Firdose Ahmad Jan was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, to a family of shawl weavers who have been practicing this craft for centuries. His father, Bashir Ahmad Jan, a Shilp Guru (an award given by the Indian government to master craftspersons), trained him in weaving and embroidery. The Guru Shishya parampara (passing on knowledge from teacher to student) is very much a part of their cultural heritage. Shawl weaving has always played a vital role in the socioeconomic and cultural traditions of Kashmir, and the Pashmina has become famous throughout the world for its fineness and quality. Pashmina is made using hand woven fabric from the fleece of the Changra, a variety of mountain goat reared in Ladakh, India. Every single shawl goes through almost 36 stages, starting with the gathering the raw wool, which is only available in summer time. The raw wool is de-haired by hand, cleaned, and spun into fine yarn on the Charkha (traditional spinning wheel). Before beginning any embroidery, Jan first creates a hand block print with very loose ink on the same fabric, so that during the embroidery the repetition of design will be exactly the same. Jan’s family has been working this way for eight generations and every handmade Kashmir Pashmina shawl he creates has the potential to be a family heir-loom.
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