The region of Kashmir and its shawl trade

25 Oct

The origins and development of the Kashmir shawl owe much both to Kashmir’s location, cut off as it is by the Pir Panjal range and to its position at the crossroads of some of Asia’s great trade routes. Kashmir’s relative geographical isolation ensured that a concentration of skilled workers could be built up and maintained. its position on the trade routes from Tibet and from Turkestan gave it virtually exclusive use of the raw materials needed for shawls; and roads west to Afghanistan and Persia and south to India gave it access to markets for its textile products.

The classical Kashmir shawl was woven out of pashmina wool, whose main source was the fleece of a Central Asian species of mountain goat, the Capra hircus. This fleece grows, during the harsh, extremely cold winter, underneath the summer. Pashmina wool was always imported from Tibet or Chinese Turkestan and was never produced in the Vale of Kashmir itself. There were two grades of pashmina. The finest grade was known as ‘asli tus’ and came from wild goats. The second grade came from the fleece of domesticated goats and it was this grade that always provided the main bulk of the yarn used by Kashmir looms.

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