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The Paisley Shawl and the People who made it
A record of an interesting epoch is the History of the Town by Matthew Blair (1904)


IN January, 1901, the Governors of the Incorporated Weaving, Dyeing, and Printing College of Glasgow organized a Special Loan Exhibition of Paisley Shawls and similar fabrics, principally for the instruction of their students. These exquisite productions are now neither worn nor manufactured here, but many are cherished as heir-looms in families in the West of Scotland and elsewhere. One of the last acts of Her Majesty Queen Victoria was to direct two beautiful specimens to be sent to this Exhibition, thus renewing that interest which, particularly in its darkest days, Her Majesty had always taken in the Paisley Shawl Trade.

Paisley Shawl
Wedding dress, ca. 1872-76, Transferred from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. E. P. Vance, 1970, KSUM 1995.17.57;
Paisley shawl, ca. 1850-55, Silverman/Rodgers Collection, KSUM 1983.1.1498;
Kent State University Museum

The Exhibition attracted much attention because of the artistic beauty of the shawls, and the high degree of technical skill and patient care on the part of the weavers which they exhibited. Among the visitors were many artists, some of whom came from the large industrial centres of England. At the time a very general desire was expressed that some more permanent exhibition of these beautiful fabrics should be placed in one of the local museums.

A hope was also entertained that some account of this industry might be written, as the period in the history of the town in which it was carried on was one of singular interest, not only on account of the merit of the articles produced, and the high talent shown in their manufacture, but for the marked influence which the conditions of the employment had upon the character of the work-people engaged in it.

The writer was urged by friends to undertake this task. Brought up in the trade, he entered business life at the time when the industry began to decline. He thus witnessed the decay and extinction of the Paisley Shawl trade; and because of the consequent distress and lack of employment, had, like many other Paisley boys of that period, to go elsewhere to earn a living. Returning after an absence of more than forty years, he finds everything changed. The weavers are almost extinct. Not a draw-loom exists in the town. The very memory of the shawl trade is well-nigh lost. The present generation is engaged on other and more varied occupations, and, perhaps in consequence, the town has become one of the most prosperous in the kingdom.

The epoch of the Shawl Trade in Paisley is now rounded off. Like a flower it came up, blossomed, and decayed. Its history is full of honour to the town, and pregnant with lessons that should never be forgotten.

These pages are written with the desire to keep alive an interest in this noble past, by placing on record some description of these beautiful fabrics, as well as of the remarkable class of men who produced them, and who have now nearly all gone over to the majority.

In carrying out a task so congenial to his feelings, the writer has to acknowledge with warmest thanks the valuable assistance which he has received from Mr. John Ingram of Messrs. T. & D. Wilson & Co., of Glasgow, and Mr. Thomas Brown, Chief Instructor in the Incorporated Weaving. Dyeing, and Printing College of Glasgow, both of whom, in early life, had practical experience of the labours of the draw-boys and weavers of Paisley. He has also to express his thanks to the ladies who have so kindly allowed him to reproduce, in coloured illustrations, such beautiful examples of what has become widely known as the Paisley Shawl.

December, 1903.


Chapter I - Early Textiles in Paisley
Chapter II - The Paisley Shawl
Chapter III - Design of the Shawl - The Pine Pattern
Chapter IV - Preparation of the Loom
Chapter V - Weaving of the Harness Shawl
Chapter VI - Culture and Skill of the Weavers
Chapter VII - Influence of the Town and Surroundings
Chapter VIII - The Draw-Boys
Chapter IX - National and Local Politics
Chapter X - Literary Efforts of the Weavers
Chapter XI - Some well know Paisley Men
Chapter XII - Decay of the Shawl Trade - Conclusion

The Paisley Directory and General Advertiser for 1911-12
Including comprehensive and accurate directories for Renfrew, Linwood, Johnstone, Howwood, Elderslie, Kilbarchan, Inkermann, Brookfield, Blackston, Barrhead, Clippens and Neilston. (pdf)

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