Paisley Shawls

Detail of a wool and cotton Paisley shawl from 1860-1870, worn by Annie Jones, wife of Lewis Jones, farmer of Tyddyn y Graig, Tabor, Dolgellau.

This a detail of one of Storiel’s Paisley shawls from the 19th century. The Paisley pattern is based on an ancient plant motif that combines Mughal and Persian designs. Originally the pattern was used on shawls worn by men in Kashmir. These shawls began to be imported into Europe by the East India Company, and by travellers coming home from India. The first mention of them being worn in Europe is in a letter from 1767. By the end of 18th century, the shawls had become an exclusive fashion statement worn by women and were a symbol of wealth and luxury.

Factories in France and Britain began making their own versions between 1775 and 1785, copying and adapting the traditional Kashmiri pattern. The centres of production in Britain were originally in Edinburgh and Norwich. In 1805 the silk weavers of Paisley (a small town in Scotland) began to make shawls with the famous pattern, and from the 1820s Paisley became the biggest centre of shawl production. In Britain, the shawls came to be called ‘Paisley Shawls’ wherever they were manufactured, distinguished by the pattern. The fashion for Paisley shawls was at a peak from the 1840s to the 1870s.  

Prints of Welsh Costume from the mid-19th century show middle class women wearing Paisley shawls over fashionable silk dresses, complete with a Welsh Hat. After the fashion for very large Paisley shawls died down in the 1870s, the Paisley shawl then became part of what was considered to be the Welsh National costume.

The costume case in Gallery 3 has a display of some of Storiel’s collection of Paisley shawls.