KASHMIRI SHAWLS – A TEXTILE OF MAGNIFICENCE
How strong must one be to lift a carpet? How much strength to move a kilim? A hand loomed saddle cover? Or perhaps to hold the whisper light heft of a kashmiri shawl?
Last week I had wonderful days in Los Angeles and San Francisco visiting with collectors, viewing museum collections, attending a dealers fair and hearing lectures on various related topics.
The morning after my arrival in LA I attended a lecture delivered to the Textile Museum of America’s Southern California Associates by Dr David Reisbord on the subject of Kashmiri shawls. It was a time to learn and to be amazed by the technical complexities of this weaving tradition. Both men and women have worn these diaphanous and colorful shawls through the centuries with the oldest known pieces dating to the mid 17th c.
A Tibetan ibex was the source for the incredibly fine wool used to weave these textiles. The ‘shatoush’ or the fleece from the underbelly of the animal was so fine that one pound of the fleece could be spun into twenty-five miles of thread. Between two to three thousands warps on the loom could form the base for these fine and complex textiles.
The lecture filled in many gaps in my knowledge. I learned techniques for identifying shawls of Indian origin versus the later European production that came into vogue with the advent of the jacquard loom in Europe.
There was a ‘show and tell’ by the lecturer that included examples of shawls woven with a twill tapestry weave in one piece; shawls of the same weave that were expertly pieced and some that had the design intricately applied with fine embroidery.
As in the world of carpets some of these shawls and their designs have been dated by using European paintings where the subjects (or objects) were draped in Kashmir shawls giving reference to a date when the design type of the shawl was a part of contemporary fashion in Europe.
On following up on this lecture I came across this article online that covers in detail historical, technical and aesthetic insight into this textile of such enduring beauty.
Still today one can purchase in retail outlets shawls that are based on these designs and in my own closet hang several of the airy, light and cozy wool scarves that are the descendants of this rich textile tradition.
I have met with collectors of carpets, kilims, embroideries and beauty exists in each format. For me there was great allure with the beauty of a textile that packs and aesthetic punch, has technical brilliance and weighs in mere ounces.