Date of this Version
Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).
This paper will discuss the still continuous and centuries old skill of “Rafoogari” or the Darning and Maintenance of Pashmina Shawls by the Rafoogars or Darners of Najibabad, an historical town in western Uttar Pradesh. It is the home of several ‘Rafoogar’ families and the hub of the kani shawl trade. While Kashmiri pashmina shawls have been elaborately researched, the important role of darners in the maintenance of these priceless shawls has not yet been recognized. Although darning is a highly intricate and laborious task necessary to the maintenance, restoration, and renewal of the shawls, the role of the darners has remained unnoticed, possibly because the hallmark of good darning is to “share invisibility.”
The tradition of production of these intricately designed and expensive shawls came from Central Asia to India along with Islam and got further refined by local cultural influence, pushing the technique to its creative limit in a process of appropriation and acculturation lasting more than five centuries. The production of these shawls has become almost extinct. The socio–cultural conditions that made such a practice possible have changed. Normal production of such exquisite pieces is not possible anymore.
The continuing tradition of darning becomes extremely significant in this context. The special skill of the darners has been helping to rescue a substantial number of priceless shawls from destruction. Darning has kept them in circulation and continuous use until today in changing circumstances and in an interesting simultaneous transformation of the product and the market instead of being preserved only in museum collections. The paper will highlight this particular cultural approach to objects where historicity is maintained without sacrificing the use value. It will further discuss a complex range of issues in conservation, restoration and renewal of cultural products raised in the context of darning as an independent practice.