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The donor’s father purchased this shawl in Moscow in 1933, though it was made decades earlier in Orenburg, Russia, a town located in the foothills of the Ural Mountains close to the Kazakhstan border. The region is the goats’ natural habitat and the only known environment in which their down thrives. The Orenburg goat’s close relative, the Tibetan goat, provides soft down for another famous textile known as the Kashmir shawl – the ancestor of the Paisley shawl.

Where was this textile created?

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Asia: North Asia, Russia, Orenburg
c. 1880
Goat hair, spun and knitted
113 cm x 95 cm
Gift of Johanna Bischoping
T92.0233 Textile Museum of Canada

This diaphanous shawl takes its warmth and beauty from the hair of Orenburg goats, whose soft inner down is legendary. Experts spin and knit the down into a fabric that is as close to weightless as any cloth can be.

In 1818, a French professor brought a herd of Orenburg goats to Marseilles, France, and attempted to breed them. But whenever Orenburg goats are relocated – whether to France, England or the Americas – the new climate causes their coats to become coarse after a few seasons and they lose their fluffy down forever.

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