People have various notions about Pashmina. Some think of it to be a goat, some a thread, some a form of embroidery. So ‘what is a pashmina’?
Well, Pashmina is a super fine quality of wool that comes from a particular species of goat. This wool is then used to make shawls and scarfs that go by the same name. Simply put, a Pashmina is a super soft and super warm luxury shawl that is indigenous to the beautiful valley of Kashmir.
While only a few have the eye for a true Pashmina, many believe that every shawl that comes from the Kashmir region qualifies as a Pashmina.
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Now that we have a general idea, let’s dig deeper and know this shawl better.
What is a Pashmina?
The Pashmina is made from the wool of a particular kind of goat that is native to Kashmir. This goat is called the ‘Changthangi’ goat or Capra Hircus or it is also popularly referred to as the ‘Pashmina goat’. The word Pashmina comes from the word ‘pashm’, which itself means soft wool.
The temperatures in some areas in Kashmir often fall as low as -40 degrees celsius during the winters. The Changthangi goat develops a special kind of wool to resist against such low temperatures. Later, when the spring season sets in, these goats shed their wool; which is then used in the making of a Pashmina.
A Pashmina Shawl is the perfect epitome of luxury, comfort and class. It is much desired by women all across the globe.
What is the history of Pashmina?
There are various theories that suggest how the Pashmina originated. It is said that the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin introduced pashmina to the world. Whereas, another theory suggests that a Persian Sufi named Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani who arrived in Kashmir with 700 Persian artisans sometime during the 14th century introduced the art of Pashmina.
Even though the exact story of its origin can be a bit controversial, Kashmir has been an expert of the art for centuries and centuries.
It is also said that the great French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte presented a Pashmina shawl to his wife Josephine. And the shawl impressed her so much that she is known to have owned many of them.
Before the 20th century, only royals would own a Pashmina. There are various royal families that are known to have spent fortunes on them. But, times eventually changed and industries evolved greatly. And his beautiful piece of art became accessible to everyone not just in India but in the rest of the world as well.
Through the years, the Pashmina has maintained its reputation as the most luxurious yet comfortable shawl that is known to man and yet somehow, it has evolved too. Centuries later, Pashmina is still known to be a status symbol and hasn’t lost its prestige at all.
Pashmina and Cashmere: Same or Different?
The answer? Same, yet different! People often confuse between the two.
One thing that is different between these two is that- Pashmina is made from the wool that is obtained from the Changthangi goats. It is super fine and each of its fibres has a diameter of around 10 to 15 microns. Pashmina wool can only be spun by hand. Pashmina wool is also quite rare.
Whereas, the wool for cashmere shawls can be obtained from any kind of goats and not just the Changthangi goats. It has a diameter of about 15 to 18 microns. This wool is super fine too but not as fine as the Pashmina wool. This is the major difference between Pashmina and Cashmere. Cashmere wool can be spun using machines. This means, cashmere wool can easily be found.
Although, nowadays, these two are often confused with each other. ‘Cashmere’ is, in fact, an Anglicised term for Pashmina. During the 18th century, various Europeans visited India and returned back to their countries with various Pashmina shawls as gifts. And instead of calling them ‘Pashmina’ they re-named them to ‘Cashmere’ (denoting the place where it belongs- Kashmir).
How is a Pashmina Shawl Made?
The way Pashmina shawls are woven hasn’t really changed since centuries. Till date, traditional methods are used in weaving a Pashmina. The process of weaving a Pashmina shawl is called ‘Wonun’ and the weaver weaving it is called ‘Wovur’.
This is how a Pashmina is Made: Process of Making Pashmina Shawl
First, the wool/ yarn is obtained.
Around 4 to 8 iron rods are already fixed on the ground. The wool yarn is first wound around these rods. The rods are usually spread across an area of 10 meters. A person has to walk across these rods multiple times while winding the yarn across them. This is how the warp gets made.
The yarn is then stretched and perfected.
It is then dried out in the sun and then wound again on wooden spindles.
Then, the yarn goes on the handloom where expert weavers weave it by hand.
Since the Pashmina wool is so fine that it cannot be spun using machines. Hence, each and every process that goes into making a Pashmina shawl is done using hands.
It takes a few days for a Pashmina shawl to be made.
After the wool is weaved into a beautiful shawl, an amazingly skilled embroiderer works his magic next. The shawl is then covered with beautiful, colorful embroidery. At the end of the embroidery process, the shawl is first washed and ironed before it reaches the stores to be sold.
What makes a Pashmina so expensive and special?
A Pashmina’s warmth is incomparable. Since the Changthangi goats need to survive extreme cold temperatures, they develop a thick fur which helps them in resisting the temperatures. This gives the Pashmina a warmth like no other! A Pashmina isn’t just known for its warmth but also for its softness and lightweightedness. Only someone who owns a Pashmina knows why all this craze surrounds it.
Every time you step out wearing a Pashmina shawl, you don’t just have something that’ll keep you super warm but you’ll also make a style statement. A Pashmina can add oodles and oodles of grace to any outfit.
Not to forget, with a Pashmina, you also own a beautiful piece of heritage and legacy that has been passed on from generations to generations. It is truly a timeless piece.
What makes a Pashmina shawl or scarf so expensive is the process that goes behind it. Since everything is done using hands, it can take several days and in some cases months to craft a single shawl. Another factor that makes it expensive is the rarity of the wool. The artisans toiling hard to craft the perfect piece of Pashmina for their customers are also amazingly skilled and working in the industry for years. All of this makes a Pashmina shawl truly worth each penny!
What is a Pashmina scarf?
A scarf or a stole that is made using the wool from the Pashmina or Changthangi goats can be called a Pashmina scarf.
What is a Pashmina wrap?
A shawl or a scarf that you can use during the winters and is made from the Pashmina wool can be called a Pashmina wrap. A Pashmina can be wrapped around in various styles.
What is a Pashmina scarf made of?
A Pashmina scarf is made from the wool of a type of goat called the Changthangi goat. The wool gets weaved into a beautiful scarf.
How to identify Real Pashmina?
Now that you know what is a Pashmina scarf and what is a Pashmina shawl, it is important to know whether the shawl/ scarf you want to buy is real or not. Here is how you tell whether a Pashmina is real or not:
- The Burn test: Take a thread from your shawl/ scarf and burn it. If it smells like burnt hair, the Pashmina is most likely real.
- The weave: Test a pashmina shawl under natural light. If you see irregular weaves, the Pashmina is real. Since a real Pashmina is handwoven, its weave will have some irregularities as opposed to unauthentic Pashminas woven using machines.
- Rubbing test: Rub the shawl using your fingers. If it generates tiny sparks, the Pashmina isn’t genuine.
- The Price: A real Pashmina comes at a price. If you find a vendor selling it at unbelievably low prices, don’t fall for it as the Pashmina being sold in this case isn’t real.
- Shine: Unauthentic pashminas usually exhibit a lot of shine. If the Pashmina looks shiny, ditch it and look for better vendors selling genuine ones.
Over to You
We hope this article cleared your doubts on ‘What is a Pashmina?’.When you decide to buy a Pashmina, remember all the hard work that goes into making one. Buy only from authentic sellers as there is a whole market dedicated to selling fake Pashmina shawls.
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Mir Saeid is the Co-Founder of Kashmirica. He is an enthusiastic cultural entrepreneur driven by the passion to bring about a social impact. Mir has worked at leading Marketing positions at various SMEs and Start-ups for 7+ years. He also has a Masters in International Business from the University of Bedfordshire to his credit.