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The Paisley Shawl and the People who made it
hapter IV - Preparation of the Loom

IF the reader be a weaver, he will forgive the attempt to make so technical a subject intelligible, and if not a weaver, he will at least be enabled to form some idea of the skill and patience exhibited by the harness weavers. To the ordinary reader it may be necessary to explain that the weaving of a piece of cloth with a continuous pattern, however elaborate, which goes on repeating itself, is a comparatively simple matter. Any irregularity of thickness in the weaving, while it will be a defect, will not entirely destroy the symmetry of the pattern. But it is quite otherwise with a shawl, which has a beginning and an end. The weaver commences to weave a border across the bottom, which in some measure repeats itself along the sides, and blends into a border across the opposite end. To produce the design correctly, a fixed number of weft threads must be woven across, between the beginning and the end; not one more, and not one less. It is manifest that if the weaver beats up his welt threads too closely at the beginning, he will have the total number in before he arrives at the end of the shawl, and where, as is often the case, the warp is dyed or stained in portions to correspond with the design, the latter part of the pattern will be wholly destroyed. In a power-loom the exact number of weft threads in a given

Plate 4 Paisley Shawl - White Center

space can be regulated with absolute accuracy, but the hand-loom weaver had to trust to the delicacy of his touch, and therein lay much of the skill of the harness weaver.

The yarn required for these Harness Shawls had to be specially prepared. The finest class of it went under the name of Cashmere. To give the strength necessary for warp, it consisted of a thread of fine silk round which was spun a coating of the finest Cashmere wool. This class of yarn was most successfully made in the neighbourhood of Amiens, in France, and is still manufactured there for the French market. For the less expensive qualities a silk or cotton warp was used. The weft was either a carded woollen yarn or a Botany worsted. These classes of yarn were spun principally in Yorkshire. There being no railways in those days, some of the spinners in the Bradford district were accustomed to ride down to Paisley, a journey of several days, with their yarn samples in their saddle-bags. The goods were sent round by the steamer from Liverpool to the Clyde.

The dyeing of the warps was one of the first anxieties of the manufacturers, and required great skill and care. This arose from the custom, as in the Eastern originals, of having at each end of the shawl a parti-coloured finish, showing bands of four or five different colours, which became the ground-work of the terminal borders and formed the warp fringe. This will be seen in several of the Plates. Between these parti-coloured ends the centre would be dyed red, if for a red-centered shawl, or black, if this was to be the colour of the centre. In some cases the warp for the side borders might be dyed a special colour. It is obvious that this further necessitated much care in the warping of the web, each length and space requiring exact measurement and marking. The dyer screwed down the slides of a frame at these marks, leaving exposed the particular piece that was to be dyed, which was then dipped in the dye vat. This might occur many times throughout the length of the shawl. The art of Dyeing thus came to great perfection in Paisley. While on this subject, it is also worthy to note that, some years ago, the dyeing of piece goods made of wool or worsted was confined to Yorkshire. Paisley has since taken a high place in this important industry, and for this the town is largely indebted to the enterprise of Messrs. William Fulton & Sons, of Glenfield. Many of the leading dyers in Scotland and England received their early training in Paisley.

Having now the warp ready, the next thing was to set up the loom. This was a work of much labour, requiring care and skill in every detail. Two or three weeks were often required to equip a loom for an expensive plaid. The weaver bore the cost of this, but a fine spirit of comradeship prevailed, and willing help at the tyeing of the harness was freely given by the shop-mates, who in turn received like help when their time of need came. The boys employed in the weaving-shops also assisted, and were rewarded by a feast of bread and cheese, which in those days was a great treat to them, while to their seniors was added the inevitable dram. On the manufacturer's part the first important point was, of course, the selection of the design. This was always shown in a miniature form—the sketch being often a work of art, fit to be framed for wall decoration (see Plate 11). The next step was to transfer this sketch to design or point paper, which, when completed, might in some cases cover the floor space of a good-sized room. This designing required minute care. Each small square must bear its own colour; no blurring was allowable (see Plate 12).

This design or point paper was first made in Paisley by Mr. Andrew Blaikie, Engraver, and was printed directly from the copper or steel plates engraved by himself, some of which are still in use by his successors, Messrs. Robert Hay & Son.

The squares represented the point at which a weft thread crossed a warp thread, so that every weft shot that was to complete the shawl could be counted, and there would be sometimes as many as 150,000 weft threads crossing the loom in one harness plaid.

If Paisley Shawls were now manufactured, the next step would be the card cutting of the design. But in those early days the Jacquard, although long before invented, was not in use by the Paisley weavers, and instead of the card cutter, the work of the flower lasher came into play, which we may now attempt to describe.

The composition of the design was usually limited to six, seven, or eight colours, and the ground colour upon which these figuring colours were introduced. The first point was to determine the sequence in which these colours would run, say: 1, claret; 2, green; 3, yellow; 4, blue; and so on.

The flower lasher had before him a frame not unlike that of a card cutter, but in addition, an upright web of strong linen thread called a "simple." This is illustrated in Plate 12. The simple was fixed tight before the lasher, each thread standing before each upright square of the design. A straight-edge placed across the design revealed only one minute horizontal line of colour. The lasher had at his left hand a bobbin of strong cotton thread, and running his eye from left to right, if claret covers two squares, he interlaces the cotton thread behind the corresponding threads of the simple, and so on across the face of the design. This is now knotted up and called a "lash." The next colour, green, is treated in like manner, and so on, till all the colours are gone over, and when completed they form a "bridle." Each lash represented one colour, and each bridle the whole of the colours in one line of weft. The twines of the simple were attached overhead to the tail cords, which were passed over pulleys and connected with the harness twines. At the. lower end of each of these harness twines was a metal eye, called a "mail," through which the warp thread passed, with a weight below in the form of a thin piece of lead, to bring it down and keep it straight. See Plate 13.

It was the manipulation of these lashes on the simple that formed the work of the draw-boy. Drawing out each lash in succession, the boy grasped the threads of the simple, thus separating them from the others, and pulled them down, so raising the requisite warp threads to form the shed through which the shuttle passed.

Plate 5 - Paisley Shawl - Filled

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