I am Suchitra Choudhury and am a postdoctoral researcher, currently writing a book on ‘Cashmere and Paisley Shawls in Literature’.
As a person of Indian heritage, I have always found the Paisley design to be a familiar reminder of home.
What I didn't know, however, was that Paisley had a rich history of producing world-famous shawls!
It all began with the British travelling to India during the nineteenth century, when women absolutely loved the Cashmere shawls they sometimes brought back.
However, because these exotic, handwoven shawls could be prohibitively expensive, manufacturers, such as those at Paisley, began a large-scale production of ‘shawls made in imitation of the Indian’.
How successful was this industry? Well, suffice it to say that Paisley shawls were a rage across Britain, and the brand became a household name throughout the period, with the term becoming synonymous with the instantly recognisable pinecone design.
But what’s particularly interesting in this story is that while Paisley shawls were commonly associated with Scotland, their links with India seemed unbroken and continuous.
Sir Walter Scott, for example, wrote a novella ‘The Surgeon's Daughter’, in which he uses several Hindi and Urdu words.
In this tale, his narrator proudly declares, ‘Like the imitative operatives of Paisley, I have composed my shawl by incorporating into the woof a little Tibet wool’.
The subcontinental background of the Paisley shawl, as Scott's writing shows, was clearly something that was taken for granted at the time.
Now, there can be no doubt that tartan is Scotland's most famous textile product.
But given the remarkable popularity of the ‘paisley design’ all over the world today, might we reclaim the Paisley shawl as more important representation of Scottish culture and internationalism? Just a thought – but a point well worth pondering over!