Water Shawls and Pashmina

Note the iridescent sheen of the fabric.

Note the iridescent sheen of the fabric.

I like to walk around with goat hair on my neck – but only in the form of a pashmina scarf.

Pashmina is goat wool from the neck and belly of alpine goats that in climates with very cold winters and little vegetation; it’s 12-14 microns thick, as opposed to most other types cashmere, which is slightly thicker. After shearing the goat, the coarse hair is separated, spun, and woven, then washed and pressed. The best pashmina textiles are woven tightly to be compact, soft, and light, yet cozy warm.

“Water shawls” are made of a pashmina-silk blend, creating a distinctive softness and a dual-tone effect with an iridescent sheen woven into the fabric. Scarves like this one are a variation on the traditional kind of Nepali “pashmina”, real pashminas as shawls are more traditionally made of solely cashmere. While both water shawls and cashmere pashminas are status symbols, the more expensive flash money, while the water shawls are more literally flashy. Pashminas were initially only shawls, but as Nepal began to rely more on the tourist industry, textile makers changed – instead of just shawls, they now additionally make scarves, ponchos, and cardigans. It’s an interesting example of a culture changing to suit market.

Given Nepal’s location, sandwiched between China and India, the Nepali textile industry is particularly vulnerable to Chinese and Indian knockoffs. Indian companies can afford to buy huge amounts of raw material for their shawls, outpacing smaller Nepali companies that cannot afford to spin all their own wool. Polyester and cotton versions crop up in market places, posing as the real thing.

Because traditional Nepali pashminas are woven on looms, they have a distinctive tell-tale texture. To pick this one out, my old roommate and her mom, both natives of Nepal, went to a pashmina store in Kathmandu valley to touch the scarves. If they’re handmade, they are much finer and softer than those made in factories, weeding out the fakes.







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