The Himalayan goat grows a fine ‘under fleece’ that enables it to survive the Himalayan winters. This under-fleece (cashmere) is woven by Kashmiri weavers into beautifully fine and soft shawls, traditionally decorated with colourful supplementary weft threads or with embroidery on a white ground.
Kashmir shawls were much sought-after export items to the West. As such they were naturally copied by Western manufacturers. The first copies seem to have been woven in Edinburgh during the early 1800s, but production was sub-contracted to weavers in Paisley, near Glasgow. Paisley became the centre of the ‘Paisley Shawl’ industry, making cheaper, Jacquard-loom woven copies of Indian originals.
The Paisley shawl developed its own fashion culture. White-ground ‘kirking’ shawls were worn to church for events such as christenings. Shawls with a black ground were worn by widows and for more sombre occasions.
A popular motif on the original Kashmir shawl is the buteh, or tear-drop shaped motif. These can be very simple, or highly ornate. It is this motif, which may have originated in Iran, that was also copied by Scottish weavers and became widely known as the Paisley motif.
The Paisley shawl was itself imitated by other manufacturers, including Dutch companies. In The Netherlands this type of cloth is known as worteldoek (‘carrot cloth’) after the characteristic orange-red colour of the material. Many of these textiles were used well into the 20th century, especially as mantlepiece covers.