Friday, September 18, 2009

Paisley: A visual history

This post is based on my lecture Paisley and Print: yin-yang, boteh, paisley : introducing cultural exchange in design and the influence of commerce.

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Slide 1

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C19 Woollen shawl cloth, brocaded with wool.
Northern India, Kashmir/Punjab


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1840s white centred shawl and a later 1860s example,
Paisley Museum.
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Slide 2

The paisley design has been influenced by many cultures, but came to the west as a result of the trade in cashmere goods from the Vale of Kashmir, down to India, and thence to Europe.

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Kashmir sits on the border of many cultures: it is close to China, the Middle East, and India, and all of these cultures influenced the development of the paisley design.
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Slide 3


Paisley first came to the west in the late 18th century, but it's origins, and the patterns of the shawls that would come to be called 'paisley shawls' are much older.

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C1580 Kama shoots his arrow at Krishna, sporting a patka, tied at the waist.
Note patterning on Krishna’s uttariya with horizontal stripes close to the ends, and more decorative patterning close to them.
This type of decoration influenced later shawl designs.


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Slide 4

This is the first image of what is definitely a paisley shawl:

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Abdullah Qutb-Shah of Golconda wearing a Kashmir shawl, ca 1680. British Museum
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Slide 5

And this is the first fragment of a paisley shawl, preserved as a scrap in the lining of another garment.

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Fragments of white shawl, ca. 1680 Calico Museum of Textiles Ahmedaba

It is interesting to note the difference between this early design, a very naturalistic depiction of flowers, and later, highly stylised paisley designs.

It is also interesting to note the similarities between the root pattern of this flower, and other flowers on early paisley shawls, and Chinese calligraphy:

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Slide 6

The paisley design evolved over the centuries in reaction to internal and external political, economic, and aesthetic demands.

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Slide 7

As we have seen, very early designs were quite naturalistic. Later designs went through an awkward phase, becoming more geometric and blocky:

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Shawl fragment, late 18th century, Bharat Kala Bhavan

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Shawl fragment late 18th century, Weaving Art Museum

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Slide 8

When cashmere shawls were first brought to the west they were a status symbol, and worked well with the simple, linear neoclassical fashions.

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Empress Josephine by Gros, 1809

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Mother with two children by A.E. Chalon, 1812
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Slide 9


Early 19th century paisley shawls were characterised by plain centres in pale colours and wide borders at each end of the long, rectangular shawl.

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Detail of both ends of a c. 1805 Kashmir shawl

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Detail of early 19th century shawl from beginning of Paisley manufacture period
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Slide 10

When cashmere shawls with paisley designs were first exported, they went both to Europe and to the Middle East. The design of the shawls moved further away from naturalistic depictions, and became more geometric, reflecting the Islamic desire to avoid representational depictions of objects of people.

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Two details of a c. 1825 Kashmir shawl. Note the Islamic design influence.
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Slide 11

While the Islamic world desired non-representational designs, the west also had it's own aesthetic demand: exoticism. Imitation cashmere shawls produced in Europe were particularly exotic, making up for what they lacked in quality authenticity with enthusiastically imaginative designs.

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Paisley shawl European C1840
The design shows a long procession of turbaned figures, some on horses, suggesting it is a derivative design. Also, camels and strikingly placed elephant.

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Slide 12

In order to cut down on the price of shawls and the need for imports and to cater more directly to the European market, various centres in Europe began to produce their own shawls and designs for shawls. Some of the designs went back to India and Kashmir and were produced their.

Particularly notable European production centres were Norwich, in England, and Paisley, in Scotland, which gave its name to the design which was known in India as boteh.

While Europe could produce cheaper shawls, they did not have access to cashmere, so had to make do with silk and wool blends, and could not weave as many colours on to one shawl as their Indian counterparts.

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C1840 striking design dates from middle period of shawl manufacture in Paisley. Note how there are not actually that many colours and shades used in the design.

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Slide 13

In order to protect the designs they were developing, shawl manufacturers pushed for patents on their designs, one of the first instances of patent protection for an aesthetic and creative design.

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1843 Patent certificate and label with sample of woven wool
(1842 shawl designs patented)


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Slide 14

Changes in European fashion led to a change in shawl shape and design. They became much bigger, squarer, brighter, and busier, just like fashion.

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The Reluctant Bride, Auguste Toulmouche, 1866

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Untitled, Thomas P Hall, c. 1850

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A shawl worn folded over a hoopskirt.
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Slide 15

Despite some changes in aesthetic, the emphasis on the exotic nature of the shawl remained.

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Manufacturers tickets or labels for bundles of export cloth.
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Slide 16

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Paisley pattern Kashmir shawl made in India for the European market about 1860. Note the subtle gradients of colours.
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Slide 17


Shawls were being produced in Europe and in India and roughly equal amounts by the 1840s and 1850s. Shawls from both places are patterned in large swirling paisley designs in bright, dark colours. However, Indian shawls generally had more colours because of advanced weaving technology, and thus softer gradients of design.

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Indian shawl of tight weave wool/silk, ca 1860. Signed in centre field.

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French shawl of loose weave wool, ca 1850
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Slide 18


Paisley shawls had remained a luxurious and costly but indispensible item of a woman's wardrobe for over 60 years, but manufacturers were constantly trying to think of ways to make them cheaper and more accessible to more people, in order to maximise their own profits.

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Reversible jacquard double-weave shawl from Scotland, c 1860. This would have been a relatively cheap shawl to produce due to the repeated pattern.
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Slide 19

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Boteh design of unusual colours in pattern book by Milton of Colquhoun, Scotland. Note the small mnumber of colours used.
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Slide 20

There were a number of reasons that Indian shawls remained popular despite the availability and relative affordability of European produced shawls.

One reason was the superiority of cashmere to the wool and silk mixes available in Europe, the other was the superiority of Indian and Kashmiri weaving technology. Indian weavers could weave shawls that were fully reversible, and they could weave many more colours into one shawl than was possible on European looms.

Some weavers in Indian still tried to take shortcuts, including weaving simpler reversible patterns, and then embroidering in the details

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Fragment from a doruka (reversible shawl), c. 1870. The right portion of this shawl has not been embroidered.
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Slide 21

Weavers in India and Europe both faced challenges with the changing fashions in the 1870s and 1880s. Paisley shawls did not fit over bustles as easily as hoopskirts, and they had been popular for over 80 years, and were no longer a novelty.

Shawl-makers tried to maintain the market by returning to the rectangular shape, and adopting darker and more subdued colour schemes.

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Three English shawls c. 1880. The middle shawl is a wool/silk blend.
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Slide 22

Old fashioned square shawls were cut up and fashioned into garments which fit with the new silhouettes of fashions.

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Woman’s informal robe made from paisley shawl, c. 1890

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Woman’s jacket made from paisley shawl, c. 1885
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Slide 23

The paisley design was also used in different contexts - moving away from its origins on shawls and into prints and embroidery.

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Late 1800s detail of cotton muslin embroidered summer shawl mimicking Paisley shawl design.

Despite this, paisley declined in popularity, and a famine in Kashmir wiped out the shawl industry there in the 1880s, preventing a resurgence of the paisley decline in its original context.
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Slide 24

Paisley would not be fashionable again for another 70 years, until it was picked up as a symbol of rebellion and ethnic design by young radicals in the 1960s.

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Cifonelli suit made from reverse of 19th century paisley shawl, 1960

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Bill Blass paisley trench, late 1960s

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Paisley ‘aloha’ shirt, 1970s
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Slide 25


Today paisley has multiple connotations: Victorian opulence, 1960s rebellion, and gang affiliation.

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20 comments:

  1. Its sickening to see how gangs like to adopt sayings or styles that used to be beautiful and elegant and turn them into ridiculous symbols for nothing but arrogant ignorant people who should have been swallowed in the first place!

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    1. if you havent got anything productive to say then stfu!!!!!!!!!!

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    2. get a life anti hipster!!!

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  2. great finding you. am a fan already. There is one 'type' of paisley that I cannot find and it was around the 18 century, Where can I find the different periods of European pasiley, cannot even recall the name..duh

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  3. do u sale this shawl if yes email me contact number my mwaghela44@gmail.com

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  4. Awesome history. I really like paisley and I find this visual history very informative.

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  5. I am glad your blog address was passed to me, great stuff, thanks!

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  6. nice survey. what about paisley in victorian style bookbinding?

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  7. I had understood that the first paisley designs were perhaps on of the first on pottery. They were a fairly simple design since they involved dipping 2 fingers in a color and smearing them on the clay with a twist of the wrist. Does anyone know about this oirigin?

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  8. I am very impressed...see my synopsis? http://www.myantiquesandsuch.com/?p=198

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  9. Superb, informative history of paisley shawl design. I hadn't intended to read the whole thing, but it is compelling. Thank you.

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  10. Definitely an eyeopener. Many times we wear designs that seem appealing and have no idea of its origins. That was my case with the paisley. Your presentation clarified many things. Thank you.

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  11. Enjoyed this very much. I was putting together a PP to introduce the pattern for upper elementary art class, and used some of the slides and background info (with credit given and encouragement to go to your site). Very helpful and informative.

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  12. thks to your blog i hv better insight with Pasley design

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  13. How exciting for you !! I'm kind of new at knitting lace shawls but am absolutely thrilled when it works out. Also kind of new at wearing them too. www.kooshoo.com

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  14. Great, Blog You Have Sharing the Good Information.
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  15. Absolutely fascinating account and picture gallery of this lovely design motif.

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  16. Very nice post, impressive. its quite different from other posts. Thanks for sharing.BUT i am looking this blog Cotton Scarf in India.

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  17. Very influenced designs of embroidery. It is a very naturalistic depiction of embroidery. As we have seen this beautiful art, same I was searching on internet. When I found an perfect online store, that is IMAIMA, then I understand about embroidery artwork. It is really a big brand of embroidery clothes. I appreciate to this blog for this useful information.

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