Kullu Shawls

Himachal Pradesh is known for its weaving, which is not only a functional need but also has its roots grounded in the ancient tradition of the region. Its designs and are influenced techniques by Central Asia and Tibet, and its rich heritage makes it popular among tourists. Wool weaving in Himachal is the result of extreme cold winters and almost every household here owns a pit-loom. Wool is also considered as pure and is used as a ritual cloth. The famous woven object is the shawl, ranging from fine pashmina to the coarse desar. Kullu is famous for its shawls with simple patterns and vibrant colors. Kinnauri shawls are unique for their widely popular intricacy and finesse in weaving.

A Kullu shawl is a type of shawl made in Kullu, India, featuring various geometrical patterns and bright colors. Originally, indigenous Kullvi people would weave plain shawls, but following the arrival of craftspeople from
Bushehar in the early 1940s, the trend of more patterned shawls came to rise.
Kullu Shawls are well known all around the world for its simple and elegant designs and its fine woolen fabric and manufacturing quality. Kullu shawls are worn by both: men and women, but men’s shawls are usually called “Loi” or “Pattu” and are often plain without any pattern or minimal patterned stripes on two edges.
Typical Kullu shawls have geometrical designs on both ends. The shawls may also have floral designs, which may run all over. Each design may have up to eight colors. Most traditional colors are often bright colors, used to emphasize the shawl and make it more appealing, however, there are instances where the shawl is made with a more dull color, such as pastel. Kulu shawls are also crafted in yak’s wool, sheep wool, Pashmina (Pashmina is a fine type of cashmere wool. The name comes from Persian: پشمینه‎ / pašmina, meaning “made from wool”) and other handcrafted material.

Initially, the people of Kullu used to weave Patti which is 18”, 20” or 22” wide, and having an appropriate length. They wove it to fulfill the bare necessity of covering their body and protecting themselves of severe cold. Menfolk wove Patti for coats and suthan (pyjamas) and women used it as Pattus for themselves. Men also made caps out of Patti, which was originally, woven in natural colors of wool i.e. black, white and grey.

Until 1936, pattus were made on the pitloom, but after that handlooms came into way, this probably happened because of British influence. When weavers from Bushehar (Shimla) came to the valley in early 1940’s their craft influenced the people of Kullu Valley. The weavers of Bushehar were acquainted with the geometrical designs, which they successfully used on Pattus.

In Kullu region, textiles woven for local consumption use ‘pashmina’ and 3 types of indigenous wool – byangi (from the Kinnaur region), imboo (soft+wool produced from the first shearing of the lamb) and deshkar (a coarse wool made at Kullu).
Kullu shawls are mostly made of three types of wool:
Merino wool (The Merino sheep grow wool that is super soft and fine making it comfortable next to your skin. Merino wool is naturally long and makes for a stronger fibre.), Angora wool (a mixture of sheep’s wool and angora rabbit hair) and Local sheep wool.
These different kinds of wools are sometimes used combined to make more varieties. Designs patterns are mostly geometric shapes with few exceptions where floral designs are used.
The twill-woven body in the grey, off-white, fawn or brown shades of natural wool and the tapestry woven borders in multicolored geometrical forms.

The technique of combining a twill-weave base with a border of tapestry woven veg dyed wool was originated in Kinnaur.
Bhushahra migration from Kinnaur community to Kullu. Kinnaur style of Tibetan inspired geometric motifs has largely replaced the chequered shawls that were previously made in Kullu.
On daily basis – pattu with chequered body of black & white and a single border.
On occasions- plain bodies embellished with woven motifs that run along their length and the borders.

Kinnauri shawls:
Known for the its intricate designs and finesse in weaving, Kinnauri Shawls are piece of art. It’s detailed geometrical designs bear a prominent Central Asian influence and has motifs with symbolic and religious significance. The colours used for background are white, black, natural grey and brown, and for patterning are red, orange, pink, blue, green, yellow, black and white. Out of these five colours represent five elements—white stands for water, yellow for earth, red for fire, green for air and blue for ether. The patterned borders increases labour cost, making these shawls more expensive than Kullu Shawls. Though the shawls for commercial use are woven on the frame loom, pitlooms are still used for the local use. Here the weaver weaves it in two pieces of half width each and later joins them from the center with elaborate hand stitching. This serves the dual purpose of function and ornamentation. An average Kinnauri shawl takes 45 days to complete.

Kullu Shawls:
Kullu has been famous for its shawls with easy geometrical patterns and bright colours. Besides geometrical designs, the shawls are also woven in floral designs, which may run all over, on the corners or on the borders only. Each design may have one to 8 colours. Traditionally, bright colours like red, yellow, magenta pink, green, orange, blue, black and white were used for patterning and white, black and natural grey or brown were used as the base in these shawls. But in the present times keeping in mind the customer demand, pastel colours are replacing these bright colours gradually. Mill spun yarn dyed in various colours is used for the ground, while a vast range of acrylic colours is used for the pattern in the border. These shawls are available in Sheep Wool, Angora, Pashmina, Yak Wool and handspun material. The yarn used may be chemically dyed or vegetable dyed. Price of any shawl depends upon quality of wool and the number and width of patterns used in it. Owing to the high cost of labour involved in the sorting of fine pashmina fiber, the shawls prepared from pashmina wool are expensive.

Kullu shawls play a very significant role in the economy of the valley. It is one of the major income sources for these people where thousands of them earn their living by weaving part time or full time.
These shawls are made in the valley itself by local people who have inherited their skills from their past generations. Shawls made in the valley are woven using handlooms and these handlooms can be found in almost every home in rural areas. These are used to weave shawls and fabric for other clothes to fulfill their own needs or for commercial purposes. Kullu shawls are also an important part of the heritage of Himachal Pradesh due to which state government provides many benefits to weavers so this heritage can flourish and can be preserved.
These shawls are made in the valley itself by local people who have inherited their skills from their past generations. Shawls made in the valley are woven using handlooms and these handlooms can be found in almost every home in rural areas. These are used to weave shawls and fabric for other clothes to fulfill their own needs or for commercial purposes. Kullu shawls are also an important part of the heritage of Himachal Pradesh due to which state government provides many benefits to weavers so this heritage can flourish and can be preserved.

Trishla Mahila Kutir Udyag, Old Manali

Recently, I got a chance to witness women weaving these shawls at
Trishla Mahila Kutir Udyag, here’s a small video,

Credits: Wikipedia | Handmade in India| Kullu.net