The paisley shawl originates in Kashmir, India, and in particular among the shawls being woven and sometimes also embroidered in the 18th century for the Mughal court of India and related elite groups. In the late-18th century, more and more of these shawls were being exported to Europe. They became very popular at various royal courts. Joséphine de Beauharnais, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, for example, is said to have owned over 200 of these shawls.
By the beginning of the 19th century Kashmir-style shawls started to be copied on hand and later on mechanical looms, especially the Jacquard loom, in France and Britain. Although in Europe they never managed to mechanically reproduce the striking number of colour combinations of the original Kashmir shawls. One town in particular became noted for the production of ‘Kashmir’ shawls, namely Paisley, which lies just south of Glasgow (Scotland).
From the early 19th century, Paisley was an important producer of shawls for domestic and export purposes. By 1850, for example, there were over 7,000 weavers producing shawls. In addition, special versions of the ‘Kashmir’ shawl were being produced in Paisley and elsewhere in northern Europe that consisted of different pieces of the shawl being woven on machines and then being stitched together.
The high demand for these fashion accessories/fabrics resulted in other forms of the mass-produced shawls being developed, such as embroidered versions (a development that also occurred in Kashmir) and very cheap examples that were printed. Mass production globally popularized the buteh under the name of ‘paisley’. As a result, for most people in the West, and indeed elsewhere, it has remained the paisley motif.
In addition, the motif began to appear on other garments, such as women’s bodices, jackets and skirts. The popularity of the paisley shawl started to decline in the 1870’s, following a change in fashion (especially the advent of the bustle, which meant that the shawls could not be draped to their best advantage), and at the same time shawls had become too ‘common’.
In the 19th century Dutch manufacturers started to produce shawls and other items with a double weave design of flowers, leaves, and of course, paisley motifs. The Dutch version is much thicker than the French and British versions and regarded as much more hard wearing.
There are various suggestions why they are called worteldoek (‘carrot cloth’) - some say it is due to their predominantly orange colour, others that sometimes these cloths were used for carrying and storing root vegetables including carrots, but the most likely explanation is that the paisley motif looks a little like a carrot.
This type of cloth was not just used as a shawl. They were also used to cover pianos, on mantle pieces, as well as protecting garments against damage from walls by hanging the cloth behind a coat rack.
Renfrew tear drop
The Renfrewshire Council (which includes the town of Paisley) uses a double version of what they called the ‘Paisley tear drop’ as their logo.