|The Kashmir Shawl
This article is taken from Mr. John Irwin’s book
on Shawls, published by H.M. Stationery Office London, by courtesy
of the publishers as well as the Victoria & Albert Museum London.
The original book is available in India from H.M. Stationery Office
Agents: c/o. British Information Services, Eastern House, Mansingh
Road, New Delhi: c/o Messrs Thacker & Co. Ltd.,Bombay.|
The Persian word shal, from which the English “shawl”
is derived, originally denoted a class of woven fabric rather than
a particular article of dress. In traditional usage, shal could equally
well apply to a scarf, a turban, a mantle, or even a coverlet, the
distinguishing feature being that the material was fine wool or some
other kind of animal fleece. The Italian traveller Pietro della Valle,
writing in 1623, observed that whereas in Persia the scial or shawl
was worn as a girdle, in India it was more usually carried “across
the shoulders”. 1 This fact, confirmed by
contempory portraits, gives India some claim to be regarded as the
true home of the decorative shawl, in the sense in which it became
known in Europe: a loose enveloping shoulder-mantle woven, either
partly or wholly, in animal fleece.2
Worn in this way in India, the shawl was essentially a male garment;
its degree of fineness was traditionally accepted as a mark of nobility.
Although a garment so simple in shape and form undoubtedly has a long
history in the Near East,3 the finest shawls of
the modern era are synonymous with the name of Kashmir.
The origins of the industry in Kashmir are obscure. According to local
legend, recorded more than a hundred years ago,4
the founder was Zain-ul-’Abidin. (A.D. 1420-70), whom historians
have called the Akbar of Kashmir, in recognition of his enlightened
rule and promotion of public works. Zain-ul-’Abidin was said
to have introduced Turkistan weavers for the purpose. Although unproved,
this suggestion is of some significance, for when we come to accounts
of the industry in the early nineteenth century we find that one feature
distinguishing it from traditional weaving in India proper is the
technique employed. This technique has parallels in Persia and Central
Asia but nowhere on the Indian sub-continent as far as evidence is
available. Western textile historians have called it the twill-tapestry
technique, because of its similarity in some respects to the technique
traditionally employed in Europe for tapestry weaving. According to
this, the wefts of the patterned part of the fabric are inserted by
means of wooden spools (Kashmiri, tojli) without the use of a shuttle.
Weft threads alone form the pattern; these do not run the full width
of the cloth, being woven back and forth round the warp thread only
where each particular colour is needed. In other respects, the Kashmir
technique differs from tapestry weaving, the loom being horizontal
instead of vertical, and its operation more like brocading.
Applied to shawls, the twill-tapestry technique was slow and laborious
and demanded a high degree of specialization. The traditional practice
was for the patterned section of a shawl to be produced on a single
loom (the field, if plain, being woven separately on a simple loom
with shuttle). In the case of a rich design, this meant that a shawl
might take eighteen months or more to complete. In the early nineteenth
century, however, when designs became more elaborate and training
methods more competitive, a new practice was introduced of dividing
the work of a single shawl among two or more looms. In this way, a
design which had formerly occupied one loom for eighteen months could
now be produced by two looms in nine months, or by three looms in
correspondingly less, and so on. After the various parts of a design
had been separately woven, they were handed over to the needleworker
(rafugar) who joined them together, the joins being executed with
such subtlety and fineness that it is often impossible to detect them
with a naked eye. In 1821, Moorcroft described this method of distributing
work among several looms as a recent introduction.5
He mentioned as many as eight looms being engaged on a single shawl;
but later in the century this number was often exceeded, and there
was one report of a shawl being assembled from 1,500 separate pieces.6
These are sometimes called “patchwork shawls”.
Another important innovation introduced at the beginning of the nineteenth
century was the amli or needle worked shawl, which was ornamented
entirely with the needle on a plain woven ground. (It must be added,
however, that even the tilikar or loom-woven shawls often betray some
signs of needlework because a rafugar or embroiderer was usually responsible
for the final touching-up of the loom-woven pattern. This touching-up
sometimes included the reinforcing of colours where needed, and occasionally
even more fundamental modifications to the design). The type of shawl
with an entirely needle worked pattern, however, was unknown in Kashmir
before the nineteenth century. It was introduced at the instigation
of an Armenian named Khwaja Yusu, who had been sent to Kashmir in
1803 as the agent of a Constantinopole trading firm. It had not previously
occurred to merchants that simulation of the loom-woven patterns by
the much simpler process of needle-embroidery on a plain ground required
very much less time and skill, and consequently less outlay. The ingenious
Khawaja Yusuf saw his chance, and with the help of a seamster by the
name of Ali Baba produced the first needle-worked imitations for the
market at one-third of the cost of the loom-woven shawls.7
Besides this enormous saving in production costs, the needle-worked
shawls at first escaped the Government duty levied on the loom woven
shawl, which in 1823 amounted to 26 per cent of the value. As a result,
enormous profits were made, and this branch of the industry expanded
rapidly. In 1803 there were only a few rafugars or embroiderers available
with the necessary skill for the work. Twenty years later, there were
estimated to be five thousand, may of them having been drawn from
the ranks of former landholders,8 dispossessed of
their property by Ranjit Singh in 1819, when Kashmir was invaded and
annexed to the Sikh kingdom.
A cloth intended to serve as the ground of an amli or embroidered
shawl was first placed on a plank and rubbed with a piece of highly-polished
agate or cornelian, until perfectly smooth. After this, the design
was transferred from paper to the cloth by pouncing with coloured
powder or charcoal. For the needle-work, stem stitches as flat as
possible against the ground (and therefore similar to the woven patterns),
care was taken to nip up individual threads of the warp in the stitching.
Moorcroft described the needle-work of the first amli shawls as being
less perfect and having the raised or embossed appearance of traditional
Indian chain-stitch work, the improved method being learned subsequently
from embroiderers of Kirman province in Persia.9
Needle-worked shawls were made throughout the nineteenth century,
and apart from these simulating loom-woven patterns, many were made
with scenes depicting human figures, which will be discussed later
in the section devoted to style. It is important to add here, however,
that after about 1850 there was a marked deterioration in the technique
of many ‘amli shawls-particularly those with human figures-and
some of the embroiderers resorted to a comparatively coarse chain-stitch,
sometimes executed on a cotton ground.10
The material traditionally used for Kashmir shawls weaving was fleece
derived from a central Asian species of the mountain goat. Capra
hircus. This was popularly known in the West either as pashmmina
(from Persian pashm, meaning in fact any kind of wool) or cashmere,
from the old spelling of Kashmir. The latter term is particularly
misleading, because all shawl-wool used in Kashmir was imported
from Tibet or Central Asia in the first place and was not at any
time produced locally.
The fleece was grown by the animal as a natural protection against
the severities of the winter climate of those regions. It appeared
beneath the rough outer hair-the finest being derived from the under-belly-and
was shed on the approach of summer. Although goats were the main producers
of shawl-wool, a similar fleece was derived from wild Himalayan mountain
sheep such as the Shapo (Ovis orientals vignei blythi), the Argali
(Ovis ammon linnaeus), and the Bharal (Pseudois nayaur hogson).11
It was even claimed that Tibetan shepherds’ dogs sometimes grew
the same fleece.12
Most of the fleece reaching Kashmir belonged to one of two distinct
grades. The best and most renowned for its soft silkiness and warmth
was known as asli tus, which was derived only from the wild animals,
collected from rocks and shrubs against which the animals rubbed themselves
on the approach of warm weather. The extreme fineness of this grade
was probably due to the greater heights at which the animals wintered,
and it was this material which gave rise to well-known stories of
shawls being so fine that they could be drawn through a thumb-ring-the
so-called “ring shawls” of Mughal fame.13
However, the number of shawls woven in pure asli tus was probably
never more than a very small proportion of the total, owing to its
comparative scarcity, the higher import duties charged upon it, and
the much greater time and effort required for its cleaning and spinning.
In 1821, the annual imports of asli tus wre said to constitute less
than one-sixth oif the total bulk of other shawl-wool imports, and
in the whole of Kashmir there were only two looms specializing exclusively
in the weaving of pure asli tus. 14
The second grade of shawl-wool was derived from domesticated goats
of the same species, and this provided the bulk of the raw material
for Kashmir looms. Prior to 1800, most of it came from Ladakh and
western Tibet. Shortly after the turn of the century, however, there
was an epidemic among goats in these areas, and henceforth supplies
were derived mainly from herds kept by nomadic Kirghiz tribes and
imported through Yarkand and Khotan. In the second half of the century
the main source was Sinkiang, and in particular Turfan.15
As supplies at this period were seldom enough to meet demand, goat-
fleece became increasingly expensive in relation to other wool. This
encouraged adulteration and general falling off in traditional standards,
which was undoubtedly one of the factors contributing to the decline
of the shawl trade in the 1860s, to be discussed later.
Organization Of The Industry
The earliest detailed account of the Kashmir shawl industry is that
written by William Moorcroft between 1820 and 1823, preserved in manuscript
at the Library of the old India Office (now the Commonwealth Relations
Office), Whitehall, London. These reveal a situation in which division
of labour was far advanced to the extent of twelve or more independent
specialists being involved in the making of a single shawl.
First among these were the spinners, who were women working in their
own homes.16 The raw material was given to them
in a very dirty condition, their first task being to separate it into
fine fleece, inferior fleece, and hair. The fine fleece constituted
only about one-third of the total weight, and this had to be further
divided into two grades of fineness, the second being known as phiri
or seconds wool, which was reserved for inferior shawls. The yarns
were spun into lengths of about 2,500 yards, then doubled and twisted,
and for this work the spinners earned a maximum of about one and a
half annas or three-halfpence a day.17
The dyers constituted another separate group, buying and selling yarn
independently. Moorcroft quotes them as saying that in Mughal times
more than three hundred tints were in regular use; 18
but by the beginning of the nineteenth century when he was writing
this number had been reduced to sixty-four. Most of these were vegetable
dyes: blues and purples from indigo; orange and yellow from carthamus
and saffron; reds mainly from logwood. But other sources were also
used, including cochineal for crimson, and iron filings for black.
Oddly enough, greens were said to have been extracted from imported
English baizes or broadcloths, which were boiled for the purpose.19
The Pattern-drawer (naqqash) and his implements.
Painted by a native artist, C. 1823.
Indian Office Library, Oriental Vol. 71
Before weaving could begin at least six other specialists were involved.
These were the warp-maker, warp-dresser, warp- threader, pattern-drawer,
colour-caller and pattern-master.
It was the warp-maker’s job to twist the yarn into the required
thickness for the warp (usually 2,000 to 3,000 double-threaded warps
being required for a shawl); the warp-dresser’s to starch the
warps, and the warp-threader’s to pass the yarns through the
heddles of the loom.
The importance of the pattern-drawer, or naqqash, is indicated by
the fact that he received the highest pay-far higher even than that
of the weaver.20 Pattern-drawers were few in number,
and in the second half of the century, when the industry was very
much expanded, the art was still said to be confined to only five
or six families. 21 The pattern-drawer sometimes
coloured his own drawing, but usually choice and disposition of colour
were left to the colour-caller (tarah guru). With a black-and-white
drawing before him, the colour-caller, beginning at the bottom and
working upwards, called out each colour, the number of warps along
which it was required to extend, and so on, until the whole pattern
or section pattern had been covered. This was taken down by the pattern-master
(ta’lim guru) and transcribed into a kind of shorthand intelligible
to the weaver.
Besides those who prepared the warps of the main part of the shawl,
an entirely separate group of specialists prepared the silk warps
of the narrow outer borders or edgings. The use of silk warps for
these parts was intended to give them more body or stiffness so that
shawl would hang better. However, this had the disadvantage of causing
uneven shrinkage and sometimes spoiling the shape of a shawl when
Talim or coded Pattern Guide as used by Kashmir Shawl Makers.
Acquired in Kashmir in 1881
Victoria & Albert Museum, I. M. 33-1924
The weavers were all men, foremost among whom were the ustads who
owned the looms. The cost of a shawl-loom in the early nineteenth
century varied from one and a half to five rupees (approximately 3s.
to 10s.), and a ustad might own anything from three to three hundred
looms, each normally employing three operators.22
There were two main systems of contract between the ustad and those
who worked his looms. One was based on piecework, whereby the weavers
received a fixed sum for every hundred spools passed round as many
warps (allowing a maximum earning in Moorcroft’s time of about
one anna or a penny a day per man, increasing to about double this
sum in 1870).23 A second system was based on partnership,
whereby the loom-owner advanced the loom and raw materials and took
one-fifth of the net proceeds of sale.
The spools or tojlis with which the weavers worked in places of shuttles
were made of light smooth wood and had both ends charred to prevent
their becoming rough or jagged in use. Each spool held about three
grains of yarn; and the number used in the weaving of a pattern varied
from 400 to 1,500, according to degree of elaboration. In the process
of weaving, a cloth was faced downwards and the weaver inserted his
spools from the reverse side. After each line of weft had been completed
to his satisfation, the comb was brought down “down” with
a vigour and repetition of stroke which appear disproportionately
great to the delicacy of the materials.24 One of
the ways by which merchants determined the quality or standard of
weaving was by counting the number of comb-strokes or wefts to the
girah (one-sixteenth of a yard).
Design from a Shawl-weaver's pattern book. Acquired in Kashmir
Victoria and Albert Museum, I. M. 32-1924
In 1821, Moorfcroft wrote that there were sometimes as many as fifty
looms in a single house, though more commonly not half this number.25
Later in the century, however, a hundred or more looms were sometimes
concentrated together. “I went to inspect one of the largest
manufacturies in Kashmir,” wrote a traveller in the 1860s. “The
proprietor, a Mohammedan, employs 300 hands. His house is a handsome,
three- storied building, well aired and lighted, and the workers are
seated at their looms like clerks at their desks...”26
Moorcroft described the main profit-makers of the industry not as
the loomowners but as the mohkuns or shawl-brokers, who were intermediaries
between the producers and foreign merchants. Later, as the result
of the concentration of loom-ownership into fewer hands, there arose
a new class in the form of owners of large manufacturies, known as
karkhanadars. The term ustad was then applied to those who worked
as foremen or supervisors for the Karkhanadar.27
The weavers were the most oppressed section of the industry, the majority
being depicted as ill-clothed, under-nourished, and permanently in
debt. Moorcroft wrote that without the supplementary earnings of wife
and children the average weaver could not even support a family.
Plate 4 End-borders of a shawl: loom-woven, Kashmir, early eighteenth
After Kashmir had been handed over by the British to the Maharaja
Gulab Singh in 1846, conditions for the weavers deteriorated even
further. The Maharaja levied a poll-tax of Rs. 47-8-0 per annum on
each shawl-weaver;28 and in order to ensure a constant
income from this course he introduced a law forbidding any weaver-whether
half blind or otherwise incapacitated-to relinquish his loom without
finding a substitute ( a condition almost impossible to fulfil). On
top of this, an ad valorem duty of 25 per cent was charged on each
shawl, and its assessment and collection was farmed out to a corrupt
body of officials, whose own illegal exactions were said to have amounted
to a further 25 per cent of the value.29
In face of such oppression, hundreds of weavers adopted the dangerous
course of fleeing the country - an escape made difficult by the limited
number of mountain passes and the fact that they were guarded. As
a measure of the despair which drove weavers to this course, it must
be remembered that it involved deserting their families and the knowledge
that they would be victimized as hostages.30
Plate 8 Fragment of Shawl:loom-woven, Kashmir, late eighteenth
Those who sucessfully escaped settled in Punjab towns such as Lahore,
Amritsar Ludhiana, Nurpur, Gurdasput, Sialkot, Gujarat, Kangra and
Simla, all of which produced their own “Kashmir” shawls.
Shawl weaving had been established at Lahore (probably by Kashmiri
immigrants) at least as early as Akbar’s reign (A.D. 1556-1605),31
and in the mid-seventeenth century the French traveller Bernier also
mentioned Agra and Patna in this connection. He added that the shawls
woven in these cities were inferior in softness and texture to genuine
Kashmirs, which he attributed to the poorer quality of the water of
the plains.32 A more likely reason was the difficulty
of obtaining the best goat-fleece. For centuries Kashmir had monopolized
the main sources of supply, and owing to the lack of suitable passes
linking Central Asia with the plains of Northern India it was difficult
to divert supplies.33 As a result, shawl-weavers
working in the plains were often compelled to adulterate goat-fleece
with Kirman sheep’s wool.34
The earliest documentary references to the Kashmir shawl industry
appear in literature of Akbar’s reign (A.D. 1556-1605), but
unfortunately they throw no light on style.
In the Ain-i-Akbari, of Institutes of Akbar, the Emperor is revealed
as a keen admirer of the shawls who not only kept his wardrobe well
stocked with them but introduce the fashion of wearing them in pairs
(dashala), stitched back-to-back, so that the undersides were never
visible.35 From the same source we learn that Kashmirs
were already at this period renowned as gifts and sent to distant
Plate 13 Piece of Shawl-Cloth loom-woven, Kashmir, Late eighteenth
or early nineteenth century
There are indications that the shawls most coveted during the early
Mughal period were embellished with gold and silver thread. In 1630,
Manrique described the finest examples as having “borders ornamented
with fringes of gold, silver and silk thread. They (the Princes and
Nobles) wear them like cloaks, either muffling themselves up in them
or else carrying them under their arms. These choice cloths are of
white colour when they leave the loom, but are afterwards dyed any
hue desired and are ornamented with various coloured flowers and other
kinds of decoration, which make them very gay and showy”.37
Shawls of this type are often mentioned in the early records of the
English East India Company as being useful articles of bribery. Sometimes
they were offered by native officials to the Europeans, and Sir Thomas
Row, James I’s ambassador to the Mughal court, records in characteristic
language how he indignantly rejected such a bribe offered by the Governor
of Surat soon after his arrival in 1616: “And pressing me to
take a Gold Shalh, I answered we were but newly friends: when I saw
any constancy in his carriage and the money paid, I would be more
free with him, yet I would receive no obligation...” 38
In 1866, Bernier wrote that shawls measured about 5 ft. by 2 1/2 ft.
and had plain fields, decoration being limited to the end-borders
or heads, which were less than one foot in depth. 39
This shallowness of the end- borders appears to have been characteristic
until the beginning of the neneteenth century when , as will be shown,
they were suddenly enlarged. Thevenot Bernier’s contemporary
mentions that the ground colour varied, but that Hindus favoured follimort
or deaf-leaf (de feuille-morte).40
Plate 15 Detail of a shawl
The earliest surviving shawl-piece in a public collection is a fragment
preserved in the Calico Museum of Textiles, Ahmedabad (Plate 1). It
consists of part of an end-border with a repeat of delicate, freely-spaced
flowering plants, rendered in the semi-naturalistic style of the late
seventeenth century. Shawls with similar end-borders are often depicted
in portraits of the Golconda School of painting, a typical example
being the portrait of Qutb-Shah at Illus. No. 1, facing p. 6.
At this period the characteristic motive of Kashmir shawl-design was
a slender flowering plant with roots (Fig. 1).41
It combined the grace and delicacy of Persian floral ornament (from
which it was ultimately derived) with the naturalism characteristic
of seventeenth-century Mughal art. In the early eighteenth century,
this simple floral motive was treated more formally, and the number
of flowers stemming from a single plant increased (Fig. 2). At about
the same time it ceased to be depicted as a flower with roots and
merged with another well-known Indo Persian decorative motive-the
conventional vase-of flowers. Many of the eighteenth century forms
betray their dual origin by retaining both the vase and the appearance
of root-growth. The name given to these floral motives was buta, meaning
literally ‘flower’, and it was not until the middle of
the eighteenth centrury that the outline of the motive began to harden
into the rigid formal shape which later come to be known in the West
as the cone or pine (but still unknown in Kashmir as buta). Although
this motive had antecedents in Near Eastern textile patterns of the
seventh or eighth centuries A.D. the cone in the varied forms in which
it became associated with shawls was clearly the product of separate
Independently of the Kashmir buta, another type of cone based on the
leaf-form appeared more or less simultaneoulsly in Persian decorative
art. This Persian form had an important influence on the subsequent
development of the Kashmir cone, giving rise to a variety of cone
forms which were common to Indo-Persian art of the period.
Plate 14 Shawl: loom woven, Kashmir early nineteenth century
A further stage was reached in the first quarter of the nineteenth
century, when the Kashmir cone began to lose trace of its naturalistic,
floral origin and became a purely conventional form (Fig. 6). This
prepared the way for a final stage of abstraction when the cone became
elongated and transformed into a scroll-like unit as part of a complicated
over-all patterrn (Fig. 8).
As guides to dating, the different stages in the development of the
cone must be regarded with caution. Because a certain form came into
vogue at a certain period, it did not necessarily follow that earlier
types were supeseded. In fact, it often happened that the older well-tried
motives and patterns outlived new.
Kashmir shawls were first worn in fashionable circles in the West
in the third quarter of the eighteenth century, and by 1800 the shawl
trade between Kashmir and the West was well established. The appearance
of European agents in Kashmir added fresh colour to an already cosmopolitan
scene. “At this city”, wrote Moorcroft from the capital,
Srinagar, in 1822. “I find merchants from Gela and from other
cities of Chinese Turkestan, from Uzbek, Tartary, from Kabul, from
Persia, from Turkey, and from the provinces of British India engaged
in purchasing and in waiting for the getting up of shawl goods differing
as to quality and pattern in conformity to the taste of the markets
for which they are intended in a degree probably not suspected in
Europe.”42 Some indication of the diversity
of taste for which the Kashmiri weaver catered is indicated by the
descriptions of shawl-goods given Appendix II, compiled by Moorcroft
during his three-year investigation into the shawl industry. In the
preparation of designs for the Western market, one merchant in particular-an
Armenian named Khwaja Yusuf (already mentioned as the originator of
the ‘amli or needle-worked shawl, p. 3)- appears to have had
an important influence. He had been sent to Kashmir in 1803 by a trading
firm at Constantinople, in order to have shawls made according to
patterns that he took with him.43
Khwaja Yusuf’s original idea in introducing the needle-worked
shawl was to simulate and undersell the loom-woven patterns. About
1830, however, the needle-workers began producing a distinct style
of design with human figures, usually illustrating one of the well-known
poetical romances of Indo-Persian literature, such as the Khamsa (“Five
Poems”) of Nazami (See Plate 23), and the “Iyar-i danish
(“Criterion of Knowledge”) of Abu’l Fazal. It was
said that Tanjit Singh (who held dominion over Kashmir from 1819 to
1839) especially admired scenes illustrating his victories (only one
of which was completed).44 Later in the century
‘amli shawls were sometimes embroidered in the form of a map
of the capital, Srinagar. 45
Plate 18 Girdle: loom woven, Kashmir, early nineteenth century
The nineteenth-century popularity of the Kashmir shawl in Europe undoubtedly
owed much to romantic associations with the ‘mysterious and
unchanging East’. The new popular journalism of the period was
always ready to foster such associations, and this led to the publication
of innumerable articles by unqualified authorities setting out to
explain the alleged antiquity of Kashmir motives and patterns and
even ascribing to them an elaborate symbolism. Typical of them is
an article which appeared in the magazine Household Words, founded
by Charles Dickens: “If an article of dress could be immutable,
it would be the (Kashmir) shawl; designed for eternity in the unchanging
East; copied from patterns which are the heirlooms of caste; and woven
by fatalists, to be worn by adorers of the ancient garment, who resent
the idea of the smallest change... 46 Repetition
of such nonsense over a long period had its effect. On the one hand,
it belied the true character of the Kashmir industry as a living and
developing tradition adaptable to changing conditions; and on the
other, it obscured the important influence exercised upon those changes
by European taste.
One way of tracing the development of Kashmir designs in the nineteenth
century is by examining shawls depicted in contemporary European portrait
painting and costume engravings. These show that the shawl most popular
in the first two decades was of rectangular shape with a plain field
and large seminaturalistic floral cones in the borders. 47
Examples are often depicted in French portraits of the period, particularly
in the works of Ingres whose portrait of Mme. Riviera, painted in
1805, is reproduced at Illus. No. 6, facing p. 26. Similar shawls
feature in his protraits of Mme. la Comtesse de Touron (1812), Mme.
de Senonnes (1814), Baronne Popenheim (1818), and the Stamaty Family
A distinctive feature of the cone at this period was its streamer-like
bending tip, reminiscent of the earlier cypress-and-almond-tree motive
of Persian art 49. By 1815, the semi-naturalistic
floral cone had begun to give way to a more formal, abstract type
(Figs. 6 and 7). Shawls with a diapered or trellised field were also
coming into favour, and among these was the square shawl with a medallion
in the centre and quarter medallions at each corner, known as the
chand-dar or ‘moon-shawl’. In 1823, Moorcroft remarked
that Persian taste favoured shawls in which the pattern ‘almost
completely covers and conceals the colour of the ground’; and
this probably refers to shawls of the type shown at Plates 20 and
The mid-nineteenth century was a period of great prosperity for the
merchants and dealers, and also one of artistic decline, when foreign
taste increasingly dominated shawl design. The French were the main
instigators, and it was in the year 1850 that the first French agents
arrived in Kashmir with a mission to improve the traditional designs.50
In the following decade, many visitors to Kashmir reported-sometimes
with approval but more often with alarm-that “French patterns
and new colours, such as magnenta, are beginning to prevail over the
genuine Indian designs.51 One of these accounts is
perhaps worth quoting in full:
“The great estimation in which Cashmere shawls are held in France,
and the consequent demand for them, have induced some of the large
houses in that country to keep agents in Srinagar (Srinagar, captial
of Kashmir). One result of this is that the French design patterns
in Paris and send them out to Cashmere for execution. Although these
designs are all in the oriental style, they are no improvement upon
the old work of the native... “The French patterns”, says
Mr. Simpson, who brought to the country an experienced artistic eye,
“ were perhaps purer than the old; they contained more free
and sweeping lines, but they wanted the mediaeval richness of the
native taste. It may be described as the difference between a piece
of Rococo ornament and what an artist of the thirteenth centruy would
have produced. There was a distinguishing character about the original
style which is being rubbed out by this foreign influence”.52
Plate 22 Scarf or girdle: embroidered with a needle, Kashmir,
From other accounts we learn that the weavers themselves resented
this foreign interference. “At first (and in fact until within
a few years) much difficulty was experienced in persuading the native
designers to alter or amend their patterns. They were attached to
their old style and would not accept alteration; but now this difficulty
has been overcome and the weavers are willing to adopt hints, in fact
they now seldom begin to work till the pattern has been inspected
or approved by the agent for whom they work.53
Although Simpson’s explanation of the French contribution to
Kashmir design is not very clear in expression or terminology, it
nevertheless gives important clues. In referring to the ‘mediaeval
richness’ of the traditional as opposed to the French patterns
he probably had in mind the marginal ornament of mediaeval European
illuminated manuscripts, before which the eye is made to wander restlessly,
in convolutions, in marked contrast to what he calls ‘free and
sweeping lines’ of the French or ‘rococco’ style,
so characteristic of the late designs of both Kashmir and European
European intervention in the preparation of designs was so general
at this period that when Kashmir shawls were shown at the contemporary
international exhibitions of ‘art and manufactures’, the
European agent who commissioned a shawl was given full credit for
the design. At the Exhibition of Punjab manufactures held at Lahore
in 1873, first prize was awarded to an Amritsar shawl designed by
an Englishman, Mr. R. Chapman.54
Plate 23 Scarf or girdle: embroidered with a needle, Kashmir,
Between 1850 and 1860, shawl exports to Europe more than doubled,
far exceeding the total estimated output of the whole industry at
the beginning of the century,55 In the following
decade, however, there was a sudden contraction in the market. The
average Kashmir shawl of that time (such as the example shown at Plate
52) was no longer equal to the best products of the Jacquard looms
of Lyons and Paisley (Plates 48, 49 and 51), and yet were more expensive
to buy. On top of this decline came the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71,
resulting in the closure of the French market for Kashmirs, and the
simultaneous and quite sudden eclipse of the shawl as an article of
fashion. From being the pride of every girl at ther marriage and coming-of-age,
the shawl was relegated to the grandmother’s wardrobe. As a
result, the Kashmir industry, so long geared to Western demands, was
doomed. Collapse of trade was followed by the severe famine of 1877-79,
when shawl-weavers were said to have ‘died like flies’.
Most of the survivors, having hands so refined and delicately adjusted
to the technigue of shawl-weaving that they were useless for most
other occupations, subsequently died in destitution.56
Only the needle-workers experienced temporary respite, adapting themselves
to the embroidering of coverlets, table-cloths and similar goods for
the tourist market. Within a generation of its final phase of prosperity
the shawl industry was dead, and the art of its weavers irrecoverably
Sometimes, when a merchant was dissatisfied with a finished shawl,
he cut out certain sections of the patterns and ordered others to
be substituted. In this way, the whole appearance of a shawl was sometimes
changed while in the merchant’s hands.57
Fragment of a Shawl-cloth, Loom-woven, Kashmir
In the 1860s Kashmir produce the reversible shawl, the pattern being
identical on both sides of the cloth. This did not reflect any significant
departure in the technique, but was achieved by skilful trimming of
the loose weft threads on the reverse side, and the outlining of all
the main details in the pattern by needlework. The example at Plate
33 was shown at the Paris Exhibition of 1867 and bears its original
exhibition label which reads: “Scarf of quite a new fabric.
Shows the same on both sides. Sent by Diwan Kirpa ram,58
Kashmir. Price: 37 12s Od.”
From about the second quarter of the nineteenth century, Kashmir had
to face competition from Persia;59 but lacking the
former’s longer experience of patterned shawl-weaving, the Persians
were never able to produce shawls of comparable quality. There were
two types of Persian shawls which have to be mentioned. The first
is woven in the same twill-tapestry technique, the patterns being
influenced by those of Kashmir but at the same time distinguished
by bolder floral treatment and more architectural emphasis in design.
Moreover, the predominant colour is a rather deep red not at all characteristic
of Kashmir. A few specimens of this type survive in museum collections,
usually in the form of coverlets or prayermats.60
The second type of Persian shawl which competed with Kashmir in the
nineteenth century was known as the Hussain Quili Khan. These are
even more easily distinguishable by the fact that they were woven
in silk on harness-looms, the unused sections of the wefts on the
underside being left floating. In pattern, they are often copies of
Kashmir fabrics, and the Victoria and Albert Museum possesses two
pieces-a Hussain Quil Khan and a Kashmir piece-which are identical
Besides woven imitations Persia also produced embroidered shawls in
the Kashmir style. The fact that such shawls bear Persian inscriptions
is not in itself an indication of Persian origin, because the Persian
script was in common use in Kashmir.
1Pietro della Valle, II p. 248
2This definition applies for the purposes
of this study. Shawls made entirely of silk cotton or materials other
than wool are therefore excluded.
3Heredotus, in the fifth century B.C., described
Egyptians as wearing a woolen garment in terms which indicate a shawl
(Book II, 81).
4Baron Charles Hugel, p. 118.
5 MSS. Eur. D. 260.
6 Colonel J.A. Grant, quoted in Kashmir and
its shawls (Anonymous) , p. 48.
7 Moorcroft, MSS. Sur. 113 pp. 33ff.
8 MSS. Eur. D. 260 p. 4. See Also MSS. Eur.
E. 113, and D. 264.
9 The fact of the matter is that late ‘amli
shawls’ are very variable in quality. A possible explanation
is that the coarser kinds were made in the Punjab by less skilled
10 To add to the confusion over the use
of the term cashmere, the Birth textile trade has now adopted a new
definition unrelated to the raw material. According to the Director
of the Shirley Institute, Manchester “the term is used to describe,
a certain type of cloth formerly woven from yarns spun from goat fibres”,
and he includes cloth woven with any high-quality wool yarn. “The
weave must be 2/1 weft twill with a larger number of picks that ends
per inch, giving what is also known as the “cashmere twill”
or “plain back” (From a letter to the author dated 19-3-1954).
11 Moorcroft, MSS. Eur. E. 113.
12 G.T. Vigne, II, 124, and C.E. Bates,
13 Manucci,II p. 341.
14 Moorcroft, MSS. Eur. D. 260, pp. 1-2.
15 Baden Poeld, pp. 43ff.
16 Baden Powel, pp. 43ff
17 Moorcroft, MSS. Eur, E. 113, p. 7.
18 Ibid., Eur.F. 38, letter dated 21-5-1820.
19 Vigne, II, p. 127; and Moorcroft, MSS.
Eur. E. 113,p. 10.
20 According to Moorcroft, pattern-drawers
earned from 2 to 8 annas a day according to skill, compared with the
weaver’s maximum of 1 anna a day; ( one penny).
21 C.E. Bates p. 56.
22 Only two operators when a very simple
pattern was involved.
23 C.E. Bates, p. 54.
24 Moorcroft, MSS, Eur. E. 113, p. 17.
25 Ibid., p. 16.
26 Colonel Grant quoted in Kashmeer and its
shawls (Anonymous) p. 48.
27 C.E. Bates, p. 53.
28 A reduction of Rs. 2/- was made in 1867.
29 C.E. Bates, pp. 54-7. and R. Thorp.passim.
30 R. Thorp., p. 36.
31 Ain-i-Akbari,I,32. See also Palsaert,
p. 36. and Manrique, I.p. 429.
32 Bernier, p. 102.
33 Torrens, p. 93.
34 Baden Powell, p. 43.
35 Ain-i-Akbari,II, 15.
36 Ibid., I. 32.
37 Marique, I, 428-9. These of course bear
no relation to the comparatively coarse shawl-goods embroidered with
gold thread in the Kashmir style, and produced in the Punjab in the
late nineteenth century.
38 Roe, p. 223
39 Bernier, p. 403.
40 Thevenot, Ill, p. 37.
41O. Falke, fig. 35; and A.C. Weibel, fi1.
42 Moorcroft, MSS. Eur. G. 28, letter dated
12th November 1822.
43 Tessier p. 27.
44 Vigne, p. 124.
45 A map-shawl, embroidered in 1870, was
published in the Magazine of Art, London, Vol. 25, 1901, pp. 452-3.
46 Household Words, 28th August, 1852.
47 The Frenchman, Rey, writing in 1823, stated
that prior to this period the cone was neer more thatn nine inches
in height. J. Rey, p. 146.
48Textiles historians usually refer to this
motive as the cypress ‘bent by the wind’; in fact it represents
the natural form of the treek, the topmost shoots of which always
49B.H. Baden Powell, p. 41.
50 B.H. Baden Powell, p. 41.
51 Colonel J.A. Grant, quoted in Kashmeer
and its shawls (Anonymous), p. 48.
52 William Simpson, India ancient and modern,
53 Letter from an Amritsar shawl agent, quoted
by B.H. Powell, p.41
54 B.H. Baden Powell, p. 45. The particular
shawl is reproduced in the forementioned work, facing p. 45.
55 The export figures were 171,000 in 1850-1,
and 351,000 in 1860. Estimates of the earlier output are based on
Moorcroft MSS. Eur. E. 113, p. 29.
56 According to evidence handed down verbally,
Kashmir shawl weavers ere recruited for carpet- knitting.
57 B.H. Baden Powell, p. 46.
58 This was the name of the Prime Minister
of Kashmir at that time.
59 Describing Kirman province, the French
traveller Debeux remarked....on y voit un grand nombre de manufactures
de chales qui imitent ceux du Caschmir’ La Perse p. 57.
60 Examples in the Victoria and Albert Museum
(Textile Dept. ) are T. 41-1942, 1061-75 1061-a-75, and 346-1880.
61 Nos. 1064-1875 and 885-1877.