The Kashmir Shawl
By Rosie Thomas
They ducked through some narrow lanes to yet another in an old wood and brick façade. Tall windows were designed to admit the maximum amount of daylight for the workers within. Almost all of the space in the small, silent room was taken up by three wooden looms, primitive-looking affairs of beams and knotted string. Three young men sat at the loom benches, intent on what they were doing, but when Mehraan spoke to the nearest he sat back and allowed them to see his work by unpinning the black cloth that protected the shawl length. Laid out in a tidy row across the breadth of it were hundreds of kani bobbins, each one wound with a different shade of the hair-fine weft yarn. For each row of the pattern, an intricate design of flowers on a black ground, Mair understood that every one of the bobbins would have to be taken up in order and passed between the warp threads. Each time, the exact number of threads had to be counted before one colour gave way to the next. The pattern-maker’s instruc- tions were written out on a rough grid pinned up in front of the weaver, a tumble of scribbled digits that looked like the mathematical calculations of an early astronomer. Next to this was a sketch of the finished design.
Mair let out the breath she had been holding.
It must take fifteen minutes of concentration, she calculated, to weave just one single row of the shawl.
Mehraan asked another question, and the weaver indicated the amount of completed design. It measured less than half a metre.
‘Three months,’ Mehraan translated.
To keep the finished price down, these designs consisted of two broad bands of kani weaving on a plain ground. For an all-over design like hers, Mair could hardly conceive of the amount of work involved. She found that her eyes were stinging, partly in sympathy with the young men who strained over this exacting work all day, every day of their lives, and partly in awe of the legacy that had somehow come into her possession. She felt more than ever determined to pursue the shawl’s history and discover how it had come to be in her family.
Rosie Thomas is the author of numerous critically acclaimed, bestselling novels. She has won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award twice, for her novels Iris & Ruby and Sunrise. Born in a small village in northern Wales, Thomas discovered a love of traveling and mountaineering when her children were grown. In the years since, she has climbed in the Alps and the Himalayas, competed in the Peking to Paris car rally, trekked in the footsteps of Shackleton on South Georgia Island, and spent time on a tiny Bulgarian research station in Antarctica. To research The Kashmir Shawl, she traveled to Ladakh and Kashmir. Her website is www.rosiethomasauthor.com.