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The textile tradition in Kashmir has a glorious history of world renowned tapestry that is popular among many. May it be the Kani shawls or Sozni needlework, even today the hand woven and embroidered textile products are a speciality of the many Kashmiri skilled weavers.
A brief history
In Kashmir, the earliest records of tapestry designs go back as far as the seventeenth century.As a result of foreign invasions ,and the spread of Islam in Kashmir, the Persian socio cultural patterns had a profound influence on Kashmiri art . Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin of Persia, who ruled Kashmir from 1420-1470 invited artists and craftsmen from central Asia and Persia to train local artists in Kashmir. Under his rule the arts of shawl weaving, wood carving, papier-mache- and carpet weaving prospered. In the sixteenth century Mughal period, however, there was a boom in the popularity of Kashmiri shawls in the country. Primarily worn by Kings and royal courtiers, the uniquely gifted work of many weavers found its way beyond South Asia in this period. It was only in mid 1800s, the Kashmiri shawls became popular among the European elite mainly the French.
Kashmir embroidery is one of the most famous styles of decorated needlework from the Indian subcontinent. It originates from the Jammu and Kashmir region of Northwestern part of South Asia. Outstanding characteristic of the Kashmir embroidery is its elegance and the use of harmonious grouping of colors in the designs influenced by nature.
Kashmiri embroidery is done on different base materials like wool, cotton and silk with different kinds of threads. Kashmir embroidery includes Sozni work, Aari work, Jamawar, Tilla work and more. The embroidery consists of a simple running stitch with stem stitch(kanigar) in a darker shade to outline the various motifs. Other stitches, notably, are button hole stitch, chain stitch(zalakdozi) , herringbone stitch, satin stitch(sozni), slanted darning stitch, stem stitch and straight stitch. The Jaali, open work, is used to produce a lace like effect. This work is done with a single thread. Because of the intrinsic smooth texture, slotting in various types of complex embroidery works into the material is somewhat a tricky task. Only experienced craftsmen who possess extreme designing capacity will be able to do this.
Kashmir embroidery is used to decorate wide range of objects from men and women”s clothing like shawls, sarees, suits, phirans , jackets etc. The value of a piece of work is determined by the motifs and size of stitches used as well as the quality and quantity of embroidery thread used .For ages Kashmiri embroidered garment has been a fashion statement piece as it has enchanted millions with its charm and intricacy. As a result of modernization and demand for new designs, the creation of designer sarees and other garments have recreated its charm and antiquity with modern look in recent times.
From early simple designs to the intricate motifs that are seen today, Kashmiri garments display an ancient art of fascinating nature. There are a few basic characteristics one can identify with the Kashmiri embroidery. The formative imitation of natural beauty that the Kashmiri motif may display includes depiction of flowers, leaves enriched with diverse colors and forms. Brilliantly crafted embroidery flows smoothly with the surface of the garment and the rich colors togethe become an integral part of the fabric.
What may be called the symbol of Kashmiri craftmanship is the” badam” (almond)or “paisley”. This form in its thousands of variations is seen on almost every product that is embroidered in Kashmir. The “sarav” is yet another commonly seen motif, quite similar to badam in its shape. Maple leaf or Chinar and Boteha(flower) and fruits which have persisted all along in many forms are other forms of prominent motifs seen in Kashmiri embroideries. Geometrical patterns and calligraphic forms are also embroidered. Themes like” Shikargah “(hunting ground), or” Jungle Tarah” (jungle scene) are also common. These scenes are mostly based on fauna of Kashmir like parrots, kingfishers, ducks horses and many more. The designs are mainly done as Jaals-all over patterns, Border patterns, Bootis-single motifs that are placed at required intervals on the fabric.
The craft practices of Kashmiri artisanal community form a strong part of their identity as their skill, traditional methods and mastery of art has run through countless generations. Rafugars or the darners are the embroiderers who decorate the woven fabric with embroidery. The intended design is traced onto the fabric by a professional tracer called Naqash, who uses a punch and pounce technique with either a charcoal or chalk powder that leaves a trail of dots on the fabric. The dots are then joined together to create a design using a pen (kalam) and ink.
The shawls which are known for their inimitable tapestry design make use of a fibre commonly known among the natives as Pashm or Pashmina. Pashmina wool is derived from the underbelly of the Himalayan goat called Capra hircus commonly known as Pashmina goat living at the height of 14,000 feet above sea level. The goat sheds its wool in the early days of June as the summer approaches, which is then gathered by the shawl makers to make Pashmina shawl. The fibre is only 15 microns in thickness along with being extremely regular in structure, making it perfect for “fine spinning”
After so many years of its popular history, Pashmina remains an essential part of a fashionable wardrobe, attesting to its durability and widespread appeal of this classic fabric. Real Pashmina shawls and sarees are pricey because of the rareness of the wool and other characteristics like softness and warmth.
A less frequently seen weave done only on Pashmina covers the surface with tiny lozenge shaped squares, earning it the delightful name of “Chashm-e-bulbul” or eye of the “bulbul”. As this weave is a masterpiece of the weavers art, it is normally not embroidered upon.
The beautiful tapestry among the Kashmiri textile is more evident in its most popular version-The Kani Shawls. Kani weaving is believed to be an art that traces back to 3000BC. For creating this form of art on loom, small wooden sticks called ‘Kani’ are used as tools and so the embroidery bears its name. A handmade fully Jamawar Kani Pashmina shawl about 24-30 months to complete. Kani weaving is also done on sarees stoles etc.
Jamawar is an old craft practiced by skilled craftmen. In the word Jamawar, Jama means ‘a robe or a shawl’ and War means ‘yard’. The intricate embroidery is spread across the entire fabric of shawl so that nothing of the base fabric shows.
Also known as Sozankar, it is a very fine and delicate embroidery done with hands. Sozni means needle work and is mainly done on Pashmina.
These are the unique type of Kashmiri shawls that have intricate embroidery done through darn stitch so that the design is the same on both sides but sometimes the offset of colors may be different.
The name Kalamkari translates as pen( kalam) work (kari) and means painting by hand using a pen called kalam. It is a very distinct type of art that involves a mix of hand painted and embroidered designs. Our experienced and skilled craftsmen use natural dyes to paint the design around an embroidery.
This is an embroidery done with imitation of gold and silver threads and sometimes even copper thread known as ‘Zari’. Done with hands on a needle point this is a very intricate form of embroidery. Due to the undiminishing sheen , the tilla embroidered garments form an integral part of a bride’s trousseau.
This is a type of Kashmiri embroidery in which the designs of flowers and leaves are worked in satin stitch.The design is worked in bright colors and outlined in black thread.
Aari embroidery is a speciality of Kashmiri artisans who create it in fine concentric rings of chain stitch using a special hooked needleknown as ‘Aar’. This is a special crooked head needle to hold the yarn in and draw it into a line on a fabric through numerous consistent pricks. Each previous loop is held by subsequent one to make a chain effect.