The wool comes from changthangi or pashmina goat, which is a special breed of goat found in the Himalayas in Pakistan and northern India. Pashmina shawls are hand spun, woven and embroidered in Kashmir, and made from pashm which is the raw fibre.Pashm comes from the underbelly of the goat and is combed out. It is soft wool and together with the wool of the vicuna in South America it forms one of the finest wools in the world.
Pure pashmina is a looser open weave, as the fibre cannot tolerate high tension. The most popular pashmina fabric is a 70% pashmina/30% silk blend, but 50/50 is also common. The 70/30 is tightly woven, but is still quite soft and light-weight.
Janet suggested that Kashmir had export quality pashminas as early as the 14th century. They became all the rage in Europe in the 18th century.Of course as with all good things in life some clever businessmen decided to reproduce pashminas cheaply and this was done in a small scottish village called Paisley- they produced them with a very characterisitic flower pattern which became known as the Paisley and which we recognize to this day.
The pashmina suffered a decline in the 19th century but as Indians are growing wealthy a form of patronage is developing which has enabled the craft to flourish once more and to be more commercially succesful. One of the women's cooperatives is known as Panchachuli and it now employs some 750 women.
I copied this picture from an article written about Panchachuli.
Now for the million rupee question -How do you tell a real pashmina - pull it through a ring ? Pour water onto it and see how it dances around the surface instead of being absorbed, burn it ? touch it ?
We put the million dollar question to Janet and she said with a smile on her face:
"Go to a reliable Pashmina merchant !"