Textile Society of America



Deborah Emmett

Date of this Version



Crosscurrents:Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Deborah Emmett


We travelled to the semi rural outskirts of Srinagar in Kashmir to the home of Muneer, a kani shawl weaver. In a small room on the third floor of his house Muneer sat side by side with his friend Hamid at their loom. Each weaver worked pulling small sticks wound in pashmina threads through the weft while carefully referring to a paper tucked under the warp threads on the loom. The woven design on kani shawls is formed by the manipulation of small wooden sticks called tojis that interlock different coloured threads to complete each weft of the shawl. The pashmina threads are used to work the ‘twill tapestry’ pattern. The design plan is on a piece of paper called a talim that is placed beneath the warp in view of the weaver. Each line on the talim consists of numbers and symbols (a shawl alphabet)1 representing each stage of the weaving: the increase or decrease of colours, or the changes in their places necessary to produce the required patterns and motifs of the design.

Muneer learnt the skill of weaving kani shawls from his uncle. Although he has completed a formal school education he prefers to pursue this traditional weaving craft. When we visit Muneer and Hamid they are working together on one shawl but at other times they work on separate shawls. About one inch of a shawl is woven each day and will take a year to complete. A wealthy Indian woman, a collector, has commissioned the kani shawl that Muneer is currently weaving. The skill of weaving kani shawls had almost been lost in Kashmir but due to their increased popularity as a fashion accessory in recent years there’s been a revival in kani weaving from government-supported and private enterprises. In the same locality as Muneer lives Raja with his wife and two young children. We walk through rice fields to his small home where in one room he sits working on his shuttle handloom weaving a pashmina shawl. It takes him up to five days to thread up the loom, the warp in either natural or dyed pashmina threads. Raja weaves around four inches per day and he will make the entire shawl to maintain weaving consistency. Raja was at school during the 1990s but due the militancy unrest in Kashmir he left and followed his father and grandfather in learning the skills of weaving.