1. The art of hand-combing and spinning cashmere is exclusively practiced by women artisans. After combing, women spin the fibre to the fineness of a hair-breath on a traditional spinning-wheel known as the ‘Inder’. Spinning requires great dexterity and patience as the cashmere fibers are quite delicate and break often. The yarn is then dyed and readied for weaving. Traditionally, women artisans work only from home.
2. The delicate fibres of handspinned cashmere need to be strengthened in order to withstand further processing. This is done by coating them with a natural resin and subsequently drying the yarn by reeling it over wooden instruments or ‘pretz’. This process takes place in small household-level workshops or 'karkhanas' of 2-3 members, each functioning like a small enterprise. A specialized cashmere dyer or ‘rangur’ is essential to a craft community and dyes hundreds of different colors.
3. A base of the scarf or a warp is created keeping in mind the desired look and feel of the final scarf. This involves passing each thread through a fine comb under the supervision of textile engineers or ‘Naqash’, a process often outsourced to women artisans. This allows for technical innovations in the art as both the artisan and textile engineers must understand the mathematics behind the weave.
4. ‘Kanikar’ or ‘Kani’ weaving is indigenous to Kashmir and dates back one thousand years. A ‘Kani’ scarf is distinctive because it is woven with wooden needles, without eyes, each armed with a small amount of yarn. These needles are known as ‘tojis’ and under the supervision of the master weaver, the artisan knots the yarn on the 'tojis' to the base of the scarf. When one line of work is completed, the comb is brought down upon it with vigor and the next line of work begins. 'Sada' or simple scarves are woven without motifs, often in the 'Chesm-e-Bulbul' weave.
5. The woven scarf is set aside for finishing by an expert 'purutzgar' after which a specialized shawl washerman or 'dob' gives it a wash. The traveler Thomas Vigne noted that the water of Kashmir gives scarves their "ineffable softness." Finally, the scarf is set to dry in the shade.
At Crafted in Kashmir, we use a concept called ‘Artisan Hour’ to convey the amount of expertise that goes into making a scarf, in terms of the time spent, in hours, by artisans on creating each scarf. Our 'Sada' or simple scarves take around fifty hours each to create while 'Kani' or embroidered 'Sozini' scarves with motifs take much longer. The artisan hours vary with complexity of the weave or motifs in each scarf.