Fashion,  ThreadTalk

Coming Up Paisley

1 – Greetings, everyone. It's time for #ThreadTalk!

By popular demand, everything's coming up paisley.

#Paisley is an ancient motif with a Scottish name–to learn more about it, we'll be traveling the globe🌍, visit goats 🐐 & talk shit about the East India Company 🤬.

Visiting Cape - the Met. Mid-1960s. A vivid red, orange, yellow, and brown paisley jacket with long, bell sleeves and fringe all along the cuffs, bottom, collar, and button area. Public Domain.

2 – Paisley's proper name is boteh or buta, but it's also been called "persian pickles," "Welsh pears," "ham hock" pattern, or "mango" just to name a few.

Persian pickles?🥒 Right.

And it's old. You can see it on architecture in Balkh, Afghanistan dating to the 9th C.

Creator: Photographer © Jane Sweeney / LPI  - A column from a mosque in Afghanistan with paisley motifs along the crown.

3 – "Boteh" is a Persian word that means "shrub" or "bush." Whatever it is, it's leafy. And it's very eye-catching!

It's asymmetrical and playful, and appeared on carpets, tiles, fabrics, & more. This woodblock would have been used to print the pattern on fabric.

An ornate carved stamp of a complex boteh pattern, used for printing cotton. There are additional motifs inside the larger motif, too. You can still see the dark blue ink on the woodblock. Image via Wikipedia.

4 – We're pretty sure boteh is of Indo-Iranian provenance, but no one really agrees on *what* it is, exactly.

It might be a fig. Or a leaf🍃. Or a pickle🥒? Or the Zoroastrian symbol of life & eternity. ☯️

This samite fabric dates from Persia in the 7-10th C.

Samite (twill woven silk) was thought to originate from Persia under Sassanian rule (AD224-651). A round, gold piece of fabric woven with vines and boteh motifs. (c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London

5 – A similar shape also shows up in some La Tené art in Bronze Age Europe, like in this helmet & gold disk.

But there's no real argument, IMHO, that boteh design & perfection was primarily in Persia, and later in India. Especially re: fabric.

Though these are super shiny 🤩🤩

6 – Sultan Zein-al-Aabedin (d. 1468) is credited with bringing the boteh to India, and ultimately adapting the design to Kashmiri woolen fabric.

The rise of the Mughal Empire saw the boteh motif rise to prominence on shawls worn by men as a sign of rank, wealth, and status.

A closeup of Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak presenting Akbarnama to the Grand Mogul Akbar. Mughal miniature. Four men sit together, and the closest is wearing paisley on a shawl. Via Wikimedia Commons.

7 – Iranian kings in the Safavid dynasty also adopted boteh (boteh jegheh) as a sign of power & rank.

I think it also looks like a feather–but in some paintings, you can see the boteh in the clothing and the turban, like below depicting Shah Tahmasp (1514-1576).

Shah Tahmasp (1514-1576)  wearing a brown and gold robe with boteh designs, and a feather that is the same iconic shape. He is sitting on an orange rug and wears a white turban; he has a beard, and a jeweled dagger, and behind him are flowers and trees. Image: Wikimedia commons.

8 – Now, back to India & shawls.

True Kashmir shawls are woven distinctively and made of wool. Cashmere & pashmina wool comes from Changthangi goats. Their finer undercoat is used in pashmina shawls.

You can meet some goats 🐐🐐🐐in this video:

9 – Even finer shawls were made of Tibetan antelope fur, called Shahtoosh. It's probably the only fabric I've come across that rivals Dhaka muslin in rarity & $$$.

Shahtoosh shawls were reserved for royalty only until Shah Jahan I (d. 1666).

Here is Babur bedecked in boteh.

10 – And so we come, of course, to the formation of the East India Company, the human trashcan Robert Clive, & the introduction of boteh to the West.

@DalrympleWill puts it best: the EIC was "a private company, run by an unstable sociopath."

Image: a pashmina from Kashmir.

(c)Victoria and Albert Museum, London. A Kashmir pashmina dating from the mid-18th century, made in India. It is white with a border of stylized paisley/boten in red, brown, blue, and gold.

11 – All that looting, murdering, & theft made the East India Co. thugs tired. But they had to bring something home to their wives, am I right?

They ended up giving them pashminas & cashmeres, and of course… just like with muslin and with chintz, a fashion craze was born.

A classic white muslin gown from the Regency period with a bright saffron shawl over it, hemmed in red and green and blue paisley (boteh) pattern. This classic combination was all the rage during Jane Austen's time. ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

12 – Not to be left out, Josephine de Beauharnais, Napoleon's wife, also featured the motif in a number of her dresses and was A Big Fan.

You know what happens next: the race to make this pattern & fabric cheaper and without, you know, the artisans of India.

Josephine de Beauharnais reclining in a post wearing a red velvet cape (that looks like it might have some boteh on it) with a typical muslin "empire waist" dress hemmed in additional pashmina style fabric. Ca. early 1800s, public domain.

13 – This was no easy task. Making these shawls was incredibly complex work, requiring multiple looms and weaving techniques not familiar in Europe.

This article is a must-read if you want to go down that pathway…

Enter Jacquard.

14 – The Jacquard loom allowed reproduction of bokeh motifs in Europe on a larger scale.

I honestly wish they'd have stopped with the Regency. You get some lovely examples like this one, ca. 1800.

Wait. They call it "pine cone or patka motif". HOW MANY NAMES DOES IT HAVE?

Orange/yellow printed cotton gown, with pine cone or patka motif, 1800
 - From the Costume Museum of Bath. The dress has 3/4 sleeves and bokeh patterns around the bust, down the sleeves, and at the hem.

15 – Though France had a decent production, it was Paisley, Scotland that became synonymous with bokeh–that's where the image is from.

Eventually, as you might guess, because of the industrialization and lower costs, Paisley boteh eliminated the need for imports from India.

Shawl of 1840–1850 - an industrialized mass-produced version of a pashmina shawl from Paisley, Scotland. You can see the boteh motifs, though rendered somewhat differently.

16 – Which is not to say using the Jacquard loom was easy. It was just EASIER. And cheap.

By the time a young Queen Victoria (not her below) put a Paisley shawl on, that was it. England went completely batshit bonkers for paisley.

And… the result was not always good.

A woman in a red dress in 1824 with a Paisley shawl around her shoulders. The dress has satin on the top and belt, and may be velvet. The shawl is ivory with a boteh pattern around the edges. She is looking at the painter and has her hair up in braids. She sits in a bucolic landscape. Image via Wikimedia Commons - public domain.

17 – So let's get to it!

Our first piece is a wrapper (like a dressing gown) which was very common for paisley.

Not bad. Though it does really just pull from menswear of India. Not a big fan of the blue buttons, personally.

1850, American.

A women's paisley robe with deep blue background, bell sleeves, and both small and large paisley. The large paisley is around the bottom. From the Philadelphia museum.

18 – This dressing gown though.

Girl. Step away from the loom. Those triangles aren't doing anyone any favor. For the 1870s, I feel a little betrayed.

I don't even mind the pattern. It's the zigzags.

1870s dressing gown with orange paisley and brown cuffs and big brown buttons. The center is trimmed in triangles that really just make my brain hurt. Public Domain, met Museum.

19 – Another dressing gown, 1875 this time. Also American.

I can't explain why I love this one so much.



I like the stripes this way — I saw lots of sashes in earlier paintings that were similar. I would wear it. And carry around my pet opossum.

Seen here is a quintessential dressing gown of the period with military-style cuffs, cord belt and paisley pattern. This was a popular style in the mid- to late-Victorian period, for while the popularity of paisley shawls had waned, the pattern lived on in various other permutations. This dressing gown is a particularly nice example because the teal color is carried throughout in the pattern and the cord as well as the lining. Also, the warp print fabric in back adds aesthetic interest. - Met Museum, Public Domain

20 – Deep breath.

This is gauze/muslin. Which is not something you would see on a Kashmir shawl, of course. And yet… we did because we could and…

It's… layer cake… nightmare. It looks almost like it was made by the DeepDream system, doesn't it?

Nineteenth century gauze dresses incorporate the romance of the buta motif in fabrics that have no similarity to the original Kashmiri wools. The endemic and indivisible Paisley-wool ligature is dissociated in the West, chiefly because of its extrordinary popularity as it becomes a design motif for all seasons. By the twentieth century, paisley, in the West, came to be associated as much with silk and cotton - notably in home furnishings and men's neckties - as with wool. Met museum, public domain.

21 – France, well. France. 1855.

Take a thing… just… add some pleats and make it… gauzy. And stick a bunch of paisley motifs on it and you've got…

I don't feel like I would want to touch this dress for some reason. It looks like a curtain mated with a butterfly net.

A typical 1850s silhouette with a huge skirt, bell sleeves, and an odd mix of floral and paisley motifs. It is very sheer and gauzy. This dress incorporates the romance of the buta motif in a fabric that has no similarity to the original Kashmir wool. The endemic Paisley-wool ligature is dissociated in the West, chiefly because of its extraordinary popularity as it becomes a design motif for all seasons.  Met Musuem, Public Domain.

22 – This 1880 dress is significantly better. I read that Kashmir scarves fell out of fashion when bustles came about, which makes sense. Wouldn't be a nice silhouette.

But this jacket is smart-looking, and has good balance with the rest of the ensemble. From Josephine Egan.

Constructed in the manner of an eighteenth-century open robe, with the long (fifty-two-inch) embroidered jacket worn over a pleated green satin front, this American dress from "Josephine Egan, 56 E. 10th Street" also refers to dix-huitième menswear, especially in its deep cuffs and jabot-like lace at center front. Its paisley embroidery likewise connects back to the first popularity of Kashmir shawls in the West in the 1780s and 1790s. By the 1880s, as indicated here, the buta, originally squat and self-contained and restricted to borders, began to mutate into attenuated, intertwining, and whiplashed forms in an escalating horror vacui that anticipates Art Nouveau. Met Museum, Public Domain.

23 – Here we have… something?

It's velvet. So it's *furry*. Like… a furry… ahem… shrub? I don't think… I don't think this works, folks.

1860. America. Seems a little… ahem.


A gown in coral red with paisleys at the bottom in black velvet. The top is a narrow waist and undercuts design with a white shirt below. Met Museum, public domain.

24 – I honestly can't tell if this is horrible or wonderful. I think I'm at the point where I've just seen so much paisley that my eyes are a little dazed.

This is from 1902, and I can't get a better shot of it. But… I don't know. I REALLY DO NOT KNOW.

I think it's cursed.

2-piece black dotted sapphire blue silk with white paisleys of varying sizes having black and blue dots, boned bodice trimmed in black embroidered net with sequins and bowknot appliques on sleeve, skirt having appliques, ruffled hem with non-conforming lace over ruffle, cotton lining. Whittaker auctions.

25 – This is just a work of ART. I mean, it also looks like it's tearing itself in two? BUT THE COLORS & TAILORING.

I have front & back, & I think I'm more obsessed with the back because you can see how it's pieced together. I'm always mad for Chantilly… 1889, Mme Noll Gross.

26 – At this point, a pale, understated damask paisley seems… almost confusing.

But I'll take it. Even if it's from the 1860s. Because I really love the look of the material here, and how the motif works up in the pale blue.

A classic Victorian mid-19th century ballgown with a pale blue silk fabric of paisleys and a ruffled lace top. Met Museum, public domain.

27 – Okay, and because I can't escape tonight without talking about the 60s/70s. Here's some vintage Seventeen Magazine & their "boho" look. You can thank the Beatles. Who, of course, went to INDIA.

Fresh off of the Summer of Love in 1970. I can smell the polyester.

28 – So, that's where we are. This ancient symbol of royalty& power, eventually became trinket from a bunch of assholes to their suffering wives, then turned into a craze.

This dressing gown here is literally cut up shawls. That sort of speaks for itself.

Fashion, y'all.

This tea gown, composed of a cut-up wool shawl woven in a paisley pattern, imitates a black-centered Indian Kashmir shawl. In fact, the material was probably woven in France during the 1860s or 1870s. On the upper right corner of the bodice is embroidered "Cachemire" in white thread. Such a tea gown, intended for gender-segregated leisure, is the feminine analogue to the man's dressing gown or smoking jacket.

29 – And so, we come to sources. If you, like me, loathe the East India Company, here's a great place to start:

30 – Here we go:

31 –

32 – Thanks for coming to my #threadtalk! I leave you with beauty. But hopefully, you can question it, too.

That's the thing with fashion. It may seem about the surface, but there's always a story there. Just waiting to be found. Mantle, 1880. Silk.

A silk, sky blue mantle with elaborate paisley embroidery around the cuffs and sleeves, beaded and lined with gold satin. Met museum, public domain.

Originally tweeted by Natania Barron (@NataniaBarron) on April 5, 2021.