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The Paisley Shawl and the People who made it
Chapter III - Design of the Shawl - The Pine Pattern


THE shawl is essentially an Oriental piece of dress, and in its two forms of a square and a long shawl, or scarf, called also a plaid, it still maintains its place in the East, although not now much worn in Europe. The shawls which came to this country from Egypt were of Turkish origin, and were successfully imitated by the Paisley weavers, and a considerable trade done. As the public taste began to run on this class of goods, many new varieties were produced, such as the Damask, Barege, Canton Crape, Chenille, and many other kinds of shawls. The designs of the Turkish shawls were governed by the religious ideas of the Mohammedans, which do not favour the representation of living creatures. They were mainly geometrical, of a somewhat unnatural and fantastic character.

The imitation Turkish shawl, however, was only a stepping stone to the real Paisley Shawl, which came in about 1820. In it the style of art is a blending of Hindoo and Arab ideas. The Mohammedan invaders of India penetrated as far down the valley of the Ganges as Benares, but the chief cities of the Mogul Empire were Agra and Delhi. The art of the period, still preserved in the public buildings of these cities, affords abundant evidence of this blending of Hindoo and Arab ideas. It is seen also in the designs of the Cashmere shawls. These shawls were all the product of the needle upon a fine woollen ground. The colours in nearly every case were primary. Few secondary tints were admitted, the effect being rather in the direction of jewellery, or barbaric gem work. The designs were modified by the European manufacturers, but the leading types were preserved. The most characteristic of these was the pine pattern. This graceful ornament was present in one form or another in almost every real Cashmere shawl, and no imitation of these goods was considered true to art which did not include the design of the pine. The manufacturers occasionally introduced other forms, but these were never popular with the public; and the pine always remained the characteristic feature of the Paisley Shawl.

Plate 4 - Indian Cashmere Shawl

Several explanations of the origin and meaning of this design have been advanced. It has a certain resemblance to the fruit of the mango tree, and in some parts of India designs in which the pine is a feature are called the mango pattern, hence it has been supposed to be derived from the shape of the mango fruit. But the true origin and signification of the pine form in art has been fully explained by Sir George C. M. Birdwood, M.D., K.C.I.E. The subject has since been further developed by Count Goblet D'Alviella, and by other eminent writers at home and abroad.

The pine is a conventionalised form of a religious symbol. It originated in Chaldea, from whence it spread into India on the one hand, and to Europe on the other. In Chaldea the date palm was a first necessity of existence, and hence came to be used as the symbol of the fertility of nature in supplying food. It was known as the Tree of Life, and is intimately connected with ancient worship. Two ornaments were derived from it, and were constantly used in religious decoration (see Plate 10):

(1) The pine or cone, which was the male or pollen-bearing inflorescence of the date palm, and hence symbolic of the renewal and communication of life. Associated with the flower, it thus became a symbol of the Creator, and as such was, and is still, venerated in the East. It was constantly employed in worship, and is present as an ornament in the religions of Persia, Egypt, and Palestine. The pine and its flower are in reality the knop and flower ornaments used in the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus, xxv. 31). The same sacred symbol of the Creator was repeated in the decorations of Solomon's Temple (I. Kings, vi. 18).'

(2) The foliage of the date palm gave rise to what is called the "honeysuckle ornament," so well known in Greek art.

It is thus easy to understand how the pine as a form of decoration came to be so generally employed in Indian art. The Hindoo is essentially a religious man, and a mystic. Religion, in form at least, colours all his life, and affects his art. He is continually symbolizing ideas, and incarnating the attributes of his gods, and, as the Indian craftsman was in most cases his own designer, he worked in with the needle the symbolic forms of the ideas which governed his life.

The pine form, signifying fertility, reproduction, abundance, was thus continually introduced into decorative work, whether sacred or secular. Through time it became more and more conventionalised and more varied in form. Frequently a large pine was made up of a number of small pines, and wreathed with floral sprays. Some of the shawls were entirely covered with the design. Others had it as a border, with the centre of a different colour, into which occasionally the design strayed, producing very beautiful effects. Plates 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9 are representations of these different classes.

The religious signification, however, was not the cause of the European preference for the pine pattern. It had been universally present in all real Indian shawls, and was a form graceful and agreeable to the eye, and is still popular in printed and woven fabrics.

As an article of dress, the shawl went out of fashion about 1870. Parisian influence is too strong for the fair sex, none of whom would now care to appear in the somewhat stiff and formal dress required to show the beauty of the Paisley Shawl. Nevertheless, these relics of a bygone time are lovingly preserved in many a family in Paisley, and in other towns and in other lands, and although never worn, are highly valued and admired.

Notwithstanding that the shawl, and more particularly the Paisley Shawl, has long disappeared from Central Europe, it still lingers on the outskirts, in countries not much given to change.

In Norway, the wives of the peasants don the ancient Paisley Shawl on Sundays; and in soft Andalusia, at the opposite end of Europe, many a seņora still promenades of an afternoon on the all enjoyable Alameda, or goes to a bull fight attired in a harness shawl, worn with the coquettish grace peculiar to those daughters of the sun. Some of these shawls may be of Paisley origin, and of old date. Perhaps some may still be made in France, but the manufacture of them has now ceased in this country.


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