Date of this Version
Published in The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global; Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 16th Biennial Symposium. Presented at Vancouver, BC, Canada; September 19 – 23, 2018. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
On a visit to the Kashmir Valley in northern India during the winter months I was given a pheran to wear. This long woolen garment is the customary apparel worn by Kashmiri men and women in cold weather. While the men’s are plain, the women’s pherans are embroidered on the front and sleeves. The skills of those Kashmiri artisans who hand embroider clothing such as the pherans, shawls, and other textiles including rugs, curtains, and cushions are well recognized in India and beyond. Considering the Kashmir Valley’s geographic position surrounded by the Himalayan Mountains, I presumed that their embroidery crafts would have emerged intrinsically given the long winters spent indoors and limited access to resources like wool. However, historically it was Kashmir’s position on the trade routes of Central Asia and continuous occupation by foreign rulers that resulted in outside influences developing their textile crafts including techniques, design motifs, and materials used. It is thought that sultan Zain-ul-Abidin (1420-70) brought craftsmen from Damascus who introduced zalakdozi (crewel and chain stitch) hook work embroidery to Kashmir. While in 1803 Khwaja Yusuf, an Armenian shawl merchant, introduced needlework, or sozni embroidery, to Kashmir as a means of producing cheaper shawls than woven kani shawls so to be more viable in the competitive markets. Cultural exchanges continue in contemporary times with collaborations between foreign designers and specific embroidery communities of the Kashmir Valley, although ongoing political unrest challenges all Kashmiris including the sozni and zaladozi embroiderers. Hand embroidered Kashmiri textiles have markets locally and as export products, but a June 2017 report in the Kashmir Reader claims exports have greatly diminished over the past two years. Through discussion with embroiderers in the Kashmir Valley I have learnt about changing influences on their communities, how they adapt, and how they perceive their future.