Thursday, August 11, 2011

Paisley - The Shawl, the museum

[Photo from Spurlock Museum]
If one is staying at Paisley, which is where the Glasgow International Airport is located, and if one is passionate about beautiful fabrics, then you must visit the Paisley Museum to find out about the famous Paisley shawls.
Paisley is, or was, a mill town.  According to our taxi driver, in its heyday, the two main mills (Coates-as in J. & P. Coats and Anchor threads) employeed 40,000 people.  Now they employ a mostly volunteer force to keep the Thread  Mill museum open 2 days a week. One of the mills has been turned mostly into flats.  The Coats mills still operates but on a much reduced basis.
I had hoped to visit the Paisley Thread Museum, the Anchor Mill and the Sma' Shot Cottage, a weaving history cottage, but these were only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and this was a Tuesday.  Sigh.  But the Town Museum had some beautiful shawls and weaving equipment on display.
The weavers in Paisley based their designs on fabrics that came from Asia.  So they did not design the original Paisley shawls. Other mills were doing the same thing and producing copies of Eastern patterns, but in Paisley, they produced the shawls cheaper and quicker than other mills, hence they became more popular and more famous.  I thought it interesting that the museum pointed out that Paisley weavers were notoriously argumentative and British politicians always has a wary eye out for revolutionary actions emanating from Paisley.
The museum weaving expert was on holiday but we were allowed in to the weaving room to look at the equipment.  Pretty impressive.  There were a couple of Jacquard looms set up.  These looms used some of the fist computer concepts - the use of punch cards to control which warp threads were to be raised and which lowered.  This meant one could design complex and intricate patters -- voila, the Paisley patterns.
The shawl grew in popularity as the fashion trended to larger shawls and the design could be shown off by covering a woman's back from neck to ankle.  It was the bustle that killed the shawl. The whole idea of a skirt bustle was to highlight the rear and covering shawls were not wanted. So ended the power of Paisley.  It left me wondering how a town goes about finding jobs for 40,000 out-of-work people? And why didn't the tourist trade try to capitalize on that history?  I was all pumped up to buy a Paisley shawl but pickings were slim.

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