the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other Dorset writers

Women and shawls in 19th century art

In the style of Marina Sofia’s Friday Fun Reading Women post, I have collected images of women in paintings wearing paisley pattern shawls. These shawls became popular in the nineteenth century when mass production of the design (which originated in Kashmir) started in Norwich and then Paisley in Scotland. Thus paisley shawls became an exotic, must-have garment that became a marker of respectability. Although popular in Britain, the shawls were widely available in Europe, too.

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Paisley Shawl by Robert Lewis Reid (1862-1929)

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Sunday Afternoon by George Morren (1868-1941)

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Portrait of a Young Lady by Eduard Friedrich Leybold (1798-1879)

 

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Irish colleen wearing green plaid shawl (1890)

Departing for the Promenade

Will you go out with me Fido? by Alfred Stevens (1823-1906)

If these images have pricked your curiosity about the place of paisley pattern in the arts, why not read the story in my collection Paisley Shirt which was inspired by this design?

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Woven shawls in novels by Elizabeth Gaskell

Shawls designed in a pattern commonly known in Britain as paisley were by the 1850s an indispensable item of Victorian women’s wear. They were a marker of respectability as shown by the character of Esther in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, who dispenses with her prostitute’s attire to find a shawl at a pawnbrokers which is considered suitable attire. Poor women wore paisley shawls made from wool or cotton while hand woven shawls from Kashmir made from ‘several grades of hair from two or more species of Asian goat’ (Suzanne Daly, 246) were the preference of the prosperous middle classes.

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In another novel by Elizabeth Gaskell North and South, shawls and scarves from India are inherited or handed down. Mrs Shaw gives her collection to her daughter Edith but due to her slight stature, Edith prefers to use them as picnic blankets. It is on Margaret that a shawl suits “as an empress wears her drapery”. Preference for handcrafted goods leaves Margaret at odds with Mr Thornton but by the end of the novel Margaret inherits land and marries him.

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As paisley shawls are included in great classic work, why not include paisley print in contemporary fiction? Read my story ‘Paisley Shirt’ included in the collection of the same name to find out about its influence in my writing. Click here for more information on Amazon or if delivery times are off putting, try the Book Depository.

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Scenes from Kashmir

Following my recent discovery that paisley print pattern originates in Kashmir, I hunted out purchases I made while visiting the area in 1981. I was a passenger on a Top Deck overland trip from London to Kathmandu. We travelled on a converted Lodekka bus which had a kitchen area downstairs and sleeping accommodation up.

For the journey to Kashmir we took local transport and stayed in luxurious houseboats on Dal Lake in Srinagar.

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My purchases from Kashmir include a carpet which sits in front of the hearth in our Dorset home. I paid a deposit and it was dispatched to my parents when they settled the balance and collected it after a wrangle with customs. (I was delightfully unaware of all this – having a fun time in Australia.)

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A jacket, which I’m self-conscious of wearing due to the real fur trimming.

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And a set of tables which travelled from Kashmir to Australia and then onto Papua New Guinea before furnishing various homes in the UK.

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The carved finish of leaf patterns on these tables is close to being a paisley style pattern. Unlike Paisley Shirt my collection of short fiction, these are not available to purchase on Amazon! (If wishing to obtain my collection, please ignore the warning that the book is out of stock and place an order anyway – it will be sent to you given time.)

I never quite understood why I went on such a spending spree in Kashmir. I blame the tea which I now realise must have been laced with hash. You can find the low-down on the overland experience from Trevor Carroll in his book Crossing Continents with Top Deck.

 

Enjoy!

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