A Note on Understanding Sikh Shawl Construction

A Note on Understanding Sikh Shawl Construction

  Recently a knowledgeable client of mine requested some not-so-often-asked-for details of an interesting Sikh period long shawl I have ( see no. 163 under Kashmiri Shawls). To find the answers, which I must admit baffled me at the time, required some serious hands and knees investigation into the exact piecing of the shawl. Close inspection of the fringes revealed something remarkable which I hadn’t seen on any other shawl. In my ‘fringe’ experience over the past 35 years I’ve always seen the classic solid-color tabs of the Sikh shawl sewn on to the pallus of the kani weave. However, here I discovered a very unusual, if not exciting anomaly: each of the tab colors had been inserted as an extension of the weave. If you’ve ever lent serious attention to many of the seamed classic dochallas, or long plain-field shawls that were popular until about 1830 you’ll often see how they were ‘invisibly’ pieced together by enmeshing the warps of one half with the other. It’s an absolute miracle how this was done; today, a lost art. This is the exactly the same process employed in attaching these tabs. Another question had me comparing the piecing of one end (pallu) of the shawl to the end. One side was 3 inches shorter that the other with Paisley heights differing by 2 inches. But overall of course the shawl otherwise doesn’t in the least appear unbalanced since any difference was made  up by the sizes of the two kani panels comprising the pallus, which measure approx. 12 and 24 inches each. So how many pieces of kani shawl did the rafugar actually get before he pieced the whole thing together? The red center woven with its ‘door’ or edge-running pattern is one; the long-running side pieces flanking the center make two; the two kani panels making up the pallus at each end make four; the two long hashias (with white silk warps) make two.  Nine kani woven pieces altogether not counting the plain woven fringe tabs. This should be the right count for finely woven Sikh period shawls. One should bare in mind that Sikh shawls predate the patchwork kani products by at least a generation. Knowing how a shawl is pieced together is of fundamental importance in learning about its manufacture and aesthetic qualities as well, and in the process of studying it along these lines there will invariably be interesting things to discover. I cannot stress how important it is to compare one end of a shawl to the other, noting the use of different colored threads, variations in design and rarely but sometimes a completely different flower might show up. This goes for all shawls be they Mughal, Afghan, Sikh or Dogra. It all boils down to taking a serious look into shawl construction.