Known for being one of the softest fabrics in the world, cashmere is used in various winter essentials like scarves, sweaters, and blankets. Cashmere has been a staple for years in the textile industry, with the source coming from cashmere and pashmina goats. Locally called Changra, these goats reside high up in the mountains of Ladakh, a beautiful area in Northern India.
Lovingly cared for by nature, these goats are gifted with a thick undercoat to combat the brutal winters that reign over Northern India. Once the winter passes and the weather gets warmer, shepherds of the animal farm comb out the fleece with immense care, carrying out this procedure delicately and entirely by hand. After the fleece is removed, it is separated to extract pure cashmere.
While Cashmere is known to come from Kashmir, it is the skill of the people that brings life to the fabric. The undercoat is carried through the beautiful landscape of Ladakh, traveling north to Kashmir, where groups of talented women take over the responsibility. Once separated from the rough exterior, the soft cashmere is organized into sections of balls to make it easier for spinning. This is a meticulous activity involving patience and focus, priding the women of Kashmir with the ability to sustain a livelihood through art and creation.
A fundamental to the textile industry, the chakra wheel is an important element used in the creation of Cashmere. Practicing a technique that has taken centuries of hard work, skill, and knowledge to fully master, spinning the fibers into a finer yarn is the next step in the process. It is then wound through yet another wheel, with an intricate technique where the spinner turns the fabric in a particular direction to create a unique twist. Lastly, the fabric is arranged into hanks for easier care.
After spinning, the fibers are woven to create the fabric that is extensively used. To enhance the strength, the fibers are first soaked in rice water, increasing resistance to wrinkling as well as smoothening it out. Suppose the artisan decides to dye the yarn instead of weaving it in the natural colors of ivory and brown. In that case, the dyeing process is conducted over a copper vessel heated in a wood fire.
The process of weaving is majority male-dominated, beginning with the yarns spread out over the loom. Depending on the requirements of the design, the loom is adjusted with weft shuttles passed through the warp.
The fabric is completed with a final touch added through the elegance of embroidery, which is found in various valleys with individual distinctions. Specialized embroideries include Kanikar embroidery, with luxurious silk extracted from rich mulberry trees grown in the region. The variations in embroideries depend on the artisans, who create different designs and patterns that constantly break the boundaries of art.
Inherently, the sourcing of cashmere is a sustainable and all-natural process. The goats feed in the meadows deep in mountain valleys, on lands that have never been sprayed with harsh chemicals. The water they use flows naturally from streams, rejoicing in the freshwater enriched with minerals. The extraction of their coats causes no harm to them, conducted professionally by locals who have trained in this dwelling for the better part of their lives. There’s no use of electric shavers in the process. It requires the gentle touch of a hand, compared to the harsh cuts of a machine that would otherwise fracture the fibers. Prevailing from nature, Cashmere’s soft touch is a blessing to the skin as well as the environment, with a production process that causes no harm to the surroundings and uplifts the local culture and community.