Pashmina is the traditional name for the very finest grade of cashmere wool. Because of its unique softness and comforting warmth, Pashmina is also known as the "diamond fiber" and the "soft gold of high Asia". Put simply, it is the finest, softest and warmest wool available anywhere.
This amazing cashmere comes exclusively from the underbelly of the Himalayan mountain goat Capra Hircus that thrives at over 12 to 14,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayas. This undergrowth insulates the mountain goat during the long, harsh winters. It is this unique inner coat of hair that is used to produce pure Pashmina shawls. Each hair is about 12-14 microns, approximately one sixth of the diameter of human hair. Each goat produces only 80-100 grams of this ultra fine hair each year and the annual growth of three goats is needed to make a single pashmina shawl. The goat is not harmed in the process of producing pashmina as the hair is collected after being shed naturally.
Pashmina making in Nepal is an art, a craft that involves hand processing skills passed down through generations. Our adept Nepalese artisans, mostly women, separate the thinnest, silkiest hairs and weave them into various articles that are luxuriously soft, warm, lightweight, and durable. A few years ago pashminas were mainly woven plain but there are now a variety of other weaves to choose from, such as twill, herringbone, basket weave, stripes and random weave. Pashmina comes naturally in off white, gray or brown but the wool is easily dyed to complement any color scheme from the Pantone Matching System Color Guide. Dyeing is done manually using colorfast eco-friendly dyes. Thus, the color shade of one pashmina from one batch might look slightly lighter or darker than another batch. Design add-ons, such as jacquard patterns (honeycomb, paisley flowers, diamond, fish scale, leaves, peacocks, and others), stripes, and plaids are also available.Pashmina is a luxury item. When it first became popular in the international market a few years ago, the prices were outrageously high. Since then, the market has become more competitive and you can easily find reasonable prices. Unfortunately, the drop in prices has been accompanied by a widespread drop in quality and the proliferation of fake pashminas. To be sure about the quality of your pashmina purchase, the reliability of your supplier is critical. Nirvana Nepal produces top quality pashmina cashmere not below 88% purity (varies from 88-95% purity) blended with finest wool to 70/30 blend mixture of Pashmina & silk. This is much softer, lightweight and fragile. Lower quality pashmina is a mix of wool from other areas of the animal, including the shoulders, where the wool is much coarser. The top quality underbelly wool is exceedingly soft, and also harder to work with because it is more fragile than non-pashmina cashmere.
Pashmina fibers is hand-woven by skilled Nepali craftsmen in to wonderful shawls. The making process is pain-staking, artistic and time consuming process. Therefore the quality and the price of Pashmina products are incomparable to other garments or fibers as it takes many man hours to complete, from the combing of the goat to collect the fur through to hand weaving, dying and finishing. So you can almost say every shawl is unique. We weave all our shawls in Kathmandu, Nepal with great care, in traditional handloom and dyeing with our own experience dying master.
The following steps are undertaken to make a pashmina shawl or blanket:
- Setting up the loom
The loom needs to be specially mounted for each different size of craft. For shawls, setting up the loom takes 2-3 days and for blankets 3-4days. Setting up a Jacquard loom takes 7-10 days.
- Preparing yarn skeins
The skeins are rolls of yarn loaded into the shuttle that travels back and forth to lay down the horizontal "weft" of the weave across the long vertical "warp" threads.
- Hand weaving
The weaver starts with her/his feet controlling the shuttle movement as the hands guide the bar that tamps down the weft thread as it is laid down. He has to maintain a consistent rhythm with hand and feet in order to produce a regular weave. This rhythm is the defining skill of a good weaver. Each weaver can optimally weave 6-8 shawls or 2-4 blankets in a 7-hour shift day. After one size production is completed, all parts of the loom have to be thoroughly cleaned to make sure that there are no loose threads, tiny straws or any other foreign object that could block the moving parts of the shuttle or get incorporated into the fabric.
Each woven piece is then hand massaged thoroughly to relax the fibres that have undergone stress during the weaving process. After the massage is finished, the wrap is ready to take to the dyer.
Dyers with immense patience and generations of experience are the ones who dye our pashmina pieces, as even the smallest negligence reflects on the quality of the product. The first step of the dyeing process is to wash the pieces in neutral liquid detergent. Each piece must be clean when it goes into the dyeing cauldron to avoid dark spotting. Our dyers have hundreds of colour shades to choose from but can also match samples provided by clients or according to the Pantone Colour Chart Code. Despite all the care exercised in measuring dye proportions, calibrating water temperature, and timing immersion, dyeing is an inexact art: if you order two shawls of the same color but place the orders a week apart, you will notice a slight difference in the colour shade. Once the colour powder mix is ready, the dye is dissolved in warm water in a large cauldron and few shawls at a time are soaked and stirred for about an hour; dark shades require more soaking at higher temperatures than lighter ones. Then the pieces are soaked in fresh water with neutral detergent and colour fixer for fifteen minutes then in a weak softener solution for another fifteen minutes. After soaking, the pieces are then drained and rinsed in freshwater.
- Sun drying
The pieces are then dried naturally in the open air; this is gentler on the fabric than machine drying. The drying time depends on weather conditions, and introduces one of the more significant variables in delivery time. The shawls need to be completely dry before they can go to the next stage of the process.
- Tassling or Fringing
After the drying, the fringes have to be twisted and knotted. This process can't be done at an earlier stage, or the fringes would not be completely dyed. The making of the distinctive fringes and design is perhaps one of the most interesting stages of shawl making. It takes hours to fringe each pashmina shawl or blanket.
- Final Quality Check, Pressing, Labeling and Packing
After fringing, each piece (except those that have to undergo embellishments such as printing, beading or embroidery) is given a final inspection as to the quality of weaving, evenness of design and color, softness, fringes, and overall tidiness. Then it goes for labeling, ironing, folding, and packing.