The words "shawl" and "pashmina" come from Kashmir but originate from Hamedan, Iran. Sources report cashmere crafts were introduced by Sayeed Ali Hamadani, when the 14th century came to Ladakh, homeland of pashmina goats where, for the first time in history, he found that the Ladakhi kashmiri goats produced soft wool. He took some of this goat wool and made socks which he gave as a gift to king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutabdin. Afterwards, Hamadani suggested to the king that they start a shawl weaving industry in Kashmir using this wool. That is how pashmina shawls began. The United Nations agency UNESCO reported in 2014 that Ali Hamadani was one of the principal historical figures who shaped the culture of Kashmir, both architecturally and through the flourishing of arts and crafts, and hence economy, in Kashmir. The skills and knowledge that he brought to Kashmir gave rise to an entire industry.
Kashmir was a pivotal point through which the wealth, knowledge, and products of ancient India passed to the world. Perhaps the most widely known woven textiles are the famed Kashmir shawls. The Kanikar, for instance, has intricately woven designs that are formalized imitations of Nature. The Chenar leaf (plane tree leaf), apple and cherry blossoms, the rose and tulip, the almond and pear, the nightingale—these are done in deep mellow tones of maroon, dark red, gold yellow and browns. Yet another type of Kashmir shawl is the Jamiavr, which is a brocaded woolen fabric sometimes in pure wool and sometimes with a little cotton added.
- Doña Josefa de la Cotera y Calvo de la Puerta - Mexican overall
The floral design appears in a heavy, close embroidery-like weave in dull silk or soft pashmina (Persian, meaning "woolen"), and usually comprises small or large flowers delicately sprayed and combined; some shawls have net-like patterns with floral ensemble motifs in them. Still another type of Kashmir shawl is the double-sided Dourukha (Persian, meaning "having two faces"), a woven shawl that is so done as to produce the same effect on both sides. This is a unique piece of craftsmanship, in which a multi-coloured schematic pattern is woven all over the surface, and after the shawl is completed, the rafugar (expert embroiderer) works the outlines of the motifs in darker shades to bring into relief the beauty of design. This attractive mode of craftsmanship not only produces a shawl which is reversible because of the perfect workmanship on both sides, but it combines the crafts of both weaving and embroidery and religious beliefs expressed in different shawls.
The most expensive shawls, called shahtoosh, are made from the under-fleece of the Tibetan antelope or Chiru. These shawls are so fine that even a very tightly woven shawl can be easily pulled through a small finger ring.
The naksha, a Persian device like the Jacquard loom invented centuries later, enabled Indian weavers to create sinuous floral patterns and creeper designs in brocade to rival any painted by a brush. The Kashmir shawl that evolved from this expertise in its heyday had greater fame than any other Indian textile. Always a luxury commodity, the intricate, tapestry-woven, fine wool shawl had become a fashionable wrap for the ladies of the English and French elite by the 18th century. Supply fell short of demand and manufacturers pressed to produce more, created convincing embroidered versions of the woven shawls that could be produced in half the time. As early as 1803, Kashmiri needlework production was established to increase and hasten output of these shawls, which had been imitated in England since 1784 and even in France. By 1870, the advent of the Jacquard loom in Europe destroyed the exclusivity of the original Kashmir shawl, which began to be produced in Paisley, Scotland. Even the characteristic Kashmiri motif, the mango-shape, began to be known simply as the paisley.
women wearing traditional shawls.
The paisley motif is so ubiquitous to Indian fabrics that it is hard to realize that it is only about 250 years old. It evolved from 1600s floral and tree-of-life designs that were created in expensive, tapestry-woven Mughal textiles. The design in India originated from Persian motif called butta-jeghgha which represents a stylized cypress tree, the symbol of Iranians. Early designs depicted single plants with large flowers and thin wavy stems, small leaves and roots. As the designs became denser over time, more flowers and leaves were compacted within the shape of the tree, or issuing from vases or a pair of leaves. By the late 18th century, the archetypal curved point at the top of an elliptical outline had evolved. The elaborate paisley created on Kashmir shawls became the vogue in Europe for over a century, and it was imitations of these shawls woven in factories at Paisley, Scotland, that gave it the name paisley still commonly used in the United States and Europe. In the late 18th century and 19th century, the paisley became an important motif in a wide range of Indian textiles, perhaps because it was associated with the Mughal court. It also caught the attention of poorer and non-Muslim Indians because it resembles a mango. "Rural Indians called an aam or mango a symbol of fertility".
The first shawls, or "shals", were used in Assyrian times; later they went into widespread use in the Middle East. Shawls were also part of the traditional male costume in Kashmir. They were woven in extremely fine woollen twill, some such as the Orenburg shawl, were even said to be as fine as the Shatoosh. They could be in one colour only, woven in different colours (called tilikar), ornately woven or embroidered (called ameli).
Kashmiri shawls were high-fashion garments in Western Europe in the early- to mid-19th century. Paisley shawls, imitation Kashmiri shawls woven in Paisley, Renfrewshire, are the origin of the name of the traditional paisley pattern. Shawls were also manufactured in the city of Norwich, Norfolk from the late 18th century (and some two decades before Paisley) until about the 1870s.
Silk shawls with fringes, made in China, were available by the first decade of the 19th century. Ones with embroidery and fringes were available in Europe and the Americas by 1820. These were called China crêpe shawls or China shawls, and in Spain mantones de Manila because they were shipped to Spain from China via the port of Manila. The importance of these shawls in fashionable women's wardrobes declined between 1865 and 1870 in Western culture. However, they became part of folk dress in a number of places including Germany, the Near East, various parts of Latin America, and Spain where they became a part of Romani (gitana) dress especially in Andalusia and Madrid. These embroidered items were revived in the 1920s under the name of Spanish shawls. Their use as part of the costume of the lead in the opera Carmen contributed to the association of the shawls with Spain rather than China.
Some cultures incorporate shawls of various types into their national folk dress, mainly because the relatively unstructured shawls were much more commonly used in earlier times.