Kashmir & Shawls of Paisley Design 18/19th century

The early British shawls had warp (vertical) threads of cotton or silk. These threads were strong and could bear the strain of being lifted to introduce the pattern threads of the weft (horizontal) thread. These could be of wool, cotton or silk. Wool was not strong enough for use as a warp until the French invented a yarn of wool fibres spun round a silk core. This, together with the invention of the Jacquard loom at the turn of the nineteenth century, enabled more intricate patterns to be woven and established the French as leaders in the field. The first all-wool shawls were not made in Paisley until 1823.

Up until the 1820’s when the Jacquard loom was introduced into Paisley, weaving was a cottage industry, with a weaver owning his own handlooms. He lived typically in a single storey house with a passage through the middle; on one side were his living quarters, comprising one or two rooms plus a loft, on the other side a weaving shop with up to four looms.

The weaver, who was always a male, carried out almost all the different processes involved in weaving a shawl, often preparing the simple designs of the early period and making the cards which defined the pattern, as well as selling the shawls. Sometimes a merchant financed the materials and provided transport whilst an agent acted as middle man between the two. With the introduction of the drawloom, which required a drawboy to pull the ropes controlling the overhead harness, the weaver would call out his instructions. The shawl was woven with the underside facing the weaver so if these instructions were misconstrued, defects might not be noticed until a few hours later.

The finished shawls would be taken to the merchant who only paid the weaver if he was satisfied with the quality. The shawl would then be clipped to remove the loose threads at the back, washed, stretched and pressed to give a surface sheen. The Jacquard loom, introduced to Paisley in the 1820’s, used punched cards instead of a drawboy, eliminating human error and reducing the workforce on a loom to one. These looms, much larger and more expensive, changed a cottage industry into a factory based one. Now there was a division of labour and people were employed for particular skills.

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