a blend)
- Fiber diameter is between 12 to 16 microns
- Yarn is always handspun
- Fabric is handwoven in traditional Kashmiri looms
You can read more about the GI Mark, in our blog here.
At HeritageModa.com you can find pure Pashminas in our Hallmark Cashmere Collection; all these Pashminas are hand-spun, handwoven in Kashmir using Grade A Pashmina Cashmere from Ladakh.
Cashmere Pashmina shawl is a great accessory for winter as well as the wedding season. Pashmina is a great gift idea for important events such as weddings, anniversary, high profile events.
Pashmina spinning and weaving is a skillful and dying art; hence it becomes important to understand, preserve, and value the original craft and not get carried away by artificially softened look-alike products.