In some parts of the world, shawls are essential garments: buttons, zippers, even tailors may be hard to come by, and ready-made clothing is simply not an option. But most women don't absolutely need a shawl: there are other ways to stay warm, including sweaters, jackets, and central heating. That means there can be no objective standard regarding what a shawl should or should not be. Size, weight, durability, warmth, sheen, elegance, drape, color, ornamentation, personality (!)... the importance of each of these parameters is up to the consumer. What we offer is a range of accessories that we admire, that our past customers have praised, and that we think you will find love. You will find similar or different combinations of characteristics in shawls offered elsewhere, and the quality may even be as good as ours, but we don't believe you will find higher quality handloomed Nepalese pashmina shawls ... anywhere.
Pashmina shawls are customarily quite large, which is why they are so versatile. Even Asian women, who are typically rather small, wear fullsize shawls quite comfortably; because of the light weight of the fabric, the shawls are easily knotted, folded, and wrapped, so that the generous dimensions are never a liability. On the contrary, the remarkable variety in the ways a shawl can be worn is a great part of its appeal.
In addition to shawls, we have scarves. The terminology here is particularly troublesome. Some people use the word scarf to refer to headpieces. We don't. A cloth that is worn over the top of the head and knotted under the chin would be a kerchief in Sunrise parlance. In Kathmandu, scarf is a term that refers to what we call a medium-size shawl (80 inches by 28 inches) or to a somewhat smaller piece (80 inches by 24 or 20 inches). What we Americans generally refer to as a scarf is much narrower. The word muffler often refers to a furry cylindrical thing that some girls used to stick both hands into to keep warm while they waited for the school bus. That's not what we are talking about. For us, a muffler is just a scarf (meaning a longish narrow thing that can be wrapped around the neck).
To summarize our current product line...
In the image below, Laxmi (a Nepali woman of average height) is shown with rectangular figures representing our various size wraps drawn to scale. The silhouettes are lined up on the top, which makes it a bit to interpret. Note that the full-size is the same length as the medium-size, but about 22% narrower.
There are three factors to consider: composition, weave, and density.
Composition: Briefly, we offer pure pashmina (which is cashmere, harvested from goats); silk/pashmina blend; and modal, a semi-synthetic made from plant fiber.
Now we're really going to have to get into the weeds, because many companies are exploiting the confusing terminology to trick people into paying more than they need to, and getting a product that will probably not satisfy them.
Pashmina is not a term that has a legally-recognized definition in European or American law, and the word is used inconsistently. Reputable dealers use the term to refer to the fine undercoat of a high-altitude breed of domestic goat -- in other words, cashmere. (Cashmere, unlike pashmina, has a specific definition in American law.) Some maintain that pashmina is better than ordinary cashmere, but there is no substance to this claim.
To complicate matters, the word pashmina is commonly used to refer to cashmere-and-silk blends of varying proportions, and sometimes even to pashmina-style shawls made of sheep wool, cotton, and or synthetic fabrics. Worse, there are many so-called pashminas that are made of adulterated fiber, most often merino sheep wool, which is cleverly treated to remove the microscopic scales so that it more closely resembles goat wool.
Another level of confusion comes from the somewhat ridiculous decision by an international trademark adjudicator that Kashmir, in northwest India, owns the trademark pashmina, while Nepal had to settle for chyangra pashmina. Chyangra is just Nepali for goat. So you have pashmina, made from goat hair in Kashmir, and chyangra pashmina, or goat pashmina, the same fiber made from goat hair in Nepal, and both are the same as cashmere, a name given to pashmina by the French, who first ran into it in Kashmir. (And these days, most of the goat fiber used around the world -- including Nepal and probably India as well -- comes from China.) It's kind of ironic that the trade association charged with enforcing the chyangra pashmina trademark is called the "Nepal Pashmina Industries Association." Why isn't it called the Nepal Chyangra Pashmina Industries Association?? As far as we're concerned, the question is moot. It's like Egypt trying to claim that only Egyptian cotton can be called "cotton," while we Americans have to settle for Dixie Cotton.
At Sunrise Pashmina, we sell accessories that are available in either pure cashmere or blends of silk and cashmere. And -- horrors! -- we use the word pashmina in two different senses (the big shawl OR the yarn/fabric from which that shawl can be made) ... but we do our best to avoid confusion. To be clear: our Pumori, Sagarmatha, and Tamserku shawls are all made from 100% pashmina (= 100% cashmere); our Ama Dablam shawls are made from a blend of 70% pashmina (cashmere) and 30% silk.
Weave: There are two basic ways of making fabric: knitting and weaving. We do have some knit goods -- cardigans, baby blankets, ponchos -- but all of our shawls are hand-woven on a loom that has not changed much since weaving was invented. (We do not use automatic looms of the sort used by large-scale purveyors.)
To understand the differences among our weaves, you have to understand a few terms. The loom is set up with long warp threads strung at a relatively high tension, which is necessary in order to keep the weave straight. Pashmina (cashmere), the undercoat of particular breeds of goats, is not the strongest natural fiber; goats grow this stuff to keep them warm, and they grow a much stronger kind of hair to protect the undercoat and the skin from scratchy bushes, bugs, rain, dirt, and so on. Pashmina shawls are woven only from the fine undercoat, which has remarkable insulation properties and is extremely soft. As a result, the fabric is not as tight or robust as silk, cotton, or synthetic materials.
The weaver sits at one end of the loom apparatus, with the warp threads extended horizontally away from his or her station. The weaver lays down weft threads perpendicular to the warp. The weft thread is laid across the warp threads, which are displaced up and down to accept the weft in the proper arrangement. The in-and-out arrangement of the weft with relation to the warp threads is what characterizes the weave.
Sagarmatha weave is our own term for a basic square one-up-one-down weave. Fabric woven in this style out of 100% pashmina seems rather loose, almost gauzy, extremely soft, with a puffy buttery feel. We generally use 28/1 pashmina yarn both for the weft (sideways thread) and warp (lengthwise thread). The designation 28/1 means that one kilogram of the yarn would stretch 28 kilometers, and that the thread is a single ply. Shawls can also be made with heavier or lighter weight yarn, and they can be double ply (or even triple); multiple ply threads are made by twisting threads together before weaving. Obviously, heavier thread can be used to make heavier and warmer shawls, but what we are looking for is not a garment that can be substituted for a parka or a horse blanket. Pashmina shawls are very large, intended to be folded and draped with a high degree of versatility and elegance. Light weight is a premium value.
Tamserku shawls are twill weave, which means the weft is laid down across the warp at a jog rather than a straight criss-cross checkerboard, with a resulting diagonal ridging that is quite evident if you examine the fabric up close, but not so evident when viewed from conversational distance. Our Tamserku shawls are double-weight, and therefore heavier and warmer than our Sagarmatha shawls.
Pumori is our own term for a fabric that Kathmandu weavers usually call "superfine diamond-weave." The thread is much finer than our other weaves (120 count), and it is woven with a traditional diamond jacquard. Jacquard involves the repeated adjustment of weft-warp ins-and-outs in order to produce a subtle pattern in the fabric. Due to the tight weave, production of this fabric is labor-intensive and it costs a bit more.
70% pashmina/30% silk is the international trend-setter, combining the warmth of cashmere wool and the durability of silk. Many people believe that the fiber itself is a blend of cashmere and silk. In fact, the weft (sideways) threads are the same 28/1 cashmere as in the 100% pashmina shawl, while the warp (lengthwise threads) are 210-grade silk -- which is comparable to a very fine human hair. Due to the silk, which is much more dense than the pashmina, the blended shawls have a more elegant drape, and can support beading and embroidery. They also have a bit of a sheen, and are not as likely to snag. On the other hand, they are nowhere near as soft, and for their weight they are not nearly as warm as the pure pashmina shawl.
"Superfine Pumori weave, 100% pashmina"
Click on either photo for a larger image.
Note the relatively open weave, as compared with tighter weave of pashmina-silk blends.
Click for larger image.
To begin with, the term ply refers to a distinct thread that may or may not be twisted together with one or more similar threads to form a thicker thread. Single-ply is a fabric made with elemental threads; double-ply or two-ply fabrics are made with double-twisted threads (at least in the weft, but presumably sometimes also in the warp).
To be clear, few of the current shawl producers in Kathmandu are using true double-ply yarn. Triple-ply and other multiple yarns are now used almost exclusively for knitted goods.
Shawl producers in Nepal have been generally use an adjustment of paddles in the loom to control fabric density rather varying the number of plies in the yarn. Four-paddle weaves are twice as dense as two-paddle. For the most part, we sell four-paddled 70/30 shawls and mufflers, and two-paddled 100% pashmina shawls.
One further remark: in pashmina shawls, more is not better. If it were, you guys would be wearing bed-spreads rather than shawls. The modern pashmina shawl has evolved to meet women's need for a warm AND light wrap. The paddle-adjusted shawl may be a shade less dense than a double-ply, but it has undoubtedly achieved its international success due to the fact that it so successfully achieves the desired balance of warmth and weight.
Twill (left) and basic weave (right) 100% pashmina shawls, close up.
Three-inch (8 cm) knotted fringes on wraps (full-size, medium, and muffler) are standard; however, you may select shorter lengths (e.g. 1 inch/ 2.5 cm) or none at all. Baby blankets are generally hemmed (no fringes).
Standard 3-inch (8-cm) twisted and knotted fringes.
Natural ("ragged") fringe
"Gathered tassels." Measuring tape shows centimeters.
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