Shatoosh and Ring Shawls

25 Oct

Shatoosh, from which the legendary ‘ring shawl’ is made, is incredibly light, soft and warm. The astronomical price it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of the raw material. High in the plateaux of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude above 5,000 m, roam the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops Hodgsoni). During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed which are painstakingly collected by the nomads, eventually to supply to the Kashmiri shawl makers as shahtoosh.

The yarn is spun either from shahtoosh alone, or mixed with pashmina, bringing down the cost somewhat. In the case of pure shahtoosh too, there are many qualities – the yarn can be spun so skilfully as to resemble a strand of silk. Not only are shawls, made from such fine yarn, extremely expensive, but can only be loosely woven and are too flimsy for embroidery to be done on them.

Unlike woollen and pashmina shawls, shahtoosh is seldom dyed – that would be rather like dyeing gold! Its natural colour is mousy brown, and it is, at the most, sparsely embroidered.

Since the painstaking capture of the shatoosh hairs take so long, poachers have killed off a large part of the population of antelopes to hurry up the process! The sale and purchase of shahtoosh products is now illegal all over the world, so it is best not to ever purchase one, as it will be seized either when you are leaving India or entering the US.

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