Paisley is described as a droplet-shaped vegetable or floral motif of Persian and Indian origin. The pattern itself has been referred to as “Persian Pickles” by American traditionalists, especially by quiltmakers and “Welsh Pears” in Welsh textiles dates as far back as 1888. Who knew? Resembling a ‘twisted teardrop’, this kidney shaped distinctive design derives its Western name from the town of Paisley, in central Scotland. Again, who knew? The modern French word for paisley are Boteh and Palme. Palme reference the palm tree, a traditional botanical motif along with the pine and cypress that are thought to have influenced the shape of the paisley design.
In India the design is known as “Mankolam” and in Persia the floral design is known as “Boteh Jegheh”. The design has been used in Iran since the Sassanid Dynasty (AD 224-AD 651) and later in the Persian Safavid Dynasty (1501-1736). The design itself has been a major textile pattern that has been used to decorate royal regalia, crowns, and court garments as well as textiles for the public for centuries. Quite a long history, indeed. In Pakistan, the design is referred to as the “Carrey Design“, which means “Mango Seed”. In Punjab, this pattern is referred to as an “Ambi”, which also means mango in Punjabi. Some design scholars also refer to the distinctive shape as Boteh and believe that it is the union of a ‘stylized floral spray and a cypress tree’: considered an expression of an ancient world religion and symbol of life and eternity. It is interesting to discover the importance and intended meaning of this stylistic and decorative iconic motif!
The East India Company imported the design into Iran during the first half of the 17th century and brought the rise of fashion of this iconic motif. The popularity grew in the European Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) between 1700-1800 as a belief in its ability to ward off evil spirits grew. The demand was so strong for this pattern that it proved challenging for the East India Company to even meet the demands. The central European introduction to this botanical motif began in Marseilles, France, in which mass produced patterns by way of the early textile printing processes began by local manufacturers in 1640 brought this design to the forefront. England soon followed in 1670 followed by the Dutch in 1678, the result of which provided competition between European weavers. In fact, by French royal decree from 1686-1759, the production and import of printed paisley was forbidden in France! Again, who knew? It was during the 19th century that European production of the design increased, particularly in the Scottish town of Paisley. It is said that soldiers returning from the colonies brought back with them silk, wool and ‘Kashmir’ shawls from India’s East India Company. The design itself was then copied and adapted for use on the handloom and after 1820, on Jacquard looms. From around 1800-1850, the weavers of Paisley, Scotland became the premier producers of these shawls. Unique additions to the looms of this town permitted them to work with 5 colors vs. the standard 2 color weaving loom. Interestingly, by 1860, the Paisley weavers produced shawls with 15 different colors! Technology advances of success, indeed! Their design became known as the “Paisley Pattern”. During the 19th century, Paisley was printed onto cotton and wool, rather than woven, onto textiles. It is stated that included with these textiles were cotton squares, the apparent precursor of the modern bandana! Of key, the ability to purchase printed paisley rather than the more expensive woven paisley added to its popularity. Interestingly, the central places of manufacture for the printed paisley were the Alsace region of France and Britain.
This iconic pattern is still widely popular in Iran and south and central Asian countries, where woven gifts using gold and silver threads on silk and other textiles are gifted for weddings and special occasions. In Iran and Uzbetistan, aside from clothing, the ‘Buta’ design is said to be found in paintings, jewelry, frescoes, pottery textiles such as curtains and tablecloths and even carpets. In interior design, with the continual appearance of this iconic motif on walls covered with wallpaper, fabrics, many textiles and decorative objects, it is clear that this pattern is here to stay. History and a traditional, classic motif carried through time.
The revival of the Paisley pattern follows fashion throughout history. A timeless design that seems to infiltrate each season, in some way, for both men and women. Its distinctive swirling pattern and botanical motif seems befitting for one’s Summer wardrobe. In lightweight materials or printed on classic staples, including accessories, incorporating this design into our Summer wardrobe is a timeless addition, indeed.
Rethink Paisley. As with any pattern or design, it is how it is used. A less is more approach is always a winning statement in fashion. In interiors, touches of paisley are pops of interest in design. However, a more is more technique works as well. If you simply adore a design, the way you incorporate it will determine your own personal flair and sense of design. Just the way we should design our lives…