The Paisley Shawl and the
People who made it Chapter II - The Paisley Shawl
THE Shawl Trade of Paisley, during the time that
this article of dress was in fashion, was the principal industry of the
town. It was not the first class of textile woven in the district. There had
previously been an extensive business in fine Muslins, in Lawns, and in
certain classes of light silk goods, but these branches became quite
subordinate to the manufacture of Shawls.
Shawls were made of many classes, from the light wrap which the working-girl
threw over her head before the advent of bonnets, to the warm Shepherd's
Plaid, a graceful piece of attire which still maintains its popularity. But
the particular shawl which afterwards became widely known as the "Paisley
Shawl," was an article of what is called "harness" work. This was an attempt
to produce in the loom the effects which, in the Indian Cashmere Shawl, were
produced by the needle.
The Shawl came to us
from the East. Mr. Cross, already quoted, says :-
"The introduction of the Shawl manufacture into this
country was a result of the French Expedition to Egypt. It was from shawls
sent as presents from the officers of both the European armies contending in
that country, to ladies at home, that the first imitations of Turkish and
Indian goods were attempted here."
most beautiful products of the Eastern looms which were brought to Europe at
this time, were soft woollen shawls from Cashmere, filled in with designs in
needlework of a peculiar and elaborate character. Cheap as labour was in the
East, these goods, by the time they reached this country, were very costly,
and far beyond the reach of the ordinary buyer. These Indian Shawls were of
two classes. Some of them were entirely of patchwork. A good specimen of
this class is shown in Plate 2. In this shawl about 400 human figures are
delineated, besides numberless bird and animal forms; the whole surrounded
with rich detail work. On a close examination it will be observed that the
shawl is made up of little pieces of needlework, all carefully arranged and
sewn together, and probably made by many different workers. The design is
exceedingly elaborate, and many years must have been spent in carrying it
out. Shawls of this class, as will be observed from the example reproduced,
could not be made to lie quite level or smooth, while their peculiar
construction admitted of an irregularity and variety which it was impossible
to imitate on the loom.
After the Patchwork
Shawl comes the true Cashmere Shawl, which is a combination of needle and
loom work. The weft threads, instead of being in one continuous line from
side to side of the loom, are sewn in by the weaver in short lengths, the
back of the fabric being to the worker. Thus, working from side to side,
with several needles or small shuttles of different coloured weft in his
hands, he sews in the colours along one line of welt, as required by the
design, and so completes one shot, although this line of weft is broken up
into many hundreds of little bits. A shawl of this class would occupy one or
two weavers for several years, and the cost was proportionately high. A fine
specimen of this work is represented in Plate 3. It was this class of shawl
that the Paisley weavers successfully imitated on the loom. The ingenious
methods and the patient labour by which they attained this end will be
described further on.
The Paisley Harness
Shawl attained great celebrity, and the skill of the weavers, and the
enterprise of the manufacturers, maintained its supremacy against the
competition of Norwich and France. In 1834, the shawls made in Paisley were
estimated to be of the value of one million sterling. In the official
reports of the Exhibitions of 1861 and 1862, the exhibits of the Paisley
manufacturers are mentioned with special approval.
The Paisley Shawl' became the universal bridal present.
In Paisley, and many other paces, it was the fashion for all newly-married
ladies to be "kirked" in a Paisley Harness Plaid, quite irrespective of the
state of the weather. This custom went out about 187o, but these bridal
gifts are the cherished possessions of many families in Paisley. Plate 4
represents a shawl of this class. Ladies who could afford it, usually
endeavoured to have a white or scarlet-centre shawl for summer wear, and a
"filled-over" shawl for colder days. Cloaks and jackets were then for ladies
practically unknown. Plate 5 represents a fine specimen of the "filled-in"
class. It was manufactured by Messrs. David Speirs & Co., and awarded a
medal at the Exhibition in London in 1862.
all important functions the Paisley Shawl was considered the appropriate
article of dress. During the depression of trade, in 1842, Her Majesty Queen
Victoria, ever ready to sympathise with those in trouble, selected and
purchased seventeen Paisley Shawls. In a letter, written from Windsor Castle
by one of her secretaries to Provost Henderson, under date 21st January,
1842, it is stated that Her Majesty would wear one of them on the day of the
Royal christening. This must have been the baptism of the Prince of Wales,
the present King Edward.
Plate 8 represents
one of these shawls, but with a differently coloured centre from the one
supplied to Her Majesty, and most probably exhibits the design of the one
worn by her on that occasion. It may be noted in passing that it is designed
without the pine ornament.
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