Extremely fine and valuable shawls are a speciality of Himachal and Kashmir. They are greatly sought after by tourists from all over the world.
In fact, shawl weaving is a major cottage industry in HP. These shawls, both plain and patterned, are made from the fine hair of pashmina goats. Pashm is the wool of a certain Asian species of mountain goat, Capra hircus.
The fine fleece used to make these shawls is that which grows beneath
the rough outer hair.
Did you know that the finest hair comes from the
underbelly which is shed with the onset of summer?
Movement in embroidery! The Chamba embroiderer has captured it on his rumals. It may be mischivious Krishna at his pranks stealing butter, or dancing with Radha. It may be a lamenting women parted from her lover, or people frolicking at a local fair. All are worked in fine detail with vivid silks and in constrasting colours. The art of embroidery is largely based upon the indigenous Kangra and Chamba schools of paintings. The stitches are so closeby, spaced that no gaps are visible. The word 'Rumal' may conjure up visions of a handkerchief to the layman but to the Chamba people, it is a form of adornment. Men drape these colourful embroidered rumals over their shoulders and the women use them as flowing veils.
Raw material, that is wool, is available locally and worsted yam is imported from outside. The Pashmina is the first grade wool derived from the domesticated animals known as Pashmina Goats. The Spiti area is well known for Pashmina wool. Wool of the wild Himalayan sheep and ibex is also used in certain areas. These wild animals, with the onset of summer, shed the fine fleece, which grows beneath the rough outer hair by rubbing themselves against throny shrubs and rough rocks. The shephards visiting high altitude pastures in mid summer collect this high grade fleece to be converted later into fine yarn.