The Curved and Winding History of Beautiful Paisley Patterns

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A tear-shaped motif of beauty, the paisley pattern is much older than people may think. In fact, the decorative ornamental design dates back hundreds of years. Still thriving in the fashion world today, the paisley pattern has a rich and unique history.

It Started in Persia

The roots of the paisley pattern lie in Persia. It’s also called the buta (Persian: بته‎) or boteh, which roughly translates to flower, bud, or leaf. The buta is the convergence of a stylized floral spray and a cypress tree. It’s considered the Zoroastrian symbol of life, power, and privilege. The paisley pattern originated in the Sassanid dynasty and later in the Safavid dynasty of Persia (1501–1736).

Paisley was a major hit in Persia, and this is the reason why you’ll hardly find a Persian rug without this interesting motif. It was a major pattern in Iran during the Qajar and Pahlavi dynasties. In this time, it was only a pattern for royalty.

What’s in a Name?

Paisley is everywhere, and thus it’s called something different depending on where you’re at. In France, paisley is called “Palme.” In India, it’s referred to as “Bootar.” People in the Netherlands call it “Bota.” The Japanese call paisley “Peizuli.” Nevertheless, the pattern remains the same and is adored by people all over the world.

The actual name “paisley” gained popularity during a large-scale shawl production in Scotland’s Paisley Town. “Paisley” is a derivative of the Scottish word “Passeleg” which means “basilica” or a big church.

The French Connection

In the 18th century, the first programmable loom was introduced in France in order to reduce child labor. Prior to this invention, children used to sit atop the looms to raise and lower the heddles. Hours and days were long, and the French society came to realize their wrongs. Once the programmable loom was invented, production actually increased. This led the way for massive paisley shawl manufacturing.

In the year 1805, Napoleon, with his first wife Empress Josephine, viewed this new loom and granted the patent. This further increased the production of paisley shawls. Later, Lyon, France became a hub of paisley shawl production. And the French’s love of paisley was born.

The British Connection

Once the French began to produce paisley in mass quantities, the British took notice. They too desired this beautiful, swirling motif. In the year 1790, the British got to work. They began large-scale production of woven shawls in Norwich, England, and production in Paisley Town, Scotland.

The shawls in Norwich were considered more high-end and therefore, more expensive. However, Paisley Town, Scotland had a better price point. This led to a much higher demand and the gainful employment of over 6,000 weavers.

By the 19th century, the paisley shawl became a must-have accessory in Britain. The shawls were an indication of “privilege” and higher society. If you owned one, you were a popular girl. This is also the reason that many British paintings depict people wearing paisley shawls.

From East to West

Officials of the East India Company were very fond of this mango-shaped design. They used to send shawls back home as gifts for their loved ones. The “Bootah” print of the east was imported by the East India Company via the silk routes in the 18th and 19th century.

Importing these shawls was not easy and was an expensive affair for the East India Company. This led to the production of shawls catching on in Europe. Because of the high cost of these shawls from the East India Company, Paisley became a sign of wealth and fortune throughout Europe. Between the 1600’s and 1800’s, it was considered a symbol of great indulgence.

A Symbol of Fertility

Paisley was used for more than just shawls. When worn on a tie, the Indians viewed it as a symbol of fertility. Printing this design on a tie was considered auspicious for the community. The reason is simple. When Paisley is printed on a tie, it points to the groin of a man. To this day, it is still regarded by many people around the world as a lucky symbol of fertility.

The ‘Notice Me’ Appeal

Paisley continues to thrive in the fashion world for its ‘notice me’ appeal. The tear-drop design is printed in different shades and color combinations to grab eyeballs. If polka dots were an instant hit among girls and boys of the 18th century, paisley too became a flamboyant symbol to gather attention in a crowd.

A Decline in Popularity

Paisley hasn’t always been popular in society. It saw a steady decline in the 1870’s for political reasons. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 caused them to halt the export of shawls from Kashmir.

Due to the decline in demand, the prices dropped exponentially, and the garment was no longer consider a representation of “privilege.” Moreover, by 1860, a number of weavers emigrated to Canada and Australia which also led to the poor production of paisley shawls.

The Beatles

Anyone familiar with the popular band the Beatles knows they rock the paisley. They often featured the pattern in their artwork, and of course, adorned their bodies with it as well. Because of their consistent push for the pattern, it saw a huge surge in the 1970s.

A Comeback

Everyone loves a good comeback story, and by the 1960s it became apparent that paisley was never going away. It would simply experience surges in popularity. Much of the credit for its return went to the pop sensations of that era—The Beatles Band, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Rolling Stones, and The Kinks.

Paisley bounced back like never before, and it was seen on catwalks, high-streets, parties, and almost everywhere you looked. These dynamic interlocking shapes have been equally liked by men and women of all ages for quite some time since.

The All-time Favorite Pattern

It’s been a long trip for paisley in fashion. Originally used as a decorative symbol in royal architecture, it has been adapted to almost every type of garment and accessory you can imagine. The symbolical bud design is no more a bud but has bloomed completely in the fashion world. In fact, the design is so popular that it can be easily spotted on bedsheets, curtains, clothing, accessories, and even tattoos.

Symbolization of this Centuries Old Design 

Although paisley has experienced many changes throughout centuries, it still maintains its original tear-drop design. Some people describe the shape as a mango fruit or a kidney bean. Others believe it easily represents the Cypress tree. Still, some consider it a feather design. No matter how you view the shape, there is no question that people are incredibly attracted to the pattern.

In the Tamil culture, where the paisley design is found in almost every home, the pattern symbolizes Mankolam or Mango. Mango is considered to be an exotic food in Tamil and is believed to be eaten only by the privileged. The Tamil also refers to paisley as a symbol of peace, prosperity, and health.

Other Interesting Facts

There are some fun facts about paisley that a lot of people might not know. Check them out:

  1. The Paisley Poem:Not many people are aware of the fact that paisley has its own It’s called “The Paisley World Poem” and is composed by Patti Masterson. This short poem is all about the luxury of the pattern and how it can beautify a fabric.
  2. The Demonic Controversy:Another amusing, yet shocking fact about paisley is that many people considered it to be a demonic design due to its origin. There is still controversy today regarding this beautiful print.
  3. Traded from Kashmir in India:Initially, the paisley shawls were traded only from Kashmir in India. With the rise in demand, Europeans started imitating the print on their own.
  4. Preferred on Woolen Fabric: This feather-shaped design was originally woven only on fine wool fabric. That’s one of the reasons why it was such a popular print on shawls.
  5. The Paisley Museum: There is a special Paisley Museum in Glasgow preserving a rich collection of paisley shawls, costumes, and even looms. The museum possesses two Jacquard looms that were closed down in the year 1943.

The Charm of Paisley

Currently, the paisley pattern is going through another revival. On the runway, they are often seen paired with floral prints. Fashion designers are keen on experimenting with Paisley. It’s not going anywhere soon.

Paisley is a pattern with a rich history. It’s something that appeals to both genders and has a versatility unlike anything else. As the holiday season approaches, you are sure to see this tear-drop design on the streets, in the office, or even at home. Its symbolism and uniqueness are sure to live on for ages to come.

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