The design first appeared on shawls in India in the late 17th century and by the middle of the 18th, traders of the British East India Company were returning home with shawls as casual gifts. But the design became popular and the traders soon found they could not supply enough of the scarce Indian shawls to meet a growing, very commercial demand. Responding to the market, Edinburgh was the first city to produce imitation shawls from about 1775.
It was not until the Napoleonic War, when French blockades restricted the import of raw silk, that Paisley became involved. The town was famed for its silk weaving but many highly skilled weavers, denied resources, became desperate to find a new product to revive their trade. In 1805, Paterson, an Edinburgh shawl manufacturer, sent an order to the unemployed weavers in Paisley. At first a draw loom was used to manufacture the shawls but the introduction of the Jacquard loom in the 1840’s allowed infinite possibilities to vary the pattern. By far the longest and most painstaking process in the production of a Paisley shawl was its design which could take up to four-fifths of the total production time and a design school was eventually set up in Paisley.
Shawls remained fashionable for over a century, altering shape and colour to match what was worn underneath.
In the late 1960’s the pattern was revived. At first, echoing the psychedelic dreams of the flower children, it appeared only on clothing but soon was found its way onto household textiles and everyday objects.The examples here are among my favourites from pattern books in Paisley Museum and Art Gallery. The colourful pattern and other examples from Scottish art and design, puts paid to the often held belief by our southern English neighbours that Scotland is a dour, dark country still labouring under the guilt of a bleak Reformation!