Skeletons of a botanical kind caught my attention in the form of fallen leaves that were gently disintegrating at the base of a White Stinkwood (Celtis Africana) growing just outside our garden. As the soft pulpy part of the leaves decompose and return to the soil, the leaf skeleton of intricate veins is left intact. Following the example set by the cicada terracotta army featured in last week’s post, I collected some leaf skeletons to photograph on a background of white paper.

  Dry leaf skeleton of White Stinkwood (Celtis Africana)

The skeletal remains of a single leaf photographed on a white background. Looking at its teardrop shape with the downturned curve of the tip I was reminded of paisley patterned fabric

 Inspired to read up a bit about the origin of the paisley pattern I discovered that the paisley motif may indeed have a connection with leaves and plants.  The shape is termed boteh in Persian, which means bush, shrub or thicket. The motif has an ancient history. Traces include early examples on fragments of textiles dating from the 6th to 8th century found in ancient cemeteries in the Egyptian town of Akhimim. It is thought that the boteh motif may have originated as a stylised depiction of leaves and clusters of leaves, and it may also (among other things) be suggestive of flower blossoms or cypress trees. An interesting and convoluted discussion of possible origins for the motif, many of which are botanical, can be found here at the TurkoTek website, which is “devoted to collectible weavings, where rug enthusiasts can connect”.

Leaf skeleton shapes as inspiration for paisley pattern

Several leaves placed in proximity trying to capture something of the repeated motifs of the paisley pattern

By the 15th century, perhaps brought to India from Iran (Persia), the boteh came to be a popular motif in Kashmiri woven textiles, especially in elaborately patterned luxurious shawls. During the 17th and 18th centuries Kashmiri shawls were imported into Europe by the British East India Company. In response to the growing demand for Kashmiri shawls, European and British weavers began making shawls with patterns copied from those imported from India.

Innovations to looms that were implemented in the textile town of Paisley, where the imitation of Kashmiri shawls was a speciality, enabled weaving in five colours, giving weavers in this Scottish town a competitive edge over other weavers. In time the Kashmiri-inspired shawls made in Paisley became synonymous with the town. Later innovations enabled weaving in 15 colours, which though not a match for the intricate shawls handwoven in Kashmir made it possible to produce lower cost shawls to meet the ongoing demand. It was only during the 1870s, due to a variety of factors, that demand for the woven shawls began to wane.

Paisley pattern cravat and silk pocket square

A silk paisley scarf (or perhaps a pocket square?) and a paisley cravat that belonged to my English grandfather

At the height of their popularity, Queen Victoria herself is reputed to have ordered several Paisley shawls.  The pattern itself retained its appeal, attracting designers aligned with artsy and bohemian circles in Britain into the 20th Century.

Rather surprisingly, paisley became a classic standard in mainstream gentlemen’s apparel,  especially for ties, cravats, pocket squares and dressing gowns, and worn even by conservative dressers such as my grandfather, father and father-in-law.

Paisley border on block-printed fabric

A section of the border with paisley motifs on a block-printed Indian cotton fabric

Paisley patterning continues to be prevalent in fabrics and carpets produced in parts of the Middle East and South East Asia, and it remains popular in the West. After having had a resurgence in the hippie and psychedelic era of the 1960s and the 1970s, it continues to feature in rock n roll culture, for example with the late Prince not only wearing elaborate paisley patterned jackets but also naming his recording studio Paisley Park.

Paisley pattern on block-printed cotton textile

This block-printed Indian cloth is a favourite of mine. It has been used as a curtain and as a bed cover, but as the cotton has become faded and ripe it is now folded on the seat of a chair favoured by cats

Paisley pattern on cravat, silk pocket square and block-printed cotten

There is something about the paisley pattern that embodies a sumptuousness that is attainable even for those of us on a modest budget and it maintains a hard-to-define mystique. Even the cravat-wearing whisky drinking gents of the 1950s did not dim its exotic allure

Shadow of fern leaf on porcelain pot

 While photographing my paisley fabrics outside in the late-afternoon sunshine, I turned around to see this shadow of a fern on an old cracked porcelain pot. If the shadow pattern is not suggestive of paisley perhaps it is of brocade? That nature inspires design is clear either way

Dry leaf skeletons as inspiration for paisley pattern

Sources: Andrews, Meg. [n.d.]. Beyond the Fringe: Shawls of Paisley Design. Victoriana Magazine.; Baker, Lindsay. 2017. Paisley: The story of a classic Bohemian print.; Eduljee, K.E. 2017. Zoroastrian Heritage. Boteh.; Wikipedia. 2019. Paisley (design).

Posted by Carol

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