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European and Euro-American Consumption of Kashmiri Shawls

European and Euro-American Consumption of Kashmiri Shawls

“Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires 1500 – 2000 AD

PART – 2

(European and Euro-American Consuption of Kashmiri Shawls is a part of the article regarding the great history of genuine Kashmir Pashmina Shawls (Today’s Geographical Indication labeled (GI) Kashmir Pashmina) was found luckily after a deep research from ‘Journal of World history” online. This article provides a great research by Michelle Maskiell regarding this most luxurious product of fashion industry which has gone through the test of times. I am directly copying and pasting without any editing on this website for general information of Kashmir Pashmina customers and lovers who want to know more about the genuine Kashmir Pashmina (GI Kashmir Pashmina). This article has been posted in parts for the ease of readers.

(Michelle Maskiell, “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500-2000,” Journal of World History 13, no. 1 (Spring 1992), 27–65.)

Changing European patterns of consumption for Kashmiri shawls over the course of the nineteenth century developed contrapuntally with Western social scientific and cultural theories concerning European industrial commodities and European labor. The representations of Kashmiri shawls in Europe and the United States cannot be understood independently of the representations of European-made imitations. Both the shawls and the artisans who made them were deployed as mirrors and foils for European products and workers.

Western European consumption began with the eighteenth-century importation of Kashmiri shawls with the characteristic teardrop-with-a-bent-tip design, which also appeared in similar Iranian (Persian) textiles. 14 It became known as the “paisley” in the United States and Canada, and as the “pine,” the “cone,” and the “palme” or “palmette” [End Page 35] in western Europe. A Kashmiri shawl with the design woven on the loom is known as the kani, the kanikar, the “twill tapestry,” or the “brocade weaving” shawl (Keller 1996, 803; Reilly 1996, 10–11; for less Eurocentric views, see Ahad 1987; Chandra 1989; Chattopadhyay 1995). 15

British imperial rule in India, from its modest seventeenth-century coastal beginnings to its most dramatic early twentieth-century manifestations throughout the Subcontinent, was inextricably bound up with the international textile trade. The British East India Company (hereafter BEIC) monopolized the maritime transportation of Kashmiri shawls to Europe in the eighteenth century. 16 The BEIC adopted a policy of supplying shawls similar to what they had already established for the seventeenth-century importation of Indian handloomed cloth called “chintz” (painted or hand printed cotton). 17 The increased demand for nonwool cloth inspired the most famous examples of British manufacturers’ import substitutions: spinning cotton thread and weaving cotton cloth by machine. With the help of early eighteenth-century legal restrictions on the importation of Indian cotton textiles into England and the copying of Indian cloth-dying technology, British manufacturers invested some of the capital gained from their colonies to produce textiles that substituted for imported Indian cottons. [End Page 36] The long list of industrial innovations in yarn-spinning technology, including the flying shuttle, the spinning jenny, and the water-powered spinning mill–in combination with the roller printing machine, steam engines, and power looms–all enabled British manufacturers to supply their home market and to export machine-spun cotton yarn and machine-loomed cotton cloth to their colonies. When the British “cotton craze” for Indian printed hand-woven cottons waned, there was a wide range of British textiles.

available which manufacturers had developed specifically for the home market. The BEIC had bowed to the demands of British manufacturers for economic protection while they developed these import substitutions for Indian textiles throughout this period, half a century before Kashmiri shawls first appeared around the shoulders of women in London (Schoeser and Rufey 1989, 29–30; Lyons 1996, 173; Mukherji 1983).

In eighteenth-century Great Britain, BEIC employees and other travelers brought home Kashmiri shawls as souvenirs and gifts for their relatives and friends. The social practices of women and men who had lived in India showed Britons how to wear the shawls (Irwin 1955, 19; 1973, 32; Shrimpton 1992, 67). Eurocentric accounts often have assumed that Kashmiri shawls only became fashionable through being displayed in Europe, claiming that fashion is a purely Western phenomenon. 18 Textile historians fixed a starting date for Kashmiri shawl fashion which reflected when English women wore these shawls in England, even though English women (and men) had worn such shawls earlier in India. The British who lived in India might adapt indigenous fabrics to European clothing styles, but fashion supposedly moved solely from England to India and never the reverse. One of the earliest mentions of an Englishwoman wearing a Kashmiri shawl in England occurred in a 1767 letter; consequently, Kashmiri shawl fashion was dated to the following decade (Irwin 1973, 32).

As in India and Iran, the desirability of Kashmiri shawls in Britain rested on people incorporating them into their “relations of consumption” (Howes 1996, 2). These gendered relations in the nineteenth century included conceptualizations of clothing fashion, the distribution [End Page 37] of financial resources for consumption, various gift-giving occasions, inheritance practices, and the like. The primary purchasers of Kashmiri shawls and shawl cloth in eighteenth-century Britain were probably men, since they most frequently controlled finances within affluent families that could afford Kashmiri shawls (Fine and Leopold 1990, 178). Many wealthy late-eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century men “wore robes and vests of exotic oriental cloth as well as shawls for lounging, sport and travel” (Rudzki 1986, n.p. [25–26]). Davidoff and Hall mention no Kashmiri shawls among the clothing worn by middle-class Birmingham English women in the late eighteenth century, but a young manufacturer took his first trip to London in a new “cashmere” waistcoat in the 1780s (1987, 410).

In nineteenth-century English writing, despite the evidence of contrary sartorial practices, Kashmiri shawls became coded as women’s luxuries. Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1849–50 novel, North and South, portrayed “Indian shawls and scarfs” as highly desired items for the English bourgeois trousseau (Gaskell 1986, 37; 299). Margaret, the heroine, modeled a Kashmiri shawl from her cousin’s trousseau early in the novel; Gaskell used the incident to extol the “spicy Eastern smell,” the “soft feel” and the “brilliant color” of the shawl. Margaret’s tall figure “set off the long beautiful folds of the gorgeous shawl,” and, looking in a mirror, she smiled at her familiar features in the “unusual garb of a princess” (39). Gaskell later described Margaret’s attire when she met her future husband as completed by “a large Indian shawl which hung about her in heavy folds and which she wore as an empress wears her drapery” (99). Thus, for one popular nineteenth-century English novelist, Kashmiri shawls evoked both fairytale status and marriage for bourgeois women.

But Kashmiri shawls could mean more to individual women than luxurious wraps. As nineteenth-century British law and custom greatly limited women’s inheritance rights to real property, the ownership of Kashmiri shawls and other clothing items of exchange value could be of obvious importance. Nupur Chaudhuri observed that “aesthetic value aside, the Kashmir shawl was also considered to be an item of tangible wealth… [which was] regarded as a valued inheritance” (1992, 234). Even used shawls had considerable exchange value; Chaudhuri traced the largely noncash market for Kashmiri shawls through private letters, newspapers’ “exchange columns,” and “advertisements in women’s periodical literature” (232-33, 235). London’s Regent Street, the epicenter of wealthy women’s public consumption practices, catered to individual women’s differing economic situations [End Page 38] through the India and British Shawl warehouse which advertised that they cleaned, exchanged, or purchased customers’ own shawls, as well as selling new ones (Adburgham 1989, 99; see also, Vickery 1993).

Napoleon and his officers brought Kashmiri shawls back from the 1798–1801 French Egyptian campaign, and Empress Josephine (1804–1809) started the fashion of wearing them in Paris. French consumers obtained shawls by way of the famous Russian fair at Nizhnii Novgorod, as well as from resident agents in Istanbul and Moscow. Kashmiri shawls also arrived in France from Alexandria and Smyrna via Marseilles (Fitzpatrick 1990; Ames, 130). The Kashmiri shawl was a symbol of French bourgeois status from the Restoration (1815–8) through the Second Empire (1852–70). Middle-class French women “actively participated in the formation of the bourgeoisie as a class with tastes distinctive from aristocrats and workers,” and they did so primarily through spending their husbands’ incomes to obtain appropriate clothing and household furnishings. Kashmiri shawls and other goods used as class markers satisfied nineteenth-century bourgeois French taste because “they looked rich,” had “extensive ornamentation, artistic qualities,” and were made of “expensive raw materials” (Walton 1992, 53, 100, 225; Levi-Strauss 1988, 16-19; Auslander 1996 a). In 1866 Paris, the Grands Magasins du Louvre, “where elegant Parisians shopped,” sold “Indian cashmeres for up to 3,500 francs ‘and more’“ (Keller, 810, #19).

Kashmiri shawls were favorite nineteenth-century wedding gifts in France as well as in Britain. Napoleon’s wedding gifts to Marie-Louise, his second wife, included seventeen Kashmiri shawls, and a painting of the guests at their 1810 wedding showed many of the women with “a cashmere shawl carefully folded over one arm” (Levi-Strauss 1988, 19). Wealthy Frenchmen often presented a “fine cashmere shawl… [as] part of la corbeille, the groom’s gifts to his bride; and this item was frequently the most valuable among the women’s clothing in the inventories [of household possessions]” (Walton, 99). Unmarried nineteenth-century French women, no matter how wealthy, were discouraged from wearing Kashmiri shawls, for to do so would “lead people to believe that they are possessed of an unbridled love of luxury and deprive themselves of the pleasure of receiving such finery from a husband” (1863 deportment manual cited by Perrot 1994, 100).

Euro-American women on the northeastern coast of the United States started to wear Kashmiri shawls about the same time that they became fashionable in Britain. When trade with the European empires was curtailed for the new country in the aftermath of the Revolutionary [End Page 39] War, American ships sought out new markets in Asia. Kashmiri shawls reached the United States in the 1780s and 1790s when ship captains bound for China and Turkey acquired them in various ports of call (Dow 1921, 114). Some still unknown but no doubt changing mixture of Iranian, Kashmiri, north Indian, and western European-made shawls, as well as shawls from China, were available in U.S. eastern cities during the first half of the nineteenth century (Leavitt 1972, 55; Harrington 1970, 4546; Bean 1990).

Shawl fashion in the United States, as characterized in popular nineteenth- century women’s magazines such as Godey’s Lady’s Book, published in Philadelphia, and Harper’s Bazaar, published in New York City, followed western European fashion trends. French shawls with imitation Kashmiri  designs became widely available in the 1840s, and a decade later small-town stores commonly stocked embroidered shawls from “Thibet,” although it is impossible to know if this geographical designation referred to shawls from Kashmir or north India. An American advertisement in Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1860 listed the types and prices of Indian shawls obtained from the East India company in London. These ranged from the least expensive, a “Delhi scarf for the shoulders” at $15, to square shawls, “ladylike and desirable” from $50 to $250, and reached the most expensive, “long shawls” costing as much as $1200. Shawls served as “attractive holiday presents” throughout the 1860s, and “India shawls were still considered wise purchases” in 1870. They continued thereafter to be advertised at all price ranges, with a new emphasis on the bottom end, and “imitation shawls were starting to eclipse the genuine Indian” in these advertisements by the end of the 1870s. Good quality shawls were then being tailored into “fitted jackets” or “men’s dressing gowns,” as well as used for “carriage robes” and “country clothes” (Harrington, 50–56, 71–79).

When the Great Exhibition celebrating British industrial productivity and imperial grandeur opened at London’s Crystal Palace in 1851, Kashmiri shawls and other colonial Indian “art-wares” received prominent display. Industrial exhibitions and world’s fairs in the second half of the nineteenth century intensified the interpenetration of the European and the Indo-Iranian trading networks, driven by the ever greater political and economic power of the imperial states to appropriate designs and technologies from their colonies and to facilitate their imitation by home manufacturers. Britain’s national policies became ever more closely connected to its imperial role in India during the second half of the nineteenth century, and Indian handicrafts as a whole had their most extensive display and consumption within Britain (MacKenzie 1995; Grewal 1996, 125-27 for “merchandising [End Page 40] the Orient”; for parallel trends and Iranian handicrafts, especially carpets, see Helfgott 1994).

In 1881, advertising copy for Liberty and Company (a British firm) transferred Kashmiri shawls from the dust bin of unfashionable clothing to this category of the antique. Its catalog of that year advertised “Indian embroidered table covers” and “Indian cashmere curtains… made like the old Indian shawls and embroidered all over.” The “Antique Embroideries” from India available at Liberty’s were “adjuncts of Eastern luxury and pageantry [and] priceless for adaptation in interior decorations.” The merchandising of the textiles stressed that they were “impossible to reproduce” and would soon be unavailable, since “[t]he whole East [was] being ransacked for [them].” The same Kashmiri shawls, or very similar ones, could have been sold at Liberty’s as fashionable clothing in 1865 or as home furnishings in the 1880s. This was not merely because of ineffective nineteenth-century methods of dating textiles. All Kashmiri shawls carried “romantic associations with the ‘mysterious and unchanging East,’“ whatever nineteenth-century year they were removed from the loom (Irwin 1955, 14).

From the 1880s until World War I, wealthy European and Euro-American women learned to drape their Kashmiri shawls over their pianos instead of their own shoulders. This high period of “Indian style” for British home decoration was part of late-Victorian eclecticism. Even as the manufacturers of European machine-made textiles tried to improve their designs, the British design reform, the Aesthetic, and the Arts and Crafts movements all emphasized in one way or another differentiating between the machine-made and the hand-crafted. By the late nineteenth century, the overall influence of these movements had transformed the political economy of taste in Britain and the United States. Using Kashmiri shawls as curtains or furniture covers attracted consumers whose tastes had been educated to appreciate the aesthetic superiority of artisan-made textiles in contrast to the aesthetic inferiority of the machine-made (Greenhalgh 1997, 105). It was no coincidence that the hand embroidery on Kashmiri shawls seemed to have made them desirable for interior decoration at the same historical moment that machine-stitched embroidery replaced hand embroidery in British textile manufacturing (Parker 1989, 178).

Thus, Kashmiri shawls could be represented as quite different types of commodities, from wraps that made women look like princesses to draperies for the piano, depending upon the fashion of the moment. In the early nineteenth century, representations of Kashmiri shawls were independent of their mode of production because European imitative shawls were also hand-woven. Shawls from Kashmir were then valued for their lightweight warmth, their attractive exoticism, and the exceptional sensual pleasures of wearing them. European mass-produced textiles were never able to compete successfully with Kashmiri shawls as far as the sensual characteristics of the fabric were concerned, and they were far too expensive for all but the very well off. European-made shawls, however, did come to offer design distinction through the appropriation and modification of Kashmiri designs to suit European and Euro-American tastes, and this distinction was available at middle-range and inexpensive prices. Asian commodities like Kashmiri shawls became key objects for late-nineteenth-century aesthetic pronouncements by “taste professionals” who then preferred hand-crafted [End Page 42] textiles and other handicrafts in contrast to machine-made products of all kinds (see Auslander 1996 a for “taste professionals” in France and Greenhalgh 1997). Tracing the European development of an aesthetic taste for the hand-crafted instead of the machine-made requires separate treatment and can only be suggested here.

To know about Kashmir Pashmian Shawl trade in Asia visit

…..To be continued in part 3…

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History and Pedagogy of Pashimina


History and Pedagogy of Pashimina – This is the only fabric which has gone through the tests of all time since 300 B.C, and has received the Geographical Indication stamp (under WTO) in fabric and luxury world.

The History of yarn dates back to 300 B.C. But today’s craft of Pashmina was brought to Kashmir from Persia (present day Iran) by a Sufi saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani in 13th century A.D. He had a group of artisan with him who taught the art of weaving different shawls, to Kashmiri soon-to-be artisans, out of Pashmina wool obtained from the Kashmiri goat located on the high Himalayas of Ladakh. The Industry flourished during this period.  

When Mir Syed Ali Hamdani came to Kashmir they bought new techniques to this industry from Persia and this craft start flourishing on international level.

The story of most luxurious fabric.

The Story of Pashmina opens in Ladakh. Ladakh is a region of Jammu and Kashmir, India which is the highest plateau on the earth. The massive Himalayan mountains are over 6000 meters of the sea level which are home to the world best wool goat- The Changthang goat or Capra hircus. The raw wool is first obtained from these goats which are reared at the altitude of above 5000 meters (13000 feet) of sea level, in the Changthang region of Ladakh. It is pertinent to mention that, it takes the fibre of three goats to weave a single shawl.

The Pashmina is made by the golden hands of artisans of Kashmir. All phases of Pashmina production – from dehairing, sorting, spinning, weaving to dyeing and embroidery are done by hand, which makes the production of shawls limited, rare and high-priced. Pashmina fibre is obtained only by combing and not by shearing as in the case of sheep.

A Pashmina shawl may take a month to get completed by the artisan, whereas the fine needle work embroidery on the shawl may take up to two years. Such craftsmanship is done by the needle-worker that at times it even costs the vision of his eyes.

World Production of Pashmina: 70% from China, 20% from Mongolia, and 1% from Kashmir (India) – but the 1% Pashmina from Kashmir is the finest of all because only the women folk of Kashmir are able to spun fine thread out of Pashmina (12-16 microns diameter) on the wheels called Yender and for the reason it has been put under the Geographical Indication Marked products category.

While speaking to Rouf Ahmad Qureishi, activist and member of Pashmina Weavers Fraternity, he said “if the Capra-Hircus goat is reared in the outside parts of Ladakh, they will not be able to produce the fine Pashm fabric of 12-16 microns. Just a simple change in the altitude and temperature changes the diameter of the Pashmina fiber”

Since the 16th century, the British exported Pashmina shawls to Europe, especially to France (In fact, when France lost the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war, the trade almost came to a halt). History witnesses that the fashion was Pashmina shawls were presented in Paper-Machie boxes (another G.I craft of Kashmir). Soon after the 16th century, there began the shawl exhibition in Europe, which further boosted the sales.

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The Fabric of International Treaties

The Fabric of International Treaties

Treaty of Amritsar

The Treaty of Amritsar was signed on 16 March 1846. It formalized the arrangements in the Treaty of Lahore between the British East India Company and Gulab Singh Dogra after the First Anglo-Sikh War. By Article 1 of the treaty, Gulab Singh acquired “all the hilly or mountainous country. With its dependencies situated to the eastward of the River Indus and the westward of the River Ravi including Chamba and excluding Lahul. Being part of the territories ceded to the British Government by the Lahore State according to the provisions of Article IV of the Treaty of Lahore, dated 9th March, 1846.” Under Article 3, Gulab Singh was to pay 75 lakhs (7.5 million) of Nanak Shahi rupees (the ruling currency of the Sikh Empire) to the British Government, along with other annual tributes. The Treaty of Amritsar marked the beginning of Dogra rule in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Article 10 of the treaty speaks- “Maharajah Gulab Singh acknowledges the supremacy of the British Government and will in token of such supremacy present annually to the British Government one horse, twelve shawl goats of approved breed (six male and six female) and three pairs of Cashmere shawls.”

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Kashmir Pashmina: The Fabric of Royals

Pashmina: The Fabric of Royals

From Napolean Bonaparte to Nikolai Demidov: Vogue of Pashmina in Europe, Russia and Beyond.

It is believed that the Western women particularly had developed a romantic rapport with the Kashmiri Shawls. From Kings to explorers everybody had to ensure that on returning home, the Pashmina Shawls is brought as a present for their beloveds.

The Pashmina came into the limelight in Europe during the reign of Napoleon. In 1798, Bonaparte successfully attacked Egypt, at that time part of the Turkish Empire was under Selim III. Among the booty gathered from Turkish janissaries were Kashmir shawls, which were adopted by delighted French court ladies and became high fashion. The Empress Josephine, ever extravagant, is said to have owned as many as sixty Kashmiri shawls. Not only was the shawl high fashion, but its high cost made it a status symbol, and its exotic origin and design fed into nineteenth-century romantic enthusiasm for all things Oriental.

Europe & Pashmina

In the nineteenth century, shawl design in Kashmir received a powerful external stimulus and change of course when European attention impinged upon local tastes.

Kashmir had long since captured the imagination and wonder of European travelers and this proved the case with Napoleon Bonaparte when he made his journey to the East. Napoleon showered Empress Josephine, his wife, with all the love and adoration you could and often brought timeless pieces of art and fashion on his return from his long and epic journeys across the orient. In one such display we can see Empress Josephine depicted in a portrait wearing a beautiful and extravagant Kashmir shawl dotted with the beautiful and timeless motifs from the epic land of Kashmir. Empress Josephine:

Likewise, the super-wealthy of European gentry was also had a penchant for expressing their love with the gift of Kashmir Paisley shawls from the beautiful and respected land in the East. Nikolai Demidov, a wealthy Russian who dominated the mines and foundries of the Urals region in Russia was very fond of expressing his undying love to his wife, Yelizaveta Demidova (1779-1818). Yelizaveta who was a baroness no less had developed an exquisite taste for timeless fashion and made sure that her husband in expressing his chivalrous and unbridled passion give her nothing but Kashmir Paisley shawls embroidered with the most beautiful and timeless motifs. Yelizaveta Demidova:


Nobel Families and Kashmir Pashmina.

As Europeans expanded commerce and colonies in Asia, aspiring wives of newly rich industrialists followed the style of their aristocratic sisters, and shawls became essential items of dress. Supply could not meet demand, and European manufacturers hastened to share this lucrative market. Not only did they strive to copy styles of Kashmir, but also to modify designs for European tastes. Eventually, they also sent designs to Kashmir to be woven and then returned to Europe for sale.

During the early parts of 19th century, the shawls industry in Kashmir skyrocketed with exports – from United Kingdom to France to the far East as Russia. In those times, the Pashmina Industry was providing the livelihood to more than one hundred thousand employees. But that was the year 1822, we are talking about, unfortunately in the present scenario – due to the industrialization – there have remained only a handful of artisans who try to melt their hands on the craft of their ancestors.