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Printed page from a Herbal

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Motif Development

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Motif Development

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Kashmir & Shawls of Paisley Design 18/19th century

Motif Development

The earliest design on Kashmir seventeenth and eighteenth century shawls was a single flowering plant complete with roots, inspired by English herbals (books with plant illustrations) which reached the Mughal court during the seventeenth century. This design gradually developed into an upright spray of flowers, and by around 1800 became the stylised cone-shaped motif known as the boteh, which we now tend to call the Paisley pine. The shape of the motif changed over the decades, from a small squat cone to a very elongated curve.

There are many theories about the boteh or pine motif; Paisley Museum's explanation seems perhaps the most logical. The pattern can be traced back to ancient Babylon, where a tear-drop shape was used as a symbol to represent the growing shoot of a date palm. The palm provided food, drink, clothing (woven fibres) and shelter, and so became regarded as the ‘Tree of Life', with its growing shoot being gradually recognised as a fertility symbol.

Production Methods

By the mid-nineteenth century demand in Europe for Kashmir shawls was enormous and the demand could not be satisfied. Before 1850 one man would weave a shawl on a hand loom. After this date several men or boys would weave a small section of a shawl, which would be cut out and pieced together, a patchwork of small pieces, and sewn into a shawl by a shawl tailor or rafugar. An order worked in this way could be completed in one-and-a-half months instead of the two to three years it would take to weave a shawl. Another even quicker method to increase production was to embroider shawls, either partially combining this technique with woven shawls or completely embroidering.. Amazingly, with both these methods joins cannot be detected and the design flows over the whole shawl.

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