Kashmiri Shawls have been renowned for centuries as the pride of emperors, kings, nobles and is admired and is now worn by common people world wide. Shawl is the most admired hand made fabric of Kashmir and is adorned by embroidery done either with sozni ( needle work ) or Aari ( hook work ). Kashmir shawls can be categorised into two types:- raffal wool and pashmina wool. About Kashmir Shawls it is said:”of all Indian textiles, nothing excels in beauty, colour, texture and design like the famous Kashmiri Shawl”.
The Emperor Akbar, was a great admirer of the kashmiri shawls. It was him who began the fashion of wearing them in duplicate, sewn back to back, so that the under surfaces of the shawls were never seen. During that era, the most coveted shawls were the ones worked in silver and gold thread or shawls having border ornamented with fringes of gold, silver and silk thread.
The basic fabric used in making shawls is of the three types – Shah Tush, Pashmina and Raffal. Shah Tush (King of wool) passes through a ring and is also known as 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 world over as cashmere wool, it comes from a special goat (Capra hircus) that lives at an altitude of 12000 to 14000 ft reared by shephered nomads around famous pongkong lake in close vicinity of western Tibet. Raffal is spun out of marino wool tops and is a popular type of shawl.
Perhaps the most attractive of the Kashmir shawls is the one made like patchwork. The patterns are woven in long strips, about twelve to eighteen inches in length and from one half to two inches in width. These design strips, are then cut to the required lengths and very neatly and expertly hand sewn together with almost invisible stitches and then they are finally joined by sewing to a plain central field piece. As a variation, pieces may be separately woven, cut up in various shapes of differing sizes and expertly sewn together and then further elaborated with embroidery. But there is a difference between these two types of shawls. While the patchwork loom shawls are made with separate narrow strips, the patchwork embroidered shawls have a certain number of irregularly shaped pieces joined together, each one balancing the predominant colour scheme of the shawl.
The shawls are embroidered in floral motifs, with a variety of designs like Neemdoor, Doordaar, Paladaar, Baildaar, Jaalis and Jammas, which are crafted with the help of needle. On the other hand, kani shawls are woven on looms with the help of kanis. Kanis are small eyeless bobbins used instead of the shuttle. The kashmiri shawls have a grace of their own making them a wardrobe must-have.