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Kashmir's Arts

Kashmir carpets are world famous for two things - they are hand made and knotted. Carpet weaving in Kashmir was not indigenous but is thought to have come from Persia. Most designs are mostly Persian with local variations. The color scheme of the carpets differentiates Kashmir carpets from other carpets. The colors are subtle and muted. The knotting of a carpet is the most important aspect. In addition to the design of the carpet, the knots per square inch determine the durability and the value of a carpet.

Chain Stitch and CrewelWork.

Chain stitch, be it in wool, silk or cotton is done by hook rather than a needle. The hook is referred as an "ari"; it covers a much larger area than needlework in the same amount of time and has the same quality. All the embroidery is executed on white cotton fabric, pre-shrunk by the manufactures. Tiny stitches are used to cover the entire area, the figures or motifs are worked in striking colors, and the background in a single color comprising of series of coin sized concentric circles. These circles impart dynamism and a sense of movement to the design. This work is usually used for making wall hangings.

Crewelwork is similar to chain stitch, but here motifs are mainly stylized flowers which do not cover the entire area. Wool is invariably used in crewelwork and colors are not as elaborate as chain stitch work. The fabric is available in bolts and makes good household furnishing.


There are three fibers from which Kashmir shawls are made - wool, Pashmina, and shahtoosh. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as "raffle" and is 100% pure wool. Many kinds of embroidery are worked on these shawls. First, "Sozni" is generally done in panels along the sides of the shawl. Motifs, usually abstract designs or stylized paisleys and flowers are worked in one or two, occasionally three colors. The stitch employed in not unlike stem stitch, only the outline of the design is embroidered. Sozni is often done so skillfully that the motif appears on both sides, each having different colors. Second, "Papier Mache" is either done in broad panels on either side of the breadth of a shawl, or covers entire surface of a stole. Flowers and leaves are worked in satin stitch in different colors and each motif is outlined in black. Third, ari work is also done on shawls.

Pashmina is unmistakable for its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from hair of Ibex found at 14,000 ft above sea level. It is on Pashmina shawls that Kashmir's most exquisite embroidery is worked, sometimes the entire surface, earning the name of "Jamawar." Not all Pashmina shawls have such lavish work done on them, some are embroidered on a narrow panel bordering all four sides, others in narrow strips running diagonally through the shawl.

Shahtoosh, the legendary "ring shawl" is incredible for its lightness, softness, and warmth. The astronomical price it commands in the market is due to the scarcity of the raw material. High in the plateau of Tibet and eastern part of Ladakh roams Tibetan antelope. During grazing a few strands of hair from the throat are shed and it is these which are painstakingly collected until there are enough for a shawl. Not only are the shawls from this yarn very expensive, they can be only loosely woven and are too flimsy for embroidery. Unlike wool and Pashmina shawls, shahtoosh is seldom dyed.