A COLLECTION OF RARE ANTIQUE PAISLEY SHAWLS 1820-1875
From simple to high Victorian
Fate took naval architect David on a posting to Edinburgh, Scotland in the late 1960s. On a stroll along the city’s famous Royal Mile, he spotted an aged shawl, about 3 metres long, for sale in an antique shop. David was instantly fascinated, not just with the beauty and fineness of shawl, but also with the mechanics of a loom that could create such an intricate complex pattern.
He purchased the shawl for just £7. He later found it was a Paisley shawl made about 1860.
Since then, he has become an avid collector of Paisley shawls – from simple to high Victorian, sourced from all over the world. Amongst this incredible collection of over 20 magnificent shawls, which date 1820 – 1875, are kirking or marriage shawls, funeral shawls and mourning shawls, reversible shawls and the long shawl favoured and popularised by Queen Victoria.
What is now called the Paisley motif originated as key component of the design of cashmere (Kashmir) shawls in the 17th century – over time, travel and trade brought them to Europe. Around 1808, the first shawls “in imitation of the Indian” started to be produced in Paisley, Scotland, beginning a seventy-year period during which the town of Paisley became the most important centre of production for these shawls.
And – in another twist of fate – David was thrilled while doing family research to find that his great-grandfather had lived in Paisley in the very lane where the original Paisley shawl workshops stood.
We were fortunate to be able to present this rare and outstanding collection at the Gympie Rotary Quilt & Craft Spectacular, 2021.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PAISLEY SHAWL
The intricate and beautiful hand-woven designs of the Kashmir shawl, and their iconic tear-drop motif, originated in India in the 11th century. The Persian word “shal”, from which the English word “shawl” is derived, originally described a class of woven fabric created from the highest quality of the fine fleece of wild mountain and domestic Kashmir goats – the outstanding quality of fibre and design are distinguishing features for which they are still renowned today.
The production of each shawl – the sourcing, cleaning and spinning of the fleece, the fine and laborious embroidery and hand weaving – took at least three people over a year to complete, making each shawl very valuable. The degree of fineness of the shawl was accepted as a mark of nobility, and so, as the shawl was then worn essentially by men, were often offered as gifts to royalty, princes and noblemen.
Kashmir shawls were first worn in fashionable circles in the West in the second half of the 1700’s, and by 1800 the shawl trade between Kashmir and the West was well established. Demand became so great that it could no longer be satisfied by weavers in the East. European manufacturers, realising the potential of the shawl market, established production centres particularly in France, and Britain – not just in Paisley but also Edinburgh in 1790 and Norwich in 1792, They imitated Kashmir shawls on hand looms using not goat fleece but silk, wool and cotton.
Around 1808, the first shawls using the tear-drop motif were produced in Paisley, Scotland, already one of the leading producers of silks and gauzes, fine lawn and damask, and well-equipped to take on the weaving of these ‘imitation’ shawls. Two things occurred to cement Paisley’s position in the market and in history: a design school was established, providing hundreds of new designs for local weavers; and an innovative addition to the handloom, invented by Paisley weavers in 1812, enabled the use of five different colours of yarn, instead of just two colours, allowing a much closer imitation of the elaborate Kashmir shawls.
When the Jacquard loom came to Paisley in the1820’s, the progressive town came into its own. With this loom, practically any design could be woven, yet the Kashmir derived patterns remained dominant.
When the young Queen Victoria reputedly purchased some Paisley shawls – her favourite was the long “plaid” shawl – the popularity of this style of shawl exploded. By 1850, there were an amazing 7,000 weavers working in the town and by the 1860s, trade peaked with over 71 shawl manufacturers operating in the town and making the colourful, fashionable ‘Paisley’ shawl affordable and accessible across the world.
When the bustle came into fashion in the 1870’s, the popularity of the shawl declined – it would not drape over a bustle in a way that revealed the main feature of the outfit. Interest waned, and the Paisley shawl eventually faded into the obscurity.
Regrettably, the art of the manufacture of these masterpieces is almost forgotten, and the knowledge of the craft is already lost. It is only through the devotion of ardent collectors of Victoriana that we are still able to enjoy and admire them today.
Click here for more on the remarkable story of the Kashmir and Paisley Shawls!
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