Pashmina, popularly known as cashmere wool, derived its name from Pashm, which refers to the under fleece of the Himalayan mountain goat, called Chyangra (Capra Hircus) which lives in the high altitude of 12,000 feet in Himalayan regions of Nepal where the temperature drops below -40 degrees and in some remote regions of Tibetan Plateau. One pashm goat yields 3 to 8 ounces for fiber a year. This wool has a thousand years of history of being woven into shawls, and blankets, and praised for its exquisite softness, long life, warmth, and beauty.
The thermo conductivity of this wool is very high and proves to be the best insulator. Pure Pashmina wool is coarse and too delicate to wear. So, it undergoes a process that makes it soft as silk and is referred as cashmere. Pure Pashmina comes from Tibet and not Kashmir.
“Cashmere is any wool under 19 microns in thickness.”
In the early ages, Pashmina was a royal symbol and was known as Fiber for Kings. During the 15th century, weaving of Tapestry shawls was introduced from Turkistan by Zain-ul-Abdin, the ruler of Kashmir. Exquisitely soft, light weight, and still warm, this royal luxury was patronized by successive rulers like Akbar. When the Mugal empire collapsed these weavers became unemployed. Later on in the 19th century, Pashmina became a craze in France after Napoleon presented an exotic shawl to Empress Josephine.
Today most of the worlds Pashmina shawls are woven in Katmandu valley of Nepal and individually hand dyed. Nepal has the experience of dealing in Pashminas for more than two centuries.
There are different methods for different types:
- Plain Shawls: woven from undyed yarns in a simple weave. Dyed after weaving but before the fringe is finished.
- Jacquard Weave Shawls: as above but made on special (Jacquard) looms which allow self patterns to be woven into the fabric.
- Stripes, checks, etc: woven with dyed yarns into the various patterns.
- Printed: woven from undyed yarns, base colour dyed after weaving and then screen printed with the pattern in the various colours required. A different screen is used for each colour.
- Embroidered: as for plain shawls but embroidered before fringe finishing.