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Pashmina Wool Fibers

The Pashmina Shawls made with Golden Fibers of Cashmere Goats

Pashmina is another name for Cashmere is a downy undercoat of the Capra Hircus Laniger goats that mainly live in the Trans-Himalayan regions classified as speciality hair fibres which possess special qualities of fineness and lustre, which is used for making finest quality shawls and hijabs.

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The History

Woven shawls in India have been worn as early as the Indus Valley Civilization. A famous example is the statue of a priest-king found at Mohenjo-Daro, who is draped in a shawl decorated with trefoil patterns.

The past of this super-luxurious wool resonates with the history of India itself, going back to the pre-Mughal time when the first details of this enticing fabric were documented. It is however believed that unstitched woollen wraps on the shoulders were already being used for warmth some 3500 years ago – roughly the age of “Mohenjo Daro” civilization. “Buddha”, along with his disciples, is also shown in elegant drapes in most of the depictions

Definition

Pashmina, a prince of the speciality hair fibre is one of the finest natural fibre. Encyclopedia of textiles (1980) defines speciality hair fibres as the rare animal fibres which possess special qualities of fineness and lustre. Pashmina is the down fibres or undercoat derived from domestic goat known as Capra hircus, which is native to India (Von Bergen, 1963). Pashmina can also be defined as the down (undercoat) fibre derived from Cashmere goats with a diameter of 15 microns or less (ASTM, D-123-59).

Pashmina has derived its name from the Persian word pashm meaning soft gold, the king of fibres (Anon, 2005).  It is well known for its fineness, warmth, softness, desirable aesthetic value, elegance and timelessness in fashion. It is the most luxurious fibre which is much softer than superfine merino wool of the same diameter with the result it commands a much higher price. It has occupied a unique position among the fibres of animal origin because of its warmth, lightness, handle and its better ability to absorb dyes and moisture.

On an equal weight basis, it is having 3 times more insulating capacity as that of wool (Von Bergen, 1963). The term Pashmina is also known as Cashmere, Kashmir, Pashm, Tiflit, Tiftik, Tivit, Tibit based on the effect on fibre yield. There is an apparent variation in the fibre length of Pashmina from different body regions in case of both male and females. As Pashmina grows as the undercoat and acts as a protective mechanism in Pashmina goats, so the sub-zero winter temperature also has an effect on the growth of Pashmina fibres.

The Changthang Region and the Changra goats

changthang-region-in-Ladakh
Changthang region in Ladakh, Kashmir

The pristine beauty of the Changthang region in Ladakh is marred by the stench of death that hangs over it. In the past three months, thousands of Changra goats, whose cold-shielding wool—six times finer than a human hair—is used to weave the famed pashmina shawls, have died because of heavy snowfall.

News of sporadic deaths came in the first week of February from the inaccessible transit settlements of the nomadic Changpas who rear Changra goats. Before the information could reach the state headquarters in Srinagar, there were more deaths. As per the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), 25,000 Changra goats died in February and March, putting livelihoods of the Changpas at risk.

 

Ladakh produces 80 per cent of the country’s pashmina fibre. It fetches Rs 3,000 per kilogramme.

Changthang is a remote plateau in south-eastern Ladakh, bordering China (see map). At an altitude ranging from 4,200 metres to 5,700, the region is a cold desert that receives little rain. The summer rain of four to five days supports small patches of pastures, dictating the delicate ecology-economy equation of the Changpas. The pastoralist community largely depends on livestock products for survival. Dairy products are converted into less perishable forms like butter and cheese, which are used during winters. The produce is also used as currency in the barter system practised in the region.

Changthang usually experiences five centimetres of snow during winters when the temperature dips to -30°C. But this year it received 121 cm of snowfall, which many claims is the worst in the past half a century. “This is unusual and has triggered the crisis,” says Monisha Ahmed, an anthropologist working in the region. According to residents and government officials in Leh, most of the goats have died due to starvation. There was very little rain last summer due to which there weren’t enough pastures. Adding to the woes, heavy snowfall cut off the region from the outside, causing a delay in fodder supply from the government. Whatever pastures that sprouted were buried under snow, making grazing impossible. Mostly young and the old goats have died. It is not the cold but the thick snow cover over pastures that killed them, says Nawang Tharchen, a resident of Rupshu valley and a Changpa.

Properties of Pashmina Fibers

Properties common to all protein fibres

pashmina-fibers

  • Wool is one of the first fibres to be spun into yarns and woven into cloth.
  • Resilience: Resist wrinkling, wrinkles hang out between wearings. Fabrics tend to hold their shape during wear.
  • Hygroscopic: comfortable in cool. Moisture prevents brittleness in carpets.
  • Weaker when wet: Handle carefully during washing. Wool loses about 40% of its strength when wet.
  • Specific gravity: Fabrics feel lighter than cellulosics of the same thickness.
  • Harmed by alkalies: Use natural or slightly alkaline soap or detergent. Perspiration weakens the fibre.
  • Harmed by oxidizing agents: Chlorine bleaches damage fibre so should not be used.
  • Harmed by dry heat: Wool becomes harsh and brittle and scorches easily with dry heat.
  • Flame resistant: Does not burn readily, are self-extinguishing, have the odour of burning hair and form black crushable ash.
  • Wool Grading: Grading and sorting are two marketing operations that put wool of like character together. In grading the wool fleece is judged for fineness and length. Each fleece contains more than one quality of wool. In sorting the individual fleece is pulled apart into sections of different- quality fibres.

What is Pashmina commercial grade A?

A fine protein animal fibre with a fineness of fewer than 13 microns, and Very Soft, Exotically Delicate, Weightless and natural Insulating Fibre of the World Extracted from Inner Coats of Chyangra Goats.

Making Steps of Pashmina Wool, Cleaning & Storage of Pashmina Fibre & Also Displaying Export Figures of Pashmina Wool.

Kashmir Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust (KHPPT) Is Working for Welfare of Pashmina Producers. Exceptionally warm wool, the most refined version of cashmere products and is considered better or similar to cashmere made from the undercoat of domestic Himalayan goats. Studies were carried out on pure pashmina fibres and procedure followed was as follows.

Source of Raw Material

The commercial grade-A Changthangi Pashmina utilized for the present study was procured from “All Changthangi Pashmina Growers Association, Leh Ladakh”. The bulk samples were taken from different bales of Pashmina collected from different areas at random.

Sampling

Samples were taken from raw Pashmina by Zoning and Halving method for analysis. The raw Pashmina lot was spread on a table and was uniformly mixed. The mixed lot was approximately divided into two halves. Out of two halves, one half was discarded. The other half was again thoroughly mixed uniformly and further divided into two halves. One part was again discarded. The method was repeated several times, till a requisite quantity of test sample was obtained and test results are

Type of Fibre Weight/ Weight (%) Range (%) Number/ Number (%) Range (%)
Undercoat 76.01±0.32 58.22-80.38 87.52±1.12 78.90-52.03
Guard Hair 23.99±0.98 20.4-40.12 13.48±1.10 20.38-45.25
Table-1: Mean ± S.E. Percentage of Fine and Guard Hairs in Raw Pashmina
Type of Fibre Fibre Diameter (μ) Range (μ) Fibre Length (mm) Range (mm)
Fine Pashmina 12.25±0.11 11.08-13.1 49.04±0.19 46.03-52.03
Guard Hair 67.77±1.08 60.09-74.12 80.07±0.15 78.02-83.06
Table-2: Mean ± S.E. of Physical Properties of Pashmina Fibre
Parameter Mean±S.E. Range
Tex (g/km) 0.33±0.17 0.27-0.52
Breaking load (g.wt/tex) 3.0±0.01 2.0-6.2
Elongation (%) 30.33±1.23 20.5-42.9
Tenacity (g/tex) 7.60±0.98 5.3-14.21
Table-3: Mechanical Properties of Fine Pashmina Fibre
Parameter Mean±S.E. Range
Compressibility (%) 50.3±2.57 (7.27) 43.48-60.34
Compressional Resiliency (%) 45.10±1.32 (11.34) 42.21-50.96
Table-4: Compression Properties of Fine Pashmina Fibre

Pashmina is another name for Cashmere

Pashmina fibre is a downy undercoat of the Capra Hircus Laniger goats that live in the Trans-Himalayan regions including Ladakh, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, and some parts of central Asia. It is one of the most precious and versatile animal fibres. A large variety of luxury goods – both knitted and woven — are produced from it. Ladakh produces less than 1% of the world’s total raw Cashmere, but it’s the finest in the world.

The long-staple Ladakhi Cashmere has a fibre length well suited for hand spinning, and a diameter ideal for knitwear. A symbol of luxury and elegance, Pashmina has always been the love and desire of women all around the world. To own a Pashmina is to experience royalty! Only a woman can explain the worth and excellence that a Pashmina Shawl beholds. Pashmina shawls and hijabs have been treasured for their expensive material and reminiscent designs since time immemorial.

Difference Between Cashmere and Pashmina

Cashmere shawls are being made in Kashmir and Nepal for thousands of years. Both, the Pashmina and Cashmere shawls are derived from mountain sheep. The main difference between them is the diameter of the fibre. The Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner than the cashmere ones and, therefore, ideal for making lightweight apparel like fine scarve.

Well to be fair enough to check the originality of pashmina is a very difficult job, only an experienced person can differentiate between a real one and a fake one. I can give you the characteristics of pashmina, which may help you.

  • First thing Pashmina is the Superior Quality of Wool after Shahtoosh,
  • Superiority depends upon the capability of certain fabric to give out Warmth,
  • Pashmina is the Down hair of Chegu (Changthani), an antelope who live in Changthang plateau of the Kashmir region, where the temperature drops to -40 degree Celsius.
  • The Thickness of pashmina yarn should be 11 to 12.5 Microns, below11 microns is shahtoosh and above 12.5 microns is cashmere.
  • For a perfect Pashmina Shawls it needs to be Handmade if it is not handmade please Don’t call it Pashmina.
  • A Good Quality Pashmina Shawl must weight +/- 200 gm.
  • The tight weave of a shawls makes it durable for a lifetime.
pashmina-shawl-process-flow
Pashmina Shawl Process Flow
pashmina-fiber-morphological-structure1
Morphological Structure of Pashmina Fibre

 

pashmina-fibre-difference-with-normal-wool-fibre
Pashmina Fibre Structure Difference with Normal Wool Fibres

Making of pashmina shawls

The wool collected every spring before the goat grows a new coat each winter is cleaned. Combing separates the hard and soft fibres. Then on the Charkha, it is carefully handspun. The wool merchant separates the yarn for use as warp and weft. For a colourful Shawl, the Rangur (dyer) at this stage would see the yarn arriving at his door. After dyeing, the hanks of wool morph into bobbins and are made ready for warping.

Yarn spinning

Scouring and bleaching

Pashmina fibre contains about 5 to 7% contaminants like wax, skin flakes, squint and dirt. This process traditionally in Kashmir scouring is not done at the fibre stage but is carried out during yarn processing before dying and weaving operations are done. Nowadays pashmina fibres are scoured at fibre stage before de-hairing but the disadvantage is it makes surface damage in machine de-haired pashmina fibres. This is observed in an electron microscope

Impurities like burrs, vegetable matter is removed manually before scouring is done. Under normal circumstances carbonization process is used to remove the impurities but for pashmina fibres, this process is not adopted.

The scouring is done by using 0.2 GPL non-ionic detergent at 50-degree C. for 10 minutes. Bleaching is not normally done for pashmina fibres.

Combed pashmina is obtained in the form of loaf called TUMB followed by glueing usually with socked powered rice. The yarn can be spun up to 108NM. The range generally is, 2/60 –2/110NM yarn is spun to make high-quality shawls.

800px-Nepali_charka_in_action
The spinning of Pashmina fibres is carried out by specially designed manually operated traditional Charka locally known as yandere.

Weaving

One warp for each shawl at a time is the usual way. The warp (Tani) is wound straight from a bobbin, which stands on the ground with the aid of a warping stick which ends in a hook through which the thread passes. This passes through a ring attached to the ceiling, to keep the flow smooth. The warp winder goes around, winds the warp around the four pegs stuck into the ground. The finished wrap is attached directly to the loom. A bamboo stick is inserted in the lease. The warps are then sized.

pashmina-weaving-tani

Traditionally, pashmina yarn is wound on a small flange bobbin manually using parotta. The yarn is converted to hanks. The application of saresh is carried out in hank form using saresh as an adhesive to make it suitable to weave. It needs high skill to do warping and leasing of the yarn and is carried out manually using sticks. The process is time-consuming and creates non-uniform tension during weaving operation. This is followed by drawing in operation.

The designs are laid and a writer transforms the designs onto a Talim in form of script or a series of hieroglyphics. It’s woven as Urdu is read (left to right) and the Talim is read as one reads English (right to left). The Talim consists of a set of symbols denoting various numbers of warp ends and a second set denoting the different colours the Kani (bobbin or small individual shuttles for the different colours of the motif) has to go over. The master weaver chants along from the Talim and the weavers play the music on the loom accordingly. The weavers are at the looms for about 8 to 15 days to create a plain full-length Pashmina and the number of days increases with the intricacy of the design if it’s a Kani Pashmina shawl.

pashmina-shawl-design

With their coloured strips, elaborate floral motifs, the shawls till date remind us of Persian richness. Chand-dar or Moon shawl hosted a medallion in the centre and quarters in the corner just like the ground it would adorn.

  • Badams, Panjdar (five-fingered flowers),
  • Cheet misri (Egyptian print),
  • Kev Posh (root flower),
  • Gul-e-noor jehan (a flower liked by Noor Jahan),
  • Gulabkan (roses),
  • Yumberzal Posh (meadow wild flower),
  • Marder (snake like forms),
  • Gulkar (only flowers),
  • Ragas Chinar (leaves of Chinar),
  • Taj (Taj mahal) created the language of the shawls.

William Moorcraft wrote about the advanced and organized system of division of labour in the industry between 1820 and 1823. More the intricacy of the shawl, twelve or even more specialists independently worked on the same shawl.

The weaving of Pashmina shawl is done on a special type of hand loom. Before weaving yarn is sized with a special type of starch/resign. The handloom woven shawl has more commercial value in the market. We need to have especially skilled manpower to convert pashmina fibres to finished shawls. The construction details of woven shawls are:

  • Weight= 200 grams, EPI=50—60, PPI=45—56,
  • The dimensions of the ladies and gents stole are 2.1 m, 1m, 2.5m, 1.37m and 2.0, 0.8m respectively
  • GSM= 50 –70 grams

After weaving the fabric is hand massaged to realizing the stress inserted during spinning and weaving operations. The shawls are produced with intricate and unique designs like chasma bulbul, ribbed weave, Kani shawls. ETC.

Dyeing and Finishing

The dying behaviour of pashmina is identical with sheep wool.  However, due to the hydrophilic outer cuticle, the uptake of dye is faster. The acid dyes, 1:1 metal complex dye, 1:2 metal complex dyes and reactive dyes are used for pashmina fabrics. Generally, fabrics are dyed with dark shades and with bright colours like red, blue-green, yellow, and black. Dying with acid dyes is carried out at PH 2-3, with the addition of sulphuric acid.

The dying is carried in weak acetic condition by adding acetic acid or sodium acetate. The other important dye used for dying pashmina fabric is 1:2 metal complex dyes. This class of dye provides excellent washing and light fastness to the pashmina fabrics. the local dyers at Srinagar – Kashmir use a different type of levelling agents in order to facilitate quick and even dying. The dying of shawls is carried out in a pot type dying vessel heated with gas stove by exhaust method. The dying of shawls is done individually by hand dying technique.

After dying the fabric is air dried under relaxed conditioned. Pashmina yarns and fabrics are also dyed using natural dyes. The dyers are using indigo for blue, Annotate seed for getting the red colour, and henna, myrobalan for getting yellow and brown shades.

Dyeing is also done by hand, and each piece individually. Dyers with immense patience and generations of experience are the ones who dye the Pashmina shawls, as even the smallest negligence reflects on the quality of the product. Only metal and azo-free dyes are used, making the shawls completely eco-friendly. The pure water used for dying is pumped up from deep beneath the surface. Dyeing is done at a temperature just below boiling point for nearly an hour. Pashmina wool is exceptionally absorbent, and dyes easily and deeply.

Dusting and Dehairing losses of Pashmina fibres

Parameter Percentage
Dusting loss 19.39
Dehairing loss 39.80
Fine Pashmina 50.63
Guard hair 49.37

The effect of the method of de-hairing on the physicochemical quality of Pashmina fibres is as under:

Physical quality

Type of fibre Undercoat Percentage Fineness (μ) Mean fibre length (cms) Linear density Tex(g.wt/km)
Wt/Wt No./ No
Fine undercoat 71.07μ 1.917 87.18μ1.571 13.37μ 0.0472 55.86μ 0.377 0.296μ 0.004

Mechanical quality

Characteristics In Air In Water
Fine Pashmina Guard Hair Fine Pashmina Guard Hair
Tex 0.319μ0.0072 3.004μ0.1106 0.318μ0.0072 2.864μ0.1024
Breaking Strength 11.812 μ 0.1475 14.597μ  0.2596 10.043μ  0.1344 9.339μ  0.2773
Breaking Extension 34.58μ  0.3774 37.54μ  0.4408 55.93μ 0.6019 55.38μ  0.2773

Chemical Quality

Type of fibre Grease content (%) Suint content (%) Vegetable matter (%)
Fine undercoat 5.61μ0.278 6.94μ0.794 0.54μ0.072
Guard Hair 2.37μ0.113 4.52μ0.427 0.88μ0.003

The yarn properties of Pashmina as reported are as under

Theoretical count (NM) Fineness (μ) Metric count  (Actual NM) No. of fibres  / cross section Actual count of yarn in Tex Instron Single Thread Test
Breaking strength (g) Tenacity ( g /  tex) Elongation
(%)
132.18 13.51 μ 0.01 56.72 31.88 15.9 52.0 3.27 36.8

Steps to identify the purity of Pashmina Shawls and Hijabs

  1. Check its appearance. Though sometimes a slight sheen is possible, yet in most cases, the authentic piece will bear a matte appearance.
  2. Look for the diameter.
  3. Check the weave.
  4. Go for the burn test.
  5. Check the ply and the dimensions.
  6. Perform the rubbing test.
  7. Do the pilling test.
  8. Check if it has anything glued on it.

Pashmina Shawls/Hijabs – Washing Steps

getting clean involves a 12-Step Method. Don’t skip steps!!

  1. Clean your bathtub thoroughly. Plug the drain.
  2. Lay the pashmina fabric flat, folded as necessary, depending on the size of your tub.
  3. Using a hand-held shower, soak the shawl with lukewarm or cool water.
  4. Squirt the shawl with a moderate amount of neutral detergent. Baby shampoo is okay.
  5. Pat and squash the shawl to make sure the soap penetrates the entire piece.
  6. Let it soak for 15 minutes.
  7. Unplug the bathtub and let the water drain away.
  8. Using the hand-held shower, rinse the pashmina thoroughly.
  9. Remove the pashmina from the bathtub, and fold it small enough to fit into a large Ziplock plastic bag.
  10. Seal the bag and shake for a couple of minutes.
  11. Remove the pashmina from the bag and lay it on a fresh, dry towel. Allow blotting for 15 minutes.
  12. Push aside the shower curtain and hang unwrinkled from the shower rod. Allow drying thoroughly.

Pashmina Shawls – Ironing Steps

Actually, a pashmina shawl does not generally require ironing. Just hang it up, unpunched, and let the wrinkles fall out. For a crisper, more elegant look, you might want to have it professionally pressed; or do it yourself:

  1. Prepare the area around your ironing board or table. The shawl is a long piece of fabric, and you don’t want to have it mopping your floor. We usually cover the floor area with a clean bedsheet.
  2. Pre-warm your steam iron to moderate heat.
  3. Lay out your pashmina on the ironing board and cover it with a thin cloth: you want to avoid direct contact between the pashmina cloth and the iron. Again, a clean bedsheet will do the trick.
  4. Iron the shawl from one fringed end to the other. Move the iron up and down, not left and right. Use the steamer liberally.

SUMMARY

Growing quality pashmina and cashmere is not easy. But with a little training and knowledge of what type of fibre is required by the processors, it is possible to maximize returns to the point where maintaining a herd of pashmina and cashmere bearing goats is a profitable enterprise. Knowing what the processors want is the first step.

Step two is learning how to recognize fleece that falls within those parameters. Then and only then can we begin to undertake a selective breeding program that will result in the upgrading of the current gene pool into one that consistently produces goats that grow cashmere under known conditions. Knowledge is the key.


Acknowledgements:

Technical and technological facts in this write up have been selected from various sources and their rights are retained with the respective authors if not explicitly stated here. I do acknowledge the research contents done by Directorate of Sheep Husbandry Kashmir division Government of Jammu and Kashmir and other research institutions and organisations.

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