The wool from the ‘Changthangi goats is obtained once a year, usually in the summer months of June or July. These Kashmiri goats are typically found in the Central Asian Countries, Northern India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet and Mongolia. The fur is harvested either by shearing or combing. The production of Pashmina largely depends on the size of the goats. The yield ranges from 70-500 grams per goat. This wool is then used to make Kashmir’s famous Pashmina Shawls which, after completion are exported worldwide.
Special types of combs are used to comb the cashmere (Fur) off. Professionals do not haste in this. They wait till the cashmere is fully loose and comes off easily. Timing is absolutely imperative. Sometimes the goats are seen to be running through the bushes or rubbing their bodies against the fences to remove the fleece. The apprentice farmers take on the laborious task of collecting every single strand of fur stuck in bushes, fences and elsewhere.
Combing process is commenced using a bristle brush to clean off any surface debris and then a large pin brush is used to brush down along the backbone, ribs and belly. This way all the loose cashmere comes off.
Once the stock of cashmere arrives at the processing meal, it goes through the multi-staged sorting procedure and is sorted by with a number of objectives. At the first stage, it is sorted to get rid of the low-grade cashmere and any synthetic contamination that may be found. The stock is then baled and stored. The skillful and experienced labor sort the fine pashmina further to get rid of any other minute impurities.
Fourteen per cent finer than the human hair, the Pashmina fleece is probably the finest wool raw material. Highly sensitive weighing scales and balances are used to determine the weight, mass and density of the cashmere which at this stage looks like dull white or cream color soft cotton balls.
Playing on Charkha (The Spinning Wheel):
Considering the limited availability, rarity and exclusivity of this material, most of it is utilized locally with the help of locally designed and manually operated traditional Charkha (Spinning Wheel) also known. The purpose of the Charkha is to convert the cashmere fur balls into fine threads. Traditionally, the yarn can be spun up to 108 Nm (92.6 tex). Generally, 2/64-2/108 Nm yarn is spun in order to create the high quality shawls. The fine thread yarn is then wound around a small flange ribbon which is treated with “saresh”, an adhesive in order to boost the strength and weaveability of the yarn. After that the wrapping of yarn is done manually with the help of sticks. Wrapping is a time consuming procedure which creates a non-uniform tension during the weaving.
Dyeing may be done after yarning or after the shawl is ready. The dyestuff used is made from completely natural ingredients. It is color-fast, eco-friendly and non-carcinogenic. Luke warm soft water free from heavy minerals is used to perform the dyeing. Since, Pashmina wool (Cashmere) is exceptionally soft and absorbent, it dyes easily and deeply.
Before placing the threads onto the loom for weaving, they are glued finely using natural glue which contains zero chemical content. Mostly starch / resin is used for gluing. Gluing makes the threads strong enough to bear the weaving without compromising the softness of the fabric.
Making of Warp:
Soon after the hanks cashmere threads are contorted on bobbins, they are ready for warping. The usual way is one warp of each shawl at a time. Then the thread is made to pass through a ring attached to the ceiling in order to maintain to smooth flow. The person winding the warp goes around and winds the warp around the four wooden pegs hammered into the ground. As soon as the fastened warp is connected directly to the loom, a bamboo stick is inserted in the lease. Hence the warps are appropriately sized.
Weaving of Shawl:
The weaving of the Pashmina yarn into shawls is done in a special kind handloom. Before initiating the weaving process, the pashmina yarn is carefully sized with the special type of resin. Since the handloom woven pashmina has special value in the market, it is broadly done by the highly skilled artisans. Usually, the weight of the hand-woven shawl is approximately 200g. The ends and the picks per inch of Pashmina shawl are generally kept between 50-60 and 46-56 respectively. And the dimensions of the gents, ladies and stole are 2.5m × 1.37m, 2.1m × 1m, and 2.0 × 0.8m respectively where’s the weight (GSM) of the fabric is kept at 50-70g on an average.
Finishing and Washing:
Once the shawl is ready, it is then mounted on a wooden frame which is 2/3 meter in diameter and 1.25 meter in length set at an angle of 45 degrees. Here the shawl goes through something called “Purz” (Tweezing) and the expert who carries out is known as “Purzgar”. The Purzgar uses a specific type of tweezer to pick any remaining minute strands of hair or fur or any superficial flaws. Furthermore, the shawl is rubbed with a dried core of bitter gourd or maize cob known as “Kasher” in Kashmiri. This increases the finish and brings out the texture of the fabric. After that the shawl is washed by a professional washer “Dob” in fresh running water by striking the shawl on a hard surface or large stones. Traditionally, the washing used to take place on the banks of river Jhelum. Finally, the shawl is rolled and stretched out and left as such for several days in open. This evaporates any remaining water or moisture inside the fabric and brings out the softness smoothness of the shawl.