Daisy's Paisleys: 19th Century Shawls from the Daisy Deane Williamson Collection

March 8 - July 26, 2002
Dale Valena, Museum Curator
Astrida Schaeffer, Guest Curator

Drawing of woman in 19th century dress
Godie's Lady Book, September, 1853

The 19th-century European love for paisley shawls is thought to have started when employees of the British East India Trading Company brought them home from Kashmir, India as gifts to their wives. In Kashmir, as early as the 17th century, the soft "pashmina" underfleece from Central Asian goats was spun, dyed, and woven into colorful shawls. Incorporated in the shawl design was the symbolic "tree of life" motif, the buta. When the European weaving industry started manufacturing imitative versions of kashmir shawls at the turn of the 19th century, the buta motif was transformed into a pine pattern. Paisley, Scotland became the largest manufacturer of shawls; hence the pine motif became associated with Paisley.

This exhibition represented the later period of the industry, from 1840 to 1870, when shawls complemented the bell-shape of the fashionable crinoline dress.

Daisy Deane Williamson collected shawls of all kinds. The first was a gift of an antique wedding shawl that inspired her hobby. At the time of her death, this fine collection numbered 160 shawls. Her interest in Paisley is apparent as one-third of the collection is Paisley-related, including examples of various techniques and designs. Ms. Williamson died in 1942 and bequeathed her shawl collection to UNH.

Ms. Williamson was a home-demonstration leader of the New Hampshire cooperative extension between 1920-42. Her contribution to the state of NH during her tenure has been carefully documented in a series of scrapbooks complied by Ruth Stimson '40 and recently donated to the University Archives. In addition to the myriad of home economics subjects she lectured on, she used her collection to educate about the history of shawls.

The European shawl-weaving industry boomed with the invention of the Jacquard loom. Taking the place of the drawloom, which depended more directly on child labor, the Jacquard loom used a series of hole-punched cards to signal pattern changes in the weaving. Though the Jacquard loom was invented in 1800, the weaving town of Paisley, Scotland didn't fully adopt the new technology until the 1830s. It is at this time that Paisley began producing record numbers of paisley shawls, in a sense flooding the market and making them affordable to most middle-class women. The introduction of the bustled dress in approximately 1870 triggered the demise of the paisley shawl industry.

Three women in paisleyRed and orange paisley shawlTwo dresses and a paisley shawl