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Kashmiri handicrafts are prized everywhere for their exquisite craftsmanship. Kashmir carpets, in both wool and silk with their Persian design, are a lifetime investment and the shoppers’ selection ranges from the simple to the most extraordinary intricate patterns handed down the generations. The papier-mâché items ranges from jewellery boxes to mirror frames, a range of intricately carved walnut wood furniture and accessories, stone jewellery boxes, beautiful woollen shawls, crewel embroidery on furnishing material


 

Carpets
A carpet may well be the most expensive purchase from your trip to Kashmir but it is a lifelong investment. Kashmiri carpets are known the world over for two things. One is that they are handmade and the other is that they are always knotted, never tufted. It is extremely instructive to watch a carpet being made. Stretched tightly on a frame is the warp of a carpet. The weft threads are passed through, the 'taleem' or design and colour specification are then worked out on this. A strand of yarn is looped through the warp and weft, knotted and then cut. The yarn used normally is silk, wool or both. Woolen carpets always have a cotton base (warp & weft), while silk usually has a cotton base. Occasionally, carpets are made on a cotton base, mainly of woolen pile with silk yarn used as highlights on certain motifs. When the dealer specifies the percentage of each yarn used, he also takes into account the yarn used for the base too.


Namdas
Far less expensive are these colourful floor coverings made from woolen and cotton fibre which have been manually pressed into shape. Prices vary with the percentage of wool – a namda containing 80 per cent wool being more expensive than the one containing 20 per cent wool. Chain-stitch embroidery in woolen and cotton thread is done on these rugs


Papier-Mache
At first glance, all papier-mâché objects look roughly the same, but there is a price difference which depends on the quality of the product. However, besides this there are three different grades of Paper Mache, some are actually cardboard or wood! The idea, however, is not to hoodwink the unwary, but to provide a cheaper product with the look of papier-mâché. To make papier-mâché, first paper is soaked in water till it disintegrates. It is then pounded, mixed with an adhesive solution, shaped over moulds, and allowed to dry and set before being printed and varnished. Paper that has been pounded to pulp has the smoothest finish in the final product. When the pounding has not been so thorough, the finish is less smooth. The designs painted on objects of papier-mâché are brightly coloured. They vary in artistry and the choice of colours, and it is not difficult to tell a mediocre piece from an excellent one. Gold is used on most objects, either as the only colour, or as a highlight for certain motifs. Besides the finish of the product, it is the quality of gold used which determines the price. Pure gold leaf, which has an unmistakable lustre, is far more expensive than bronze dust or gold poster paint.


Shawls
There are three fibres from which Kashmiri shawls are made - wool, pashmina and shahtoosh. The woolen shawls are within the reach of most of the people, while shahtoosh is only a one-in-a-lifetime purchase. Woolen shawls are popular because of the embroidery work on them, which is unique in Kashmir. Both embroidery and the type of wool used bring about differences in the price. Wool woven in Kashmir is known as raffel and is always 100 per cent pure .Pashmina is unmistakable due to its softness. Pashmina yarn is spun from the hair of the ibex found in the highlands of Ladakh, at 14,000 feet above sea level. Although pure pashmina is expensive.


Embroidery
Sozni' (needlework) is generally done in a panel along the sides of the shawl. Motifs, usually abstract designs or stylised paisleys and flowers are worked in one or two, and occasionally three subdued colours. The stitch employed is not unlike stem stitch, and only the outline of the design is embroidered. The fineness of the workmanship and the amount of embroidery determines the value of the shawl. Sozni is often done so skillfully that the motif


Copper and Silverware
The old city abounds with shops where objects of copper line the walls, the floor and even the ceiling, made generally for the local market. Craftsmen can often be seen engraving objects of household utility like samovars, bowls, plates and trays. Floral, stylized, geometric, leaf and sometimes calligraphic motifs are engraved or embossed on copper and occasionally silver, to cover the entire surface with intricate designs which are then oxidized, so as to stand out better from the background. The work, known as 'naqashi', determines the price of the object, as does the weight.


Saffron
Pampore, near Srinagar, is the only place in the world besides Spain where saffron is grown. The climate of Kashmir is ideal for walnut and almond trees, which grow here in abundance. Natural honey too, is a produce of the apiaries, which abound in the state. The crocus sativus plant, which blooms for a brief month in the year, has six golden stamens and one crimson one.When buying loose saffron, sampling one strand is enough, for the flavour and fragrance of saffron are unmistakable.


Basketry
Willows that grow plentifully in marshes and lakes in Kashmir are used to make charming objects, ranging from shopping baskets and lampshades to tables and chairs, all generally inexpensive. To increase their life span, unvarnished products should be chosen and frequently sprayed with water, particularly in hot, dry climate, to prevent them becoming brittle


Wood Carving
Kashmir is the only part of India where the walnut tree grows. Its colour, grains and inherent sheen are unique and unmistakable, and the carving and fret- work that is done on this wood is of a very superior quality. Items made from walnut wood come from three parts of the tree - the branches, trunk and root. The branches have the palest colour of wood, and the trunk the darkest. The branches have no veins, while the trunks have the strongest marked veins.The artistry of the carving and its abundance dictates the cost. Trinket boxes and the larger jewellery boxes should have invisible seams. Other walnut wood objects are salad bowls, nut bowls, photo frames, trays and furniture, which range from simple telephone tables to elaborate dining tables with six chairs. In the case of furniture, the price is dictated by the thickness of wood used.


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