My friend Stella had come to India and was staying with us for five days. On a Saturday afternoon, post lunch while we were lazying around, a local ‘kashmiri-shawl wallah (vendor)’, Gulzaarbhai visited our home to show his exquisite hand embroidered shawls, pherans, namdaas etc. He often visits us for kahwa and Krippè and shows up with a range of unique Pashmina. As he unfurled some of the finest Pashminas one after the other, Stella’s eyes lit up as she saw a black shawl with overall floral motif and fringes at both ends. A wise man that Gulzaar chacha is, he didn’t take a minute to grab the opportunity and said “Sozni embroidery of this kind is rarely seen these days. Should I pack it for you?” And guess what? Stella ended up buying three sozni embroidered shawls, one for herself and the other two as gifts. She told me she had loved the piece the minute she saw it and wanted to own it.Kashmir is blessed with a myriad of cultures, customs, traditions and a rich and ancient heritage of craftsmanship. It is called a land of wonders over the centuries. Mastering Kashmiri craftsmanship, the unique motifs and designing techniques takes years of training. The rich and ancient heritage of craftsmanship and designing shawls is an art that has been carried forward through generations of craftsmen.
One such exquisite embroidered form of Kashmiri shawl is a Sozni Pashmina shawl, locally known as the ‘setchni kaem’. Most of the Kashmiri shawls are incidentally inspired by ancient techniques. As a matter of fact, the shawls are produced by either of the two techniques – loom woven or Kani shawls and needle embroidered or Sozni shawls. The Sozni embroidered shawls are also called ‘amlikar’.
It’s a form of embroidery using thin needles spreading life in the intricate patterns that reflects the craftsman’s exceptional attention to detail. Minute and elaborate embroidered patterns are created by working on the root of the plain pashmina with the help of a needle.
We have often come across the word ‘less is often more’, but sozni shows that not always! The floral patterns are so closely embroidered with single silk threads with no place left for the pashmina base to be visible. Sozni embroidery needles vary in size, and one shawl may be worked on by as many as two or three artisans who work meticulously to make the exquisite wrap. Sozni weaving requires hard work and patience as each shawl takes two to three years to complete. The master craftsman must sit with the shawl for six hours every day to create the colorful motifs that adorn the shawl. It is impossible to believe that they were needle woven. These fine yet intricate masterpieces are example of impeccable art.
Often you’ll find left hands of Sozni weavers to be full with pockmarks from the needle pricks.
Considering the delicacy of the work, you could easily believe that each shawl takes about two to four years to embroider, and it is such a painstaking and slow work.
A valley in the Himalayan mountains brims with stories about crafts that have been practiced here for hundreds of years.
Kashmiri embroidered shawls, scarves, pherans have been popular the world over for years, a heaven for shawl buyers. Just like my friend Stella, cozy up this winter in a typically pure Kashmiri Pashmina and flaunt it to the world.
Photographs do not do justice to these essential luxuries; you have to see them close up, feel them, peer at their amazing patterns to realise what treasures these are. Heirlooms in the making, just like the red one I treasure.