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Paisley: What’s In A Name?

Paisley food Festival

Our beloved town of Paisley has a rich history we can all be proud of. This article explores some of the history of Paisley and its relationship with the textile industry, which made Paisley famous.

Early history

The town of Paisley developed around Paisley Abbey, which was founded in 1163. While Paisley Abbey now belongs to the Church of Scotland, it was originally founded by Cluniac monks – followers of the new take on Benedictine rule started by the abbey of Cluny, in Burgundy, which emphasised the importance of copying manuscripts over manual labour.

The textile industry

By the early 18th century, Paisley had become a major centre for the hand-loom weaving of linen, which was one of the main industries in Scotland at the time. Linen was in high demand both across Britain and in the American colonies. At the start of the 19th century, Paisley textile workers also started to produce machine-woven shawls made of silk, cotton and wool, weaving patterns on them inspired by the Kashmir shawls sent home by British soldiers who were serving in India. This is how the famous paisley pattern was born. The origin of the paisley pattern and the fact that cotton was one of the materials used in the weaving process make it clear that the Paisley textile industry was heavily influenced by British colonialism and by the triangular trade.

The abstract floral motifs which became known as the paisley design originated in Persia, possibly as a representation of a floral spray and a cypress tree, which is a Zoroastrian symbol of life and eternity. The popularity of this pattern then spread to parts of India, where it was woven onto shawls made from the wool of Kashmir goats. Upon its arrival to Europe in the 19th century, paisley became a popular fashion choice among progressive figures such as Oscar Wilde and his friend Arthur Lasenby Liberty, the founder of the Liberty department store in London, which is famous for its high-end, flamboyant fabrics. The next surge in popularity for paisley clothing came among the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s, and was partly encouraged by famous artists such as The Beatles showing a preference for this pattern – John Lennon even painted a paisley pattern onto his white Rolls-Royce!

Paisley fabrics today

It is undeniable that paisley has gone in and out of fashion throughout the decades, and there was a time – until quite recently – when it was considered terribly old-fashioned. In the comedic film Legally Blonde 2, which was released in 2003, when fashionista Elle Woods is sure if she wants to go ahead with a campaign she replies, ”As sure as I am that nobody looks good in paisley”. However, paisley is a staple of the boho aesthetic, which has become popular in recent years, and this – combined with the return to traditional fabrics and techniques which has become popular in interior design recently – bodes well for the renewed popularity of paisley. If you want to honour the heritage of our town, you could even ask a bespoke furniture maker such as Gabriella James to craft a paisley accent chair for your home and give this traditional pattern a contemporary twist!

So, what’s in a name?

As it turns out, quite a lot. The town of Paisley has a rich history, and there is no shortage of rabbit holes for the local history enthusiast to go down!