This Kashmiri craft recycles waste paper into beautiful artifacts painted by expert craftsmen. The wonderfully vibrant hand painted motifs on the different types of items look illuminated as a result of the shiny varnish finish. Paper Mache (also spelled Papier-mache, Papier-mache) has a long and rich tradition in Kashmir, it is a delicate decorative art, which shows the artistic zeal of a craftsman. At first glance, all papier-mache objects look roughly the same, but there is a price differential, which depends on the quality of the product. However, besides at least three different grades of papier-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-mache.

Raw Materials

Waste paper, Saresh (Thick glue made of natural gum and mishri/sugar), Chalk, Glue
- In the early days of this craft mineral, organic and vegetable colours were used. The colours would not loose intensity, strength even if the objects were kept in direct sunlight or in water for days together. 

Organic and Vegetable Colour Sources: 

White - white lead came from Russia
Body white - was prepared from a local stone called 'shallaneen'
Ultramarine Blue - was prepared from 'Virdigris' (green) and 'lapis lazuli'
Browns - were prepared from a clay which was imported from Armenia
Yellows - were prepared from a flower 'guli ksu' and a wild plant 'weftangil'
Violet and Blue - were extracted using the Indigo leaf and weed
Reds - were derived from cochineal, log wood and local forest wood named 'lin'. Red was sometime obtained from saffron
Light Brown- Green and dried walnut skins yielded light browns
Black - was produced from lampblacks as well as from walnuts. For large and plain groundwork, black was produced from half-burnt cow dung.



A craft made from waste, papier-mache tends to use the whole pulp, which is made and there is zero wastage after the product is complete.

Tools & Technology

Kanz and muhal - This is Limestone mortar and pestle, which is worked by a lever on a pivotal beam. 
Karin - Trowel used to spread the pulp onto the mold
Polishing stone Saw - to cut the Mache out of the mold.
Kathwa - wooden file
Qalam - brush made from goat's hair
Kurket - rough piece of baked brick for polishing
Clay containers - to hold colors
Brushes - The bristle of the hair of goat, cat and ass are set in handles of feather (quills) by means of silken threads, inferior bristles are cut and trimmed up. Craftsmen make use of these special types of brushes for producing exquisite designs. Brushes used for this art form are different from those used by painters and artists. 




The creation of a papier-mache object can be divided into two distinct categories, the sakhtsazi (making the object) and the naqashi (painting the surface). Grinding and soaking various vegetable mineral dyes in pigment or stone form obtain the colors for painting designs on the surface. The final product is a beautiful art work that cannot be called a creation of one artist. It travels many pairs of talented hands before reaching a table or a mantel. Above all other talents, the aesthetic sensibility and hereditary skills are most essential in these craftsmen. 

The traditional Kashmiri method of making Papier-mache starts with waste paper, which is soaked in water for several days until it disintegrates. The excess water is drained and the soaked waste paper, cloth, rice straw and copper sulphate are mixed to form a pulp. This mixture is placed in a mould and left to dry for two to three more days. On the drying of pulp, the shape is cut away from the mould in two halves and then glued again. The surface is coated with the layer of glue and gypsum, rubbed smooth with a stone or baked piece of clay and pasted with layers of tissue paper. A base color is painted on, and a design is added free hand. The object is then sandpapered or burnished and is finally painted with several coats of lacquer.

Above all other talents, the aesthetic sensibility and hereditary skills are most essential in these craftsmen. 

Preparation of molds The molds were traditionally made out of clay by the craftsmen themselves and left to dry. They were dried in the shade since exposure to sunrays would cause cracks to develop on the surfaces. Molds today are also made out of wood and brass. Pulp is applied to the mold and is removed from it when it dries. Then the same mold can be reused several times. In the case of objects with brass and copper, the mold is not removed and remains part of the strengthening structure. Especially in case of flower vases so that they can be filled with water without the paper causing it to collapse.

Making the pulp A mixture of old rags of cotton and paper is soaked in 25 liters of water till it becomes pulpy in a tub. The pulp is drained and put in a mortar and ground. It is then beaten using wooden pieces and dried in mild sunlight. Rice or wheat starch is added to the pulp to give it the softness and sticky quality.

Laying the pulp Several layers of pulp are laid one over the other till the required thickness has been obtained and the object has taken a shape. This is done with the help of the karin or trowel. After it dries, it is rubbed with a polishing stone to obtain an even surface.

Making the product The article detached from the mold in parts using a saw to cut it out. It is then rejoined using saresh. The article is then lightly rubbed using the kathwa to even out the surface. Glue and chalk mixture is applied both inside and outside using the qalam. The surface is smoothened out yet again using a kurket. Small pieces of tissue paper are stuck over with glue to make the surface secure against crack being developed in the glue and chalk coat. It is polished till the zamin or ground colour is obtained.

Drawing Outlines are generally drawn with a zarda or yellow colour and the spaces are delineated for floral works are stained with astar and white paint. Then the floral works are painted in different colours. The art lies here; it is an interesting sight to see an old artist, elaborating from memory patterns of artistic designs in rich and subdued colours. The opening work called 'partaz' is done with any appropriate color.

Colour Preparation The process of preparation of mineral colours is a painstaking effort. At the first place, the minerals are tied in a sack/bag of cloth and moistened with water and then roughly beaten. This broken wet material is grounded into paste on a fislab and the paste is dried into fine powder. Finally, this powder is mixed with glue and water. The material is then rigorously stirred till a fine colour in the shape of mixture is obtained.

Painting It begins with the outlines being drawn using zarda or yellow colours. The spaces required for floral work are stained with astar and white paint consisting of gypsum mixed with glue. If the decoration is to be of a raised type, then these areas are also marked at this stage. This is then dried and polished for the ground colour to be painted. The opening work called partaz is done using required colours and designs are added in the descending order of detailing required. Then fine detailing is done using a thin brush. The artists skillfully draw in intricate arabesque designs. Where large sections of gold are required, then dor (melted caramel sugar) is applied over the parts. The leaves of golden foil are stuck over this. When the leaves are taken off, the gold is stuck only to the parts of design where dor is applied. For fine strokes of gold are needed, ink made from these gold leaves are used and drawn using a thin brush.

Varnishing Once the colours are set, the article is varnished using amber or copal dissolved methylated spirit. It is left to dry in the sun and then wiped with a wet cloth before washing it clean. A jade stone is used to polish it at this stage. The gold coat is applied after this and the interiors are painted in black. The interiors are also varnished after the black paint dries.