The Paisley Pattern changed everything

Scotland’s largest town was forever changed by The Paisley Pattern.

It has been worn by everyone from Queen Victoria to The Beatles. It is instantly recognised across the world. And it is as iconic and fashionable today as it was when it put Paisley at the centre of the global textile trade.

The beautiful Kashmir shawl originated in India in the 11th Century. The teardrop motif was its most popular and recognisable design.

The designs made their way to western Europe in the latter half of the 18th Century. The rareity of the pattern meant they became a symbol of wealth and status among upper-class women.

European manufacturers wanted to imitate this rare and expensive product. However, producing the Kashmir shawl on looms required an very high level of skill and technology. This meant only a small number of weaving centres in Europe were able to meet the challenge.

Our home, Paisley, was one of these centres. The weavers of Paisley were already used to producing fine silk gauzes and figured muslins. They had developed a world-class level of expertise and technical skill. Indeed, at the time, the Paisley weavers were some of the best weavers in the world. So they were very well-equipped to take on the weaving of these ‘imitation’ shawls.

Until this point, weaving had been something of a cottage industry.  However, the introduction of the jacquard loom and the innovations of the Paisley weaving industry changed all of this.

The main innovation was to improve the hand loom process to involve five colours rather than two. This meant the weavers could make far more intricate patterns. Additionally, the weavers developed the idea of the sub division of labour. At the time, it was an inspriring new way of sharing the workload. These innovations helped take shawl manufacturers out of cottages and into factories.

Did you know? The offical name for the teardrop shape featured in a Paisley Pattern is a ‘Pine’.

Paisley Pattern images © Renfrewshire Council. Originals held by Paisley Museum. A selection of Original Designs for the Old Paisley Shawls. Sketches on paper for printed and woven shawls.

A global icon

By 1834, over one million pounds worth of shawls were being produced in Paisley. This is about £106million in todays money. The shawls became even more fashionable in 1842, when the young Queen Victoria is said to have purchased 17 of them!

The 1860s, saw a peak in the shawl trade in Paisley. There were over 71 different shawl manufacturers operating in the town. This explosion of shawl making made the colourful and fashionable ‘Paisley’ shawl affordable across the world.

In 2017, an expert panel convened for the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Made up of experts from multiple backgrounds, the panel named the Paisley shawls as one of 25 objects that shaped Scotland’s history.

Paisley Museum and Art Galleries has the largest collection of Paisley shawls in the world. It is certified as a Recognised Collection of National Significance to Scotland. The museum is home to thousands of original designs.

The earliest books in the collection are from 1770. They contain a variety of delicate silk and gauze samples produced by local weavers in the town. These booked are now extremely rare and the only known survivors of this trade.

Images below © Hermes

Hermès designs Paisley from Paisley collection

In 2018, prestigious French fashion house Hermès teamed up with Paisley and the town’s globally recognised Pattern for their spring/summer collections.

The team from Maison Hermès were invited to visit Paisley Museum and the magnificent 850-year-old Paisley Abbey to view the collections and selected the wonderful designs for adaption into a Cashmere Chale Scarf, a Silk Gavroche Scarf and a Bangle.

The Maison Hermès offers all seven versions of the chale in each colour pattern developed and have also donated versions of the Gavroche and the Bangle to the town, to be displayed and archived for Paisley Museum.

The Hermes collaboration came about after the PaisleyMake textile conference which was hosted by Renfrewshire Council in 2016. The keynote speaker–Penny Martin, editor of The Gentlewoman magazine–was so inspired by the town’s history she put the council in touch with contacts at Hermes. And a team of designers from Paris headed to Paisley Museum to meet Dr Dan Coughlan to see the original (1830s) Paisley pattern books.

From there, they designed a series of products (including silk scarfs and bangles) which went on sale in Hermes stores around the world in early 2018 as part of their spring/summer collection called ‘Paisley from Paisley’.

The collaboration attracted international media attention and the story has reached more than 10 million people.

The Hermès collaboration was a major step forward in the wider push to transform Paisley’s future. By retelling our internationally-significant heritage and cultural story we hope to inspire you to come and visit us and experience Paisley for yourself.

Visit us and learn more

Are you feeling inspired? Come and visit Renfrewshire to discover the pattern for yourself.

  • You can learn more about the Paisley Pattern in the new Paisley Museum, when it opens after a long-term refurbishment. To keep up to date with progress at the Museum please visit the project online.

You can also step back in time yourself, and experience what life was like for weavers in 200 years ago.

  • The Sma’ Shot Cottages in Paisley, are an interactive 18th century weaver’s cottage. With guided tours, a tearoom and gift shop for you to enjoy, it makes for a great place to visit whilst exploring Paisley.
  • The Weaver’s Cottage in Kilbarchan is Renfrewshire’s only National Trust for Scotland property. Featuring a stunning herb and dye garden, a working weaving loom and friendly volunteers, it’s a wonderful way to get hands-on with history.

When the day’s work was over, they issued in a stream from the orate, their hands and arms stained with all the colours of the rainbow, and they made the streets lively on the way home.

Matthew Blair
The Paisley shawl and the men who produced it, 1907

The Paisley Pattern is our global brand that has inspired makers both in the past and today.

Jean Cameron
Director, Paisley 2021 Bid

Explore Paisley and Renfrewshire's textile heritage