Most of us living in Delhi and parts of Northern India would recall the ‘kashmiri-shawl wallah‘ setting up a stall in the neighbourhood or visiting our homes selling exquisite hand embroidered shawls, ‘phirans’, ‘namdaas’ and sometimes cushion covers too. This trend still continues in some cities, where the artisans or their family come down from parts of Kashmir and set up shop in Delhi for a few months. This morning I got a call from the local ‘shawl-wallah’, Gulzar bhai saying that he had got a new consignment of shawls from Kashmir, a full Jamawar style ‘sozni’ shawl and a ‘papier machie’ shawl! Intrigued, I told him I’d like to see, but will not be buying anything. In his signature style he said, “Achcha lage to bhai kee taraf se tohfa” meaning, if you like it, it would be a gift from your brother. I wish, but alas…some of us living in India can relate to such conversations and their meanings!
Kashmiri embroidery, or ‘Kashidakari‘ the umbrella term used to describe a variety of embroideries from the state, namely Sozni (and Rezkaar, a variation of Sozni), Aari and Crewel, Papier mache and Tilla Dozi that include different stitches that are used on fabrics for different effects. Do give this article from Craft Design Institute, a read to get an in-depth insight into the embroideries, new design development and contemporization of traditional techniques.
The Kashmiri Shawls
Kashmiri shawls or ‘shaal’ as they are called come in a myriad varieties – the ‘Do-rukha’ basically means ‘two-sided or double-faced’ and these shawls can be draped either ways as they provide the wearer of two different sides that have different designs and colors. These shawls are made by master craftsmen who dexterously weave two designs in one shawl so seamlessly that it is difficult to distinguish which one would perhaps have been the first side up. Novel indeed!
Another popular style is the ‘Shahpasand’ (King’s Choice) where the decorated borders at the ends of the shawls are broader than those on the sides. I didn’t know the nomenclature, but that’s a shawl I have too!
The Kani loom-woven shawls are also called tiliwalla, tilikar or kani kar, sometimes woven in one piece, but mostly woven in small segments, which are then sewn together with high precision and fineness. Kani is the Kashmiri name given to a wooden spool, which works most, while weaving a shawl on the loom. Weaving is meticulously regulated by Talim, a coded pattern made for guidance of the weaver.
The ‘Papier-mache shawl’ has intricately ‘sozni’ embroidered patterns on soft pashmina, like the craft of papier mache. They are steeply priced, but a piece of art. Have a look at the collection at Ahujasons at Karol Bagh or South Extension in New Delhi. Alternatively, look at the collection at Talking Threads and Indian Roots…stunning!
You can possibly not mention Kashmiri shawls without mentioning the Jamawar! These are brocaded woolen fabrics and the ones coming from Kashmir have the ends woven in a fringe from the warp threads. When buying a Jamawar, if you find the fringes separately sewn onto the shawl, be sure that they are coming from Amritsar and Ludhiana – they are not original Kashmiri Jamawars! Patterns – typically floral sprays or small flowers. Another typical pattern is the net-like ‘Jaldar’.
Contemporization of Kashmiri embroidery
Kashmiri embroidered shawls and scarves have been popular the world over for years, but for most of us in India, the endorsing of ‘Bollywood’ is sort of imperative for a product to be used by the masses (and the ‘stylish’ masses) and once that happens, it suddenly begins to get a lot more love from people who perhaps had earlier ignored it! Well, Nargis Fahkri certainly helped spread the love for the Kashmiri ensembles by wearing them in the popular film, ‘Rockstar’. We love ‘Bollywood’ and ‘all things nice’, of course!
It’s just not Bollywood, of course. Many leading designers have taken inspiration from this beautiful embroidery style and have since used them in their creations. Manish Malhotra’s entire Autumn/Winter collection of 2012 was styled around Kashmiri embroidery. There are so many amazing ways of using this style of embroidery and when I think back, I feel a bit silly that my knowledge of intricate work and style from the valley was limited to only ‘phirans’ in bright colours and shawls! There is so much more to this world. Let’s continue to explore…
A very famous Pakistani designer, Ali Xeeshan’s collection for one of the Bridal fashion weeks was called ‘Pahalgam‘ being inspired by the picturesque city, and he used various styles of Kashmiri embroideries in his collections. Some rather regal and royal! Fancy that?
What I absolutely love about the designers and stylists today is that they have ensured that the use of this delicate embroidery is not just restricted to traditional and bridal wear but have now creatively made use of it in more casual and western wear too. Here are some of the ones that particularly stand out for me:
Don’t the dresses and the jackets above look just simply gorgeous! Pair there contemporary jackets with some traditional tribal jewellery for the ‘wow’ effect as well as for your own ‘happiness’ quotient to be very high!
Kashmiri embroidery styles are not limited to fashion clothing and accessories. People in India love it ever so much that they have also welcomed it into their homes – this is now being used in lampshades, rugs, bed linen, cushion covers as well as luggage carriers. Crewel and Aari work on bedspreads and cushion covers is extremely popular. I have a set of floor cushions that are adorned with Aari work. Just a couple of cushions in those stunning colours are enough to brighten up a corner in a room. Go get yourself some cushions or throws created in bright threads and help add to the character to your room.
So, what’s happening with this craft going forward? While hundreds of people are employed in taking this craft forward in Kashmir, it is slowly dying down and is being replaced by machine embroidery. The next generation of craftsmen are moving to other jobs, since even the awarded master craftsmen find it difficult to have a good living with the income they generate. Most of the profits are taken by those middlemen, on whom the craftsmen rely on for selling their products. However, the good news is that a few fairtrade organizations have come forward and are working with the craftsmen directly, ensuring fair wages and livelihood to scores of talented people.
Kashidakari or Kashmiri embroidery has found many uses, but for me, the jamawar ‘sozni’ shawls are prized possessions, some of them even heirloom pieces. I have one, and little did I know that I own a ‘priceless’ piece of art that I so casually drape around. I learnt about the ‘timelessness factor’ from Gulzar bhai (the one I mentioned at the start of my post).
Do you have your ‘priceless’ piece from our beautiful valley? Something that created happy memories for you or simply something that has been handed over down to you…Do tell!
Cover image via