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The Origins Of Kashmiri Hand Embroidery
For hundreds of years Kashmir has been famous for its beautiful pashmina shawls, initially intricately woven with designs. It was in the mid 18th century that hand embroidery on a commercial basis began when the weaver Ali Baba decided to add embroidery to the woven Kani pashmina shawls. As a means of more efficiently replicating the intricately woven shawls, he started to fully embroider plain shawls to bring about an exquisite piece in a fraction of the production time of the labour-intensive Kani weave.. By the end of the 18th century, demand for the Jamawar full hand-embroidery had increased to such an extent among the European Aristocracy that the number of master craftsman embroiderers in Kashmir peaked to several thousand This popularity was thanks to fashion icons of the day such as Marie Antoinette and Empress Joséphine, who said to have been wooed by Napoleon with Pashmina shawls which he procured in Alexandria The coveted shawls spread far, traded along the Silk Roads and travelling long distances from Srinagar to reach the great markets and bazaars of Constantinople, Venice, Southern India and China.
Creating the Patterns
Prior to embroidery, originally the shawl had been printed with a design using a method called ‘pouncing’, whereby a tracing of the design with perforated lines was stitched onto the shawl and a fine powder rubbed through to produce a faint pattern for the embroiderer to follow. Nowadays, the designs are applied using hand-carved walnut wood-block print. This is a skill in its own right, as the printer pads his hand into a bath of washable ink then presses the wood block onto his only palm before pressing the block onto the fabric with great speed, accuracy and flawless hand-to-eye coordination to ensure immaculate repeat of the pattern .
Hand Embroidery Techniques
In Kashmir , ‘sozani' is a generic term used to describe embroidery: this includes a great variety of stitches such as running stitch (single and double), Herringbone , satin , stem , couching , earning and double-darning stitches and button hole stitch. Master craftsmen tend to work in silk or a synthetic thread using a very small needle, with incredibly no frame required, the technique of the master craftsman being to hold the tension in the hand as he works his way around the shawl pattern, one colour at a time. The threads are left unknotted, yet there are never any loose threads on the reverse. In the very finest of pieces, the shawl will look almost completely reversible - such is the skill of the master craftsman.
In addition to ‘Sozani' needle work, there is also ‘Crewel' also known as hookwork and this style of embroidery is commonly worked by women using a needle on a sprung holder which is pushed through the fabric to produce the pattern, though this technique is rarely used on pashmina it is found on some wool shawls and on canvas for bags and rugs.
Tips for Choosing a Hand Embroidered Shawl
When choosing a hand embroidered pashmina, wool or cashmere shawl always check the reverse and look at the quality of the reverse stitching. On pashmina there should be no long loose threads, knitting or loose threads, In fact the work of a Master craftsman will be almost reversible.
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