With labour costs low and 'overheads' almost non- existent in the artisan villages of the Kashmir valley, the only place in the world where hand spun, hand woven, hand embroidered pashmina ring shawls are crafted by artisans. I have often mused why the prices are so high, even to wholesale buyers like ourselves.
I muse no more. A visit to these villages and time spent with the artisans who make these exquisite shawls explain everything. They are entirely hand made and it takes hundreds of hours and sometimes several years to produce just one shawl of this quality.
Witnessing the skill and artistry at first hand it becomes clear that the kashmiri ring shawl is a work of art. I ceased to think of it as an accessory or garment and quickly came to judge it as an investment piece and even an heirloom. The processes involved in producing them are awe - inspiring .
The shawls are entirely hand made as the pashmina fibre used ( you never hear the locals use the word cashmere...deemed to be of lesser quality and fineness) is so fine that a machine would break it.
The first part of the process is the spinning by hand, done exclusively by women on a traditional charka, a simple spinning wheel. Just prior to spinning these ladies separate by hand the coarser fibres from the ultra soft fibres, only the latter of which is used to spin the fine pashmina yarn.
Next comes the weaving, also done by hand on traditional wooden looms. Intricate patterns require meticulous attention to detail. The weaving is done by men and the patience and concentration needed day after day to achieve perfection is humbling. This process can take hundreds of hours particularly for the more complicated patterns. Watching how deftly and expertly the weavers work one is struck by the meticulous care they take to ensure that the quality is perfect.
I have always been intrigued by the intricacy of the hand embroidered shawl. Surprisingly the embroidery process is done exclusively by the men. Seated on the floor with knees drawn up to their chests they work painstakingly and expertly producing the most detailed of designs with silk thread on the delicate pashmina fabric. The embroiderer in the photograph is nearing completion of the shawl that has taken him to date one and a half years working 8 hours a day and six days a week.
A Prized Possession
These shawls are prized amongst the Indian people, especially for special occasions. We heard one wonderful story of a rather elaborate wedding where the cost of the invitations was an eye-watering $260,000. Each invitee was given with the formal invitation, a pashmina shawl. There were three levels at different prices according to the importance of the guests, the most important of which was hand embroidered.