An overview of the versatile garment-cum-accessory
Shawls are a type of garment that is worn to cover the shoulders or wrap around the body. They are typically made from soft, warm fabrics such as wool, cashmere, silk, or cotton. Shawls can be rectangular, triangular, or square in shape and are available in a wide range of sizes, colors, and patterns. They can be plain or embellished with embroidery, beading, or other decorative elements.
Shawls are a versatile accessory and can be worn in different ways. They can be draped over the shoulders, wrapped around the neck, or used as a headscarf. They can be worn as a fashion accessory or as a practical garment to keep warm in cold weather. In addition to being a fashion accessory, shawls also have cultural and religious significance in many parts of the world. For example, in some countries, shawls are worn as a sign of respect or mourning, while in other cultures, they are worn as a symbol of femininity or modesty.
Shawls are made from a variety of fabrics, including wool, cashmere, silk, or cotton, which makes them suitable for different occasions and seasons. For example, a woolen shawl is perfect for keeping warm in cold weather, while a silk or cotton shawl is ideal for warmer weather. Shawls come in a variety of colors and patterns, which makes them versatile and suitable for different outfits. A plain shawl can be worn with a patterned dress or outfit, while a patterned shawl can be worn with a plain outfit to add interest.
India is known for its exquisite shawls, which are often made using traditional techniques –Shawls are an important part of Indian culture and are worn for different occasions and purposes. For example, in colder regions of the country, shawls made from wool or pashmina are worn to keep warm. In other parts of the country, shawls made from silk or cotton are worn as a fashion accessory or as a traditional garment for special occasions such as weddings or religious ceremonies. Traditionally in India, both men and women wore shawls. While the globally sought-after Pashmina and the now-banned Shahtoosh shawls from Kashmir and Ladakh have consistently held the throne, there are other weaves of shawls that dot the map of the country.
Let’s take a brief look into some of India’s best handmade shawls.
Pashmina shawls are a type of shawl made from the wool of the Pashmina goat; a breed of goat found in the Himalayan region. The wool is known for its softness, warmth, and lightweight texture, which makes it a highly sought-after ma
terial for shawls and other garments.
Pashmina shawls are traditionally handwoven by artisans in the Kashmir region of India, using a traditional weaving technique that has been passed down through generations. The wool is carefully combed and spun by hand, and the shawls are woven using a fine, hand-operated loom. Pashmina shawls are often decorated with intricate embroidery or weaving patterns, such as paisley, floral, or geometric designs. They are available in a range of colors, from soft pastels to rich jewel tones, and are prized for their beauty, softness, and warmth.
Because of their high quality and craftsmanship, Pashmina shawls are considered a luxury item and are often quite expensive. However, their beauty and durability make them a highly desirable accessory for special occasions or as a long-lasting investment piece.
Jamawar shawls are made using a special weaving technique that combines wool, silk, and cotton threads. The technique is known as “Jamawar” which means “a robe made of woven fabric” in Persian. The threads are carefully interlaced to create a fine, intricate design that often features floral or paisley motifs. The shawls are known for their vibrant colors, and are often made in earthy shades of brown, green, and rust. Jamawar shawls are also available in brighter colors like pink, blue and purple. These shawls are often used as a fashion accessory and can be worn with both traditional and contemporary outfits.
Kani shawls are handwoven shawls made using a special type of wooden loom known as a Kani loom. The technique of Kani weaving is passed down through generations and requires skill and precision. The shawls are woven using fine pashmina yarn, silk, or a blend of the two. The motifs in Kani shawls are intricate and often feature floral or geometric patterns. The colors used are usually bright and vibrant, making Kani shawls an ideal choice for special occasions. The weaving process is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and it can take several months to complete a single Kani shawl. Kani shawls are considered luxury items and are often quite expensive.
Banarasi shawls are a type of shawl that originates from the city of Varanasi, also known as Banaras, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. They are made using fine silk – the silk used in Banarasi shawls is of a high quality, and is often embellished with intricate brocade work or embroidery. The designs used in Banarasi shawls are often inspired by Mughal art and architecture and feature intricate floral or paisley motifs. The shawls are available in a range of colors, from deep jewel tones to softer pastels.
The production of Banarasi shawls involves a complex process that requires a high degree of skill and craftsmanship. The silk is first washed and treated to remove any impurities, and then dyed in the desired color. The weaving process itself is carried out on a handloom, using techniques that have been passed down through volumes of generations. The shawl is woven in small sections, and the sections are then sewn together to create the final product.
Kalamkari shawls are a type of shawl made using a traditional hand-painted textile technique called Kalamkari. The technique originated in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and has been used to create textiles for centuries. The process of creating Kalamkari shawls involves several steps. First, the fabric is washed and bleached to remove any impurities. Then, the design is drawn onto the fabric using a bamboo pen and natural dyes made from plants and minerals. The fabric is then carefully painted with the dye using the pen, and the process is repeated several times to create intricate designs and patterns.
The designs used in Kalamkari shawls often feature floral and animal motifs, as well as scenes from Hindu mythology. The colors used are often muddy and earthy, and the finished shawls have a unique, handcrafted look and feel.
Kullu shawls are an important part of the cultural heritage of Himachal Pradesh. They are also popular with tourists, who are drawn to their unique beauty and fine craftsmanship. Also called ‘Loi’, Kullu shawls are made with the wool of Angora rabbits or local ‘Deshkar’ and ‘Bygani’ sheep with a dovetail or slit tapestry technique, these shawls were traditionally made in natural wool shades and are distinguished by their striking motifs of both geometric and floral styles.
- Shawls are versatile, all-seasonal garment or accessory and can be mixed and matched up in a number of ways – both casually and formally.
- Shawls can be used in order to keep warm, to complement a costume, to supplement an outfit, and for representative or symbolic reasons.
- Pashmina shawls are the most luxurious and treasured of all shawls.
- The other popular Indian shawls include Kalamkari shawls (Andhra Pradesh), Pattu shawls (Kullu), Banarasi Shawls, Kani Shawls, Jamawar shawls among others.
Why Are Kullu and Kinnauri Shawls Popular in India?
Handicrafts from Himachal have admirers from all around the world. While being traditional in their approach, such that they are typically made using natural materials such as wool, silk, cotton, bamboo, and wood, these materials are locally sourced and sustainable, which also makes them environmentally friendly. Widely known for its fine weaving which not only caters to its commerce but also carries a piece of history of its land, Himachal Pradesh is a popular tourist destination, and many visitors are particularly drawn to the region’s handicrafts.
The Kinnauri Shawls
Kinnauri shawls originate from the Kinnaur district in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. Kinnauri shawls are an inseparable part of the artistic heritage of Himachal Pradesh, and are often seen as a symbol of the region’s rich history and traditions. The earliest known reference to Kinnauri shawls comes from the 16th century, when they were reportedly worn by the royal family of Kullu – also known as the Kullu Raja, his was the ruling family of the Kullu Valley. The royal family was also known for its patronage of the arts, including music, dance, and weaving, and played an important role in endorsing the cultural legacy of the region.
Kinnauri shawls are traditionally made using the wool of the Changthangi goat, which is native to the high-altitude regions of Ladakh and Tibet. This wool is known for its warmth, softness, and durability, and is highly prized for use in textiles. The wool is washed, spun, and woven on a handloom. The designs used in Kinnauri shawls often feature intricate patterns and motifs, such as geometric shapes, flowers, and animals. The colors used are often bright and bold, and the finished shawls have a luxurious look and feel. These may incorporate contemporary elements such as abstract patterns or bold colors, while still retaining the traditional craftsmanship and methods that make Kinnauri shawls so distinct.
Some common designs found on Kinnauri shawls include:
- Kana: This is a popular Kinnauri design that features stylized grape clusters and vines.
- Chumik: This design features diamond-shaped motifs arranged in a repeating pattern.
- Phuldi: This design features a series of floral motifs arranged in a repeating pattern.
- Dandras: This design features zigzag lines that create a diamond pattern.
- Chuktu: This design features a repeating pattern of small dots.
- Kalka: This design features paisley-shaped motifs arranged in a repeating pattern.
How are Kinnauri Shawls made?
Kinnauri shawls are made using a traditional handloom, with the entire process of production being done manually. The process involves several steps, including:
- Shearing: The wool is sheared off from the sheep by hand, and is then sorted and graded according to quality.
- Cleaning and carding: The wool is washed and cleaned to remove any dirt or impurities, and is then carded to remove any tangles or knots.
- Spinning: The cleaned and carded wool is spun into yarn by hand using a spinning wheel.
- Dyeing: The yarn is then dyed using natural or synthetic dyes. Traditional Kinnauri shawls often use natural dyes made from plants, flowers, or other natural sources.
- Weaving: The dyed yarn is then woven on a traditional handloom, with the weaver carefully guiding the shuttle back and forth to create the desired pattern and design.
- Finishing: Once the weaving is complete, the shawl is washed and ironed to give it a smooth and even finish.
The Kullu Shawls
Kullu is located on the banks of the Beas River in the Kullu Valley and serves as a pilgrimage site for Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs; hence, it is revered as ‘Dev Bhumi’. Kullu valley is renowned for Kullu shawls which are made of many natural fibers, including pashmina, sheep wool, and the famed Angora. Apart from the neat geometric patterns, these shawls can also be seen with floral motifs that can be both in the center or the corners. Colour range generally consists of 1 to 8 different colours of yarns. Traditionally, black, white, and brown or natural grey colours are used as the base, and bright colours like yellow, red, green, orange, blue, etc., were used for patterning in Kullu shawls. The yarns were dyed using natural vegetable dyes.
Kullu shawls are traditionally manufactured using a technique called “Kullu Dari” that involves weaving woolen yarns on a handloom. The process typically involves the following steps:
1. Shearing: The first step in making a Kullu shawl is to shear the wool from the sheep. The wool is then cleaned and sorted by color and texture.
2. Spinning: The wool is then spun into yarn using a spinning wheel. The yarn is typically spun in long, continuous strands that are wound onto bobbins.
3. Dyeing: The yarn is then dyed using natural dyes derived from plants, roots, and berries. The dyeing process is often done in small batches to ensure that each batch has a consistent color.
4. Warping: Once the yarn is dyed, it is warped onto a loom. The warp threads are arranged vertically on the loom, and the weft threads are woven horizontally across them.
5. Weaving: The weaver then begins to weave the shawl by passing the weft thread over and under the warp threads. The weaver uses a shuttle to pass the weft thread back and forth across the loom.
6. Finishing: Once the weaving is complete, the shawl is removed from the loom and trimmed. The edges may be decorated with embroidery, tassels, or fringes.
A brief distinction between the two kinds of Shawls
Kullu and Kinnauri shawls are different from each other in several ways. While both types of shawls are made in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, they come from different regions and have distinct styles and techniques.
Kullu shawls are traditionally made in the Kullu Valley, which is located in the western part of Himachal Pradesh. They are known for their bright colors, bold geometric patterns, and thick, heavy woolen fabric. Kullu shawls are typically made using wool from the local sheep and goat breeds, which are known for their warm and durable fleece. The wool is spun and dyed using natural plant-based dyes, and then woven on a handloom using a technique called “Kullu Dari”. Kullu shawls may also feature intricate embroidery work, particularly around the edges.
In contrast, Kinnauri shawls are made in the Kinnaur district, which is located in the eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. They are known for their intricate and colorful designs, which typically feature a mix of geometric and floral patterns. Kinnauri shawls are traditionally made using the wool of the Changthangi goat, which is native to the high-altitude regions of Ladakh and Tibet. The wool is hand-spun and hand-dyed using natural dyes made from plants and minerals, and then woven on a handloom using a technique called “Kinnauri Dari”. Kinnauri shawls may also feature intricate embroidery work and applique work.
Overall, while both Kullu and Kinnauri shawls are beautiful and highly prized, they have distinct styles, techniques, and cultural associations that set them apart from each other.
· Handicrafts have received international acclaim for their contributions to Himachal Pradesh’s glorious cultural heritage.
· Kinnauri shawls integrate contemporary elements such as abstract patterns or bold colors, while still being retentive the of the old-style craftsmanship.
· Kullu shawls are characteristic of complex and colorful designs, which typically feature an amalgamation of geometric and floral patterns.
· While both the shawls share the same geographical origin, they are different in their make and other features.