Kani shawl hand-weaving is an exquisite craft, composed and adorned in Kashmir with fine and intricate designs woven with extreme adroitness. Kani shawl is created from delicate Pashmina wool that makes it feathery and warm. This antique craft is practiced over the entire Kashmir from past generations.
It was my regular day at IICD; I was busy working on my weaving samples during the Advanced Weaving module of 6th semester. Subsequently, the module faculty, Prof. ShaluRustagi mentioned that we are going to have a workshop on Kani weaving conducted by master weaver. He has been awarded National Award by Ministry of Textiles in 2010 and State Award by Government of Jammu & Kashmir in 2005 for his craftsmanship and contribution to the development of Kani shawl craft.
A temporary loom was set up and everyone was waiting for their chance to weave the piece of art we had never even seen before. The first glimpse of the Kani shawl was fascinating; in the world full of digitalization it was incredible to witness something so exquisite. Filled with the motifs of natural ambience and calligraphy, it left me wondering, how a masterpiece, so beautiful, could be made by weaving pashmina. As I sat down to weave, Mr.Majid explained me the technique and instructed me to pick the Kani sticks up and start weaving. In an instant, the loom felt like a canvas and the Kani sticks requiring a high level skill to handle, otherwise calledTujlis, felt like a paintbrush leaving its mark with every stroke. Weaving a Kani shawl with the twill tapestry technique seemed like a painting imitating reality, awaiting its execution. Though the piece that we were weaving had a paisley shaped calligraphy motif in Urdu, which I was unable to understand, for me it spoke the language of true beauty and intricacy.
As I wove the shawl, my eyes caught a sight of a piece of paper with a graph of the same motif with certain codes which Mr. Mazid was using for reference. My curious soul coerced me to ask him about it, and then he explained that a naqash (pattern drawer) makes a pattern of Kani design on graph paper. The delightful masterwork of Kani shawl is then woven like a carpet based on a coded pattern called talim. The talim consists of a set of symbols indicating various numbers of warp ends, and a second set indicating the different colors which the Kani sticks have to go over. This coded pattern is prepared by a talim guru based on the design made by the naqash and then the shawl is woven on a four shaft four treadle loom with reed made from wood that supports delicate pashmina weaving. The base weave is twill and the design is woven in tapestry technique, making it a weft-faced structure.
I was so wonderstruck with the technique and intricacy of the weaving that I decided to stay there after my turn and converse with Mr. Mazid. He then explained to me about Kani weaving, stating that sometimes, as many as 50 Kani sticks are used with different colored threads for single weft exhibiting the intricacy of design. The fine texture and complex designs mean that artisans can barely weave more than an inch a day. The colored threads are woven according to a coded pattern drawn by a master craftsman. This paragon of Kashmir is woven in the exotic pashmina yarn with faint colored base and kaleidoscopic floral patterns, creating a striking equilibrium. Colored Kanis are woven too, in hues such as red, blue, green and ochre. One full Kani shawl can take anywhere between two months to two years, depending on the intricacy in weaving, pattern and design whereas plain woven shawls in a single color can take about seven to ten days.
He then continued narrating his story about his association with the craft. He lives in Srinagar, Kashmir and hails from a family that has worked on calligraphy weaving in Pashmina. He feels gratified to be kindred with the craft that has been with his community for over 700 years. He further said that when he was studying in school, in Kashmir, most of the areas would be under curfew. Schools would remain closed for days, extending up to several months. Initially, it was boring for him to be at home doing nothing. Gradually, he got interested in what his father used to do, the craft. It all started when they visited the National Museum in New Delhi and was exposed to the references. They admired it and that got him to experiment with calligraphy which was built across as an innovative technique. Developing calligraphy from the traditional weaving techniques his forefathers taught him was considered to be one of the toughest techniques in the world, but over a period of time, he also gained great insight by practicing, and developed many complex variations of calligraphy weaving. He can now weave any font using this technique. He has also revived many old techniques of Pashmina. Gradually, his zeal became his walk of life. Today, he conducts workshops at different colleges and participates in exhibitions.
Listening to him, pricked up my ears. I felt incognizant of this astounding work of art. It gave me a strong desire to learn more about the history of the craft and work on it. Upon researching, I learned that the price of a Pashmina may range anywhere from a few to several thousands of rupees, depending upon the craftsmanship and time factor involved in its creation. Pure Pashmina isrough and too delicate to wear so the local weavers combine the 12-14 micron thick Pashmina fiber with silk or angora to impart durability and luster to the material.
The research led my way to the history of the weaving of tapestry shawls. It was first introduced in the valley ofTurkistan by Zain-ul-Abdin, the ruler of Kashmir, in the 15th century. Mughal rulers like Akbar and his successors, wore these shawls. By the beginning of the 19th century, foreign entrepreneurs started to commission shawls, especially for the French market, adapting the designs to suit the European taste. Pashmina became the rage in France after Napoleon presented a rare shawl to Empress Josephine.
Presently, the Kani shawl holds a G.I certification of the Jammu and Kashmir state from 2008 acceding to the longstanding demands of Pashmina weavers of patenting.  The government also provides opportunities to showcase these artworks at national and international exhibitions. Then, there are social ventures working with artisans to promote heritage crafts and to bring them on the global map.
But there is also another side of the coin; on one hand where artisans like Mr. Mazid are working towards revival of the craft, there are people who are making cheap knock-offs of this authentic craft resulting in killing the market for the weavers, and making craftsmen impuissant to generate the value of their creations and consequently moving to auxiliary income generation methods. Therefore, in order to extricate the craft from being exploited, we must not promote the cheap copies of the craft by buying them, andmust take steps towardssaving the heritage of our country.
– By Tanisha Verma (SMA, UG-7th Semester)
Indian Institute Of Crafts and Design
 AradhikaSekhon, 2001, Pashmina The age-old fashion statement, viewed 12th May, 2020.
 Veenus Jain, 2015, Kani Shawl: A Case Study of a Milestone in the Art of Weaving, viewed 12th May, 2020
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