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Paisley Through the Ages
The Paisley design has a rich
history as interwoven with various cultures as its pattern for fabrics. Originally found in
Kashmir in Northwestern Asia, it is found in art by the 16th century through
Eurasia most notably India and Persia, and made its way into Europe by the
mid-18th century with trade caravans full of the beautiful cloths and patterns
from the exotic East. As the various cultures adapted this pattern, it changed
from using very simplistic patterns (think Chinese calligraphy gone wild) into
the more detailed patterns of today.
The earliest versions seem to have been lifted from what the artist saw in nature, reduced to a simplicity that was graceful and sparse of detail. As the centuries passed, the pattern became more from the imagination of its author with geometric shapes and less recognizable nature designs to the modern eye. By the early 1800’s, the paisley design as we know it began to emerge as it was introduced into the European market. Although the now renowned kidney shaped paisley is named after the town that manufactured it in West Scotland, the design itself came from Iran or Persia, which is why many claim that the fabric pattern originated there. However, it is found in much earlier artwork in more eastern countries and Persia seems to have been where the European trade caravans discovered it.
Its popularity in India, Persia and Europe was seen in the wide spread use of the Paisley Shawl. These shawls can be seen in paintings and drawings from these cultures and were worn by both men and women in the East. These would have been wonderful trade goods as they were small enough to carry more easily than bolts of fabric and to price well to sell to the color and design starved Europeans. These were an exciting addition to the 18th century European wardrobe of women who had simple neoclassical fabric fashions that worked well with this touch of exotica in their style and quickly became a status symbol.
The paisley design was altered from its original playful and more simplistic floral nature when, in Persia, the Islamic influence led to more geometric patterns, as their religion prohibits the use of naturalistic designs. When it entered the European market, it evolved into designs that became wildly decorated with entire scenes of turbaned men, camels and Eastern styled towns surrounded by the kidney shaped paisleys that actually all worked when placed on the shawls.
The small town of Paisley, Scotland became a leader in the mid-1800’s in the production of these shawls, developing what is now known as the “paisley pattern”, which enveloped five colors while most others only used two. Still not as magnificent as the Kashmir multicolored patterns of the time that were capable of producing up to 60 colors in a shawl, the Paisley textile and fabric center by 1860, was capable of 15 colors and was by far the largest producer in Europe.
By the 20th century, the paisley pattern was no longer seen as a natural pattern in Iran (its name in various eastern languages relates to “mango”) and again, it exploded across the various cultures, emerging into the 1960’s flower child movement, where it was adopted by them and produced with complicated designs that were a feast for the eyes from designers in New York and London. It moved into the home with paisley wallpaper, paisley bedding, paisley pillows and paisley clothing. Beware of the teenage girl’s bedroom if you were fearful of color in that time period!
Now the rich fabric patterns emerge more sedately, lacking the eye popping quality of the last century and are a regular addition to fabrics for the home. Cheerful, playful, tasteful or richly subdued depends now on where the designer wishes to draw attention in a room. Still woven on the Jacquard looms, the heavier weight fabrics make a wonderful fabric for upholstered goods as enduring a fabric as possible, with a timeless design engrained in its fibers and our hearts.
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