Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paisley Prints

No Civil War reproduction line would be complete without a paisley print. My new Civil War Homefront features a paisley set in a neat grid, design that was fashionable in the early 1860s. In keeping with the theme of make-do recipes the print is called "Cracker Pie."

Paisley, like so much of Western fabric design, is an adaptation of traditional Indian textile pattern. The figures were found in cashmere shawls, which England’s East Indian Company began importing in the mid-eighteenth century. Hand-woven Kashmiri shawls became a fashion rage among the truly wealthy, a wearable status symbol. One shawl might cost the equivalent of a London house.

Paisley, Scotland

The industrial revolution was all about factories imitating handwork. By 1840, European factories were imitating shawls on automated Jacquard looms. The best were made in the town of Paisley, on the west coast of Scotland. The original Indian shawls featured a good deal of white, but Europeans preferred wools dyed in shades of madder browns ranging from dark chocolates to orangey reds, so the later manufactured shawls were darker than the Kashmiri originals. Factory-made shawls were priced in reach of the new middle-classes, and in the mid-nineteenth century everyone wore them.

This woman, wife of an English war veteran, wears a factory-made shawl in a photograph from about 1860.
The characteristic figure in the shawls was a stylized botanical form, an oval shape with a curl on the end, known as a botha or boteh (from the Hindi buta for flower). The botanical source for the boteh design is in some dispute. Textile historians see it as a pinecone, a gourd or the shoot of a date palm.

An Indian wood block featuring three boteh figures

The cone shape came to be known as a paisley after the Scots town and was a popular figure in cotton prints. During the 1860s and '70s paisleys in madder-style colors---warm, reddish-browns---were particularly fashionable for robes and quilts for the up-to-date boudoir.

Read more about paisley prints in my book America's Printed Fabrics: 1770-1890.

Click here to read an online article about paisley: Beyond the Fringe by Meg Andrews
And see a Scottish design for a paisley: http://www.archiveshub.ac.uk/textiles-paisley.shtml

The Museum of Printed Textiles in Mulhouse, France has a new exhibit on paisley and cashmere shawls opening this month. Dreams of Cashmere, Cashmeres of dreams: The Cashmere Shawls printed in Alsace in 19th century will be up until October 31, 2010. Click here to read more about the exhibit:


  1. The information you provide is so fascinating, Barbara. I really do learn so much. Paisley prints happen to be one of my favorites, and I have many, many in my stash. Your research is so thorough - I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from you!

  2. I love doing it and I am so glad people appreciate it.

  3. I have the book you picutred here and the companion book and I look at them again and again! I've learned so much, and getting better at estimating probable dates of quilts.

  4. Hi Barbara,

    Love your new fabric line. I went onto the Moda website to see when they might be in the stores...but no date is mentioned. But, they did have glorious pictures of the prints. I particularly like the Navy colorway, and I'm not even a blue person.

    When should we expect to see them???

  5. You always have such a fascinating informative blog. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

  6. I love the colors in the first one. I would love to do a quilt with paisleys.


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  8. Interesting, the paisley connection. As a child growing up in the South, my grandmother had paisley shawls which her husband's great-grandmother had brought to the States (c. 1780-90s) before the second war between Britain and its colonies (1813). None of us women ever made quilts, although we certainly did embroidery and other fine needlework. I wish I still had those original fabric remnants?

    Never mind, perhaps there is a tradition to establish as paisley prints are available in many countries of Europe nowadays. I have recently hand-pieced a Winding Ways (curved seams, hand-pieced version) at 5" x 5" to fashion into a sampler incorporating a fair few of these War of Northern Aggression blocks (ultimately) with Kaufmann Champagne as the background and most likely the backing also, said fabric of which I had to buy an entire bolt (14.65 metres!) for an American group swap. Needed to figure out a way to use plenty of excess!

    Patricia in France