Pashmina is also known as cashmere and is a superfine fibre that is collected from the undercoat of the Capra Hircus Laniger goats that live in the high altitude pastures of the trans Himalayas. It is one of the most precious and versatile of animal fibres. The fibre is obtained in the summer months when the goats moult. The nomads catch each goat and use a special comb to gather the cashmere undercoat, to prevent it shedding in the wild.
Even though Ladakh makes less than 1% of the world’s total raw cashmere, it does produce the finest cashmere in the world. Ladakhi pashmina has a long staple and its fibre length is well suited for hand spinning with a diameter ideal for knitwear. Most Kashmiri and Nepali weavers source their product from China, where the quality is less reliable.
This pashmina shawl is a sacred treasure produced by the nomadic people of Ladakh (drokpas) who raise these goats and collect the finest pashmina. These drokpas are a dying community in the high Himalayas and your purchase goes to ensuring their survival.
Once the pashmina is collected it is first sorted for colour, fibre diameter and length. Next it is scoured or basically cleaned on a willow machine and washed in various stages in soapy water. Next it is dehaired. This is important as it sorts the fine cashmere under hairs from the coarser top guard hairs that may have got mixed in. The guard hair is heavier and the finer cashmere is stickier - the two fibres are separated by the centrifugal action of a humidified chamber.
The cashmere is cleanly separated and dried the raw pashmina can then be spun, coloured and finally woven. In Ladakh spinning is by hand using a supported whorl-less wooden spindle (phang). Hand spinning is best as although machines are capable of spinning together fibres of shorter staple length this product becomes less durable.
Only the best quality cashmere fibres can be woven by hand, resulting in better quality shawls. Ladakh is so cold in winter that it is difficult and more expensive to maintain weaving machines, thus much of the raw cashmere, is sent to the lower Himalayas to be machine woven.