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Arts & Crafts

* Silk * Carpets * Shawls
* Crewel * Chain Stitch * Namdas
* Wood Carving * Paper Machie * Wall Hangings
* Basketry Silver & Bronze  

 >>>Silk

It is obtained from silk worms which feed on mulberry trees. These trees require a warm and moist climate. Silk cocoons are, therefore, grown in abundance in the valley of Kashmir Two silk factories, one in Jammu and the other in Srinagar, manufacture silkyarn from these cocoons. 
 


>>>Carpets

A Carpet is a life long investment-it may well be the single most expensive purchase during your trip to Kashmir. Kashmiri carpets are world renowned for two things- they are hand made and they are always knotted, never tufted. It is extremely instructive to watch a carpet being made- your dealer can probably arrange it for you. Stretched tightly on a frame is the warp of Carpet. The weft threads are passed through, the ‘talim’ or design and color specifications are then worked out on this: a strand of yarn is looped through the warp & weft, knotted and then cut. The yarn used normally is silk, wool or silk and wool. Woolen carpets always have a cotton base (Warp & Weft), silk usually have cotton base. Sometimes however, the base is also silk in which case you will see that the fringe is silk; the cost increases proportionately. Occasionally, carpets are made on a cotton base, mainly of woolen pile with silk yarn used as highlights on certain motifs. 

When the dealer specifies the percentage of each yarn used, he is taking into account the yarn used for the base too. Therefore, a carpet with a pure silk pile may be referred to as a 80% silk carpet.

Carpet weaving in Kashmir was not originally indigenous but is thought to have come in by way of Persia. Till today most designs are distinctly Persian with local; variations. One example, however, of a typical Kashmiri design is the tree of life. Persian design not withstanding, any carpet woven in Kashmir is referred to as Kashmiri. The color-way of Carpet, and its details differentiate it from any other carpet. And while on the subject of colors, it should be kept in mind that although the colors of Kashmiri carpets are more subtle and muted than elsewhere in the country, only chemical dyes are used-vegetable dyes have not been available now for hundred years. 
The knotting of the carpet is the most important aspect, determining its durability and value, in addition to its design. Basically, the more knots per square inch, the greater its value and durability. Also there are single and double knotted carpets. You can quiet easily identify one from the other on the reverse of the carpet. The effect that it has on the pile, too, is important- a double knotted carpet has a pile that bends when you brush it one way with your hand, and stands upright when it is brushed in other direction. A Single knotted carpet is fluffier and more resistant to touch.
 


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>>>Shawls

Also spelled Cashmere, type of woolen shawl woven in Kashmir.

It is said that the shawls were famous from Kashmir even in the times of emperor Ashok (3rd C BC) but many writers credited Sultan Zain-Ul-Abidin (1420-1470 A.D) as the initiator of Shawl industry in Kashmir. It may be the Sultan whose enlightened rule encouraged promotion of arts as an organized trade and the Pashmina or in Persian called “Pashm” that we know today is a legacy of that period.

Shawls have been worn and used as a warm protective garment by kings and queens since ancient times. However, the Mughal emperor Akbar experimented with various styles and encouraged weavers to try new motifs, which helped establish a successful shawl industry.

The shawl, or shoulder mantle, has been in existence in India in a variety of forms since ancient times, serving the rich and poor as a protective garment against the biting cold.

 

Though the history of shawl weaving, with which the history of woolen textiles is closely associated, is rather obscure, references to shawls are first found in the Ramayana and Mahabharata and the Atharvaveda. The shawl is also mentioned in ancient Buddhist literature among the recorded inventories of woolen garments.

Derived from the Persian shal, which was the name for a whole range of fine woolen garments, the shawl in India was worn folded across the shoulder, and not as a girdle, as the Persians did. Even today, we sometimes see old Parsis with a shawl tied around their waist during their religious ceremonies.

Though shawls are worn and used as a warm protective garment all over the northern states today, Kashmir has become synonymous with shawls all over the world. There are no earlier indications but around the Mughal rule in India, Kashmir soon overtook the northwest frontier and Punjab, as the center of shawl- making. Akbar was greatly enamored by the Kashmir shawls and the way it was worn, folded in four, captured his imagination. He experimented with various ways of wearing it, and found that it looked good worn without folds, just thrown over the shoulder.

Akbar encouraged the weavers to try new motifs, and also started the fashion of the twin shawl, where two identical shawls were sewn back to back, hiding the rough edges of tapestry weave, and giving the impression of a single, reversible shawl. The royal shawls were richly embellished with precious metals and stones. Incredibly soft, and lovingly and painstakingly crafted, few samples of these shawls survive to date and the handfuls that exist are treated as priceless world heirlooms.

Akbar’s successors too patronized the shawl industry in the valley, but the Afghan rule that followed the Mughal rule almost wiped out this industry of intricate craftsmanship. The Afghan governor Haji Dad Khan (1776-83) imposed such heavy taxes on the shawl industry that the artisans were forced out of their professions.

Many of the weavers moved to friendlier lands, like Punjab, where time and again attempts had been made to establish a successful shawl industry, all in vain. Following the Afghan harassment and the great famine in Kashmir the center of shawl making shifted to Amritsar. Other towns in Punjab too developed their own ‘Kashmiri’ shawl industry due to the migration of the Kashmiri workers.

Ludhiana developed as a major shawl weaving center. The wool for all this was brought all the way from Kashmir, but somehow, the shawls woven outside that state were not a patch on the original masterpieces from Kashmir.

Pashina is unmistakable for its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of the ibex found at 14,000 ft above the sea level, although pure pashmina is expensive, the cost is sometimes brought down by blending it with rabbit fur or with wool.

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 raw-material. High in the plateaux of Tibet and the eastern part of Ladakh, at an altitude of above 5,000 meters, roam Pantholops Hodgosoni or Tibetan antelope. During grazing, a few strands of the downy hair from the throat are shed and it is these which are painstakingly collected until there are enough for a shawl. Yarn is spun either from shahtoosh alone, or with pashmina, bringing down the cost somewhat. In the case of pure shahtoosh too, there are many qualities-the yarn can be spun so skillfully as to resemble a strand of silk. Not only are shawls made from such fine yarn extremely expensive, they can only be loosely woven and are too flimsy for embroidery to be done on them. Unlike woolen or Pashmina shawls, Shahtoosh is seldom dyed-that would be rather like dyeing gold! Its natural color is mousy brown, and it is, at the most, sparsely embroidered. 
Though the Afghan rule had almost wiped out the shawl industry in Kashmir, it wove a new life for itself during the ensuing Dogra and Sikh period. The ‘tapestry’ shawl is a gift of the Dogra period. This rich material was used not just as a protective garment, but also made use of the rugged and practical fabric for costume dresses, tents, saddles and as decorative curtains. Shawl styles, in terms of designs and motifs, was greatly influenced by foreign events during the Sikh rule, during which time the industry prospered.

But the greatest boost of this industry was received during the British period. Totally enamored by the Kashmiri shawls, the British took piece after piece back home where they found a willing market. Their fame spread to France too, and portraits of the period often show ladies wearing these colorful shawls with beautiful motifs. The popular paisley print has its origin in these Kashmiri shawls. Their tremendous popularity abroad ushered in enduring fame for the Kashmiri shawls.

In the 19th century, there was a minor revolution in the weaving of the traditional kani shawls of Kashmir, the demand for which was ever increasing. Instead of being woven as one piece, now the shawl was woven in long strips on small looms. Due to the large areas of design to be woven, the pattern was broken down into fragmented parts, each woven separately, at times on separate looms, and then all these pieces were pieced together, rather like completing a jigsaw puzzle, and then they were stitched together by a rafoogar. The beauty of this shawl is that the stitches are almost invisible, and the completed shawl looks like one complete unit.

In the beginning of the 19th century, there was yet another far reaching development in Kashmir, and that was the advent of the amli or embroidered shawl. The kani shawl was further embellished, or in some cases, the plain ones beautifully decorated by a kind of parallel darning stitch, the thread being made to nip up the loops of the warp threads, but rarely permitted to go beyond the whole texture of the cloth, which made the embroidery look as if it was made on the loom itself!

The ornamental growth of the shawl industry is closely associated with the textiles, weaves and prints of the particular area that spawned it. Shawls from Gujarat have the traditional bandhini prints. “The basic patterns of that area are adapted on wool, or silk for the shawls. Bandhini shawls have vibrant colors, though the background may be of a neutral color.

Such embellishments are almost never seen in the shawls from Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, and the other north eastern states. The shawls from these areas have a primitive charm of their own. Black and maroon are the favored background colors, and the designs in red, white and yellow mainly are chiefly abstract and highly conventional representations of human and animal figures. Not very popular outside these states, these shawls nevertheless do a very effective job of keeping the inhabitants of that cold are in warm comfort.

Though the same cannot be said of the pretty Himru shawls of Aurangabad and Hyderabad. Himru is an inferior type of brocade in which both silk and cotton threads are used to produce the multi-coloured designs. The actual ornamental design is formed on the principle of extra weft figuring-the silk weft used for patterning is thrown over the surface only here and there, where the actual pattern appears the rest of the weft is left hanging loosely underneath. Because of this extra layer of loose silk weft, the Himru shawls are soft, and almost feel like silk, and it is believed that Tughlak, the eccentric ruler settled weavers from ahmedabad, Benaras and Gujarat in Aurangabad, which led to the start of the Himru industry, which are usually 3 feet by 6 feet or 9 feet by 12 feet, in size. Sometimes the shawl, especially the smaller one, is confused with a dupatta. But there is a distinct difference between the two.

Closely linked with the climatic conditions of the region, the warmth and popularity of the shawl decreases as we travel from Kashmir to southern part of India; in fact, south of the Deccan plateau, there is hardly any shawl weaving industry. There are shawls to suit every budget. The warm and absolutely soft pashmina shawls of Kashmir, made from the soft wool from the underbelly of the Tibetan mountain oat, sell for above Rs. 5000/-per piece. The expensive kani and amli shawls again from Kashmir, beautifully reflect the chinar leaves, and other natural beauties of the state
 


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>>>Crewel

A special kind of embroidery done with a pointed hook used for drapery and upholstery is known as crewel. Rows of chain stitch done with pointed hook form solid patterns usually rotating from center and creating an embossed effect to add richness to the textile. Crewel is done on the thick material popularly used for furnishing and usually carries flowing floral and creeper designs. The thick material includes Hand-woven Cotton Dosooti Fabric, Cotton Duck, Linen, Jute etc. The Crewel embroidery is done in the thick woolen yarn, by a pointed crochet, provides a very dazzling and durable material for drapes and upholstery’s. All embroidery is hand done in either single or double ply wool. Crewel embroidery material is quite popular in export market as it satisfies the aesthetic expression lover of beauty all over the world. Besides these crewel products are very popular in domestic market also. Designs are available in assortment of colors ranging from a single color to multicolor embroidery. However, the designs and colors patterns can be altered as per order. The price is related with the amount of embroidery done on the material. The width of material is 52″, 54″ inches and length it comes in 25 or 29 meters, per roll. The craft is also available on Bedspreads, Cushion Covers, Throws, Shams, Curtain Drops, Duvets Covers in various sizes ranging from single to king size. We are sure to create a new World beauty in handicrafts and open new vistas in crewel embroidery fabrics given a chance. Craftsmen work on a rug patterning crewel-embroidery
Because of the high quality of embroidery done on wall hangings and rugs, Kashmiri crewel work is in great demand all over the world. 
Chain stitch, be it in wool, silk or cotton, is done by hook rather than any needle. The hook is referred to as ari, and quality for quality, hook work covers a much larger area than needle work in the same amount of time. 
All the embroidery is executed on white cotton fabric, pre-shrunk by the manufacturers. The intrinsic worth of each piece lies in the size of the stitches and the yarn used. Tiny stitches are used to cover the entire area-the figures or motifs are worked in striking colors; the background in a single color, made up of a series of coin sized concentric circles which impart dynamism and a sense of movement to a design. The background fabric should not be visible through the stitches. 
Crewel is basically similar to chain stitch. It is also Chain stitch done on White background, but here the motifs, mainly stylish flowers, do not cover the entire surface, and the background is not embroidered upon. Wool is almost invariably used in Crewel work and color ways are not as elaborate as in Chain stitch. They make excellent household furnishings being hand or machine washable.
 


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>>>Chain Stitch

 
 
 

>>>Namdas

Namda is widely acclaimed to have been originated during 11th century when Akbar, the great Mughal ruler was on throne. History of the periodreveals that the king ordered his exechequer to arrange for a siutable coverage for his horse who was affected by biting cold. In reponce to the proclaimation that was done in this behalf, a wise old man from the east stood up and offered his intention of felt. he was Nubi by name. The man manufactured the felt himself and embroidered the same in multicoloured beautiful designs. The felt so made aws given the title of Namda after the name of its manufacturer Nubi. The King Akbar is said to have been immensely impressed by the workmanship of Nubi and is said to have granted him villages in honour. The art of felting wool into namdas has come from Yarkand.

Namdas are a kind of mattress, originally from the state of Jammu and Kashmir. These are made by felting the wool rather than weaving it. A low quality wool mixed with a small quantity of cotton is used to manufacture namdas. They are usually of two types, plain and embroidered. Formerly, woolen yarn was used for embroidery, but now acrylic yarn (cashmelon) is in use. Namdas and gabbas are embroidered with thread, which gives colour, beauty and strength to them. This cottage industry is concentrated in Anantnag, Rainawari and Baramula.

Prices of namdas depend upon their quality of wool, pattern (plain or embroidery), size of the product and the neatness in designs. Far less expensive are these colorful floor coverings made from woolen and cotton fiber which has been manually pressed into shape. Prices vary with the percentage of wool- a Namda containing 80% wool being more expensive than one containing 20% wool. Chain stitch embroidery in woolen and cotton thread is worked on these rugs


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>>>Wood Carving

A walnut table with traditional carvingKashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its color, grains and inherent sheen are unique and unmistakable, and the carving and fret work that is done on this wood is of a very superior quality. There are two types of walnut trees – the fruit bearing species whose wood is so well- known, and one which bears no fruit and is locally known as ‘zangul’. Zangul has none of the beauty of walnut wood, being much less strong and possessing no grain, and will not be dealt with here. 
The walnut wood is almost black, and the grain here is much more pronounced than the wood of the trunk which is lighter in color. The branches have the lightest color, being almost blonde, and have no noticeable grain. The intrinsic worth of the wood from each part of the tree differs- that from the root being the most expensive and the branches having the lowest price. 
When a dealer buys a whole tree and leaves it to the season, a part of his capital becomes blocked for that period and this will naturally be reflected in the cost of his product. A cheaper product, on the other hand, is liable to warp, or in case it is taken to warmer climes, will crack or shrink. 
Knots on any tree are natural and inevitable, but as their appearance is commonly thought to mar the beauty and smoothness of the finished product, knots are usually concealed skillfully in the sawing, as it is difficult, though not impossible, to mask them while carving. A walnut table with traditional carving
Carving is the demonstration of the carver’s skill, and walnut is eminently suitable for this, being one of the strongest varieties of wood. There are several varieties of carving-deep carving usually with dragon or lotus flower motifs, two inches deep or more; shallow carving, half an inch deep done all over the flat surface; open or lattice work, usually depicting the Chinar motif.; and most popularly, semi carving, which is a thin panel along the rim of a surface, with perhaps a Centre motif. The advantage of the semi-carving is that it allows the grain of wood to be displayed, together with the carver’s skill. Naturally deep carving with all the skill and labor required, is the most expensive. 
Wax polishing brings out the sheen inherent in walnut wood, and is by far the most popular finish. Because varnish obscures the grain of the wood and alters its hue, it is seldom used. When choosing objects made from walnut wood, keep in mind that the type of carving and part of the tree used will affect the price

Kashmir is home to some of the best walnut wood carving done anywhere in the world. Wood carving is done on a variety of objects-ranging from furniture (tables, chairs, writing desks, dining tables etc.) to articles of personal use like cigarette boxes, cigar boxes, jewelry boxes, photo frames and various other articles. Walnut is the most common wood used for carving. Kashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its color, grain and sheen are unique, and the carving and fret work that is done on this wood is of the finest quality. Walnut wood from the root is almost black, and the grain here is much more pronounced than the wood of the trunk, which is lighter in color. The branches have the lightest color, almost blonde, and have no noticeable grain. The intrinsic worth of the wood from each part of the tree differs–wood from the root being the most expensive. There are several varieties of carving-deep carving, usually with dragon or lotus flower motifs; shallow carving, done all over the flat surface; open or lattice work, usually depicting the Chinar motif; and semi-carving, which is a thin panel along the rim of a surface, with perhaps a center motif. The advantage of semi-carving is that it allows the grain of the wood to be displayed, together with the carver’s skill. Wax polishing brings out the inherent sheen of walnut wood, and is by far the most popular finish. Since varnish obscures the grain of the wood and alters its hue, it is rarely used. 
 


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>>>Paper Machie

At first glance, all Papier Mache` objects look roughly the same, and the price differential seems almost unreasonable. However, besides at least three different grades of Papier` Mache`, some is actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however, is not to hood-wink the unwary, but to provide a cheaper product for someone who wants the look of Papier Mache` . 
To make Papier Mache`, first paper is soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and allowed to dry and set before being painted and varnished. Paper that has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product. When the pounding has not been thorough, the finish is less smooth. The designs painted on objects of Papier Mache` are brightly colored. They vary in artistry and the choices of colors, and it is not difficult to tell a mediocre piece from an excellent one. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only color, or as the highlight for certain motifs, and besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of the gold used which determines the price. Pure Gold leaf which has the unmistakable luster, is far more expensive than bronze dust or gold poster paint. It also has much longer life and will never fade or tarnish. 
Varnish which is applied to the finished product, imparts a high gloss and smoothness which increases with every coat. 
Cardboard, usually indistinguishable from Papier Mache`, gives slightly when pressed firmly. Otherwise the only difference is in the price, cardboard being cheaper than Papier Mache`. 
 


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>>>Wall Hangings

 
 
 

>>>Basketry

Willow rushes that grow plentifully in marshes and lakes in Kashmir are used to make charmingly quaint objects, ranging from shopping baskets and lampshades to tables and chairs, all generally in expensive. To increase their life-span, unvarnished products should be chiseled and frequently sprayed with water, particularly in hot, dry climates, to prevent them from brittle.

Because the plenty growth of bamboos, the bamboo craft is deeply rooted in local folk tradition. The product includes tokras, tokris, oval shaped containers with lids and chhikus etc. In Kashmir ‘Kangri’ the handmade warming equipment is made with an earthen bowl wrapped in a net of bamboo slips 
 


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>>>Silver & Bronze Work

The old city abounds with shops where objects of copper line the walls, the floor and even the ceiling made generally for the local market. Craftsmen can often be seen engraving objects of household utility-samovars, bowls, plates and trays. Floral, stylized, geometric, leaf and sometimes calligraphic motifs are engraved or embossed on copper, and occasionally silver, to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then oxidized, the better to stand out from the background. The work known as ‘naqash’ determines the price of the object, as does the weight

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