The deep end, Part 1.

So, on with the historical costuming posts.

My first, real, completed historical outfit wasn’t actually for me surprisingly. It was a voluntary summer uni project for a museum in the Scottish Borders. Paisley in Scotland had a long, illustrious career manufacturing, you guessed it, Paisley Shawls. The Paisley Shawl is not native to Scotland however-it’s inspiration, the Kashmir Shawl was woven and worn in Kashmir and wider India for years, maybe even centuries before becoming fashionable in Western circles. The first reference of a Kashmir Shawl in Europe is from 1767, as Mrs Eliza Draper, wife of an East India Trading Company official traveled from India to London, perhaps initiating a fashion that would last decades.

The Kashmir shawl was superior in its softness of wool and level of detail and naturally, British manufacturers sought to imitate these qualities. Paisley was the most successful at this, combining modern technology to speed the process, and sending agents to report back on the latest designs arriving in London. The speed at which Paisley weavers were able to produce the product meant that the replica shawls could be on the London market in 8 days, costing a fraction of the Indian originals. This enterprise was so successful, that rapid expansion followed, and merchants even attempted to sell the Paisley made product in India. Over time the fabric was worn in a number of ways as a shawl, and even incorporated as fabrics in dressmaking. The development of the Jacquard loom in France eventually created competition in the market, forcing down prices and flooding the market with cheap product. The Paisley shawl was no longer a luxury item, from far, unknown lands-now even the lower classes could afford one.

The dress inspiration from English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century.

To celebrate Paisleys history as a manufacturer of this iconic fabric, Hawick museum in the Scottish Borders commissioned 4 period toiles from the time of the shawls popularity for their exhibition Passion for Paisley held at the end of 2016. The years we were asked to create toiles for ranged from dresses from 1810, 1827 and two dresses from 1850. Myself and one of my colleges worked on a dress from 1850, and by that point in fashion the demand for paisley shawls had turned the garment from a special occasion piece, to an everyday, domestic item-because of this I designed a relatively fashion forward day dress from the decade. Skirts grew gradually wider through the first half of the 19th century, but the crinoline doesn’t make an appearance till 1856, so the design for the garment was based then. This was primarily for ease, as both time and material was restricted, and the voluminous petticoats required to provide silhouette before the crinoline wouldn’t have been possible for our project. I should state at this point that outwardly, the project had to look accurate, but for simplicity’s sake, we were allowed to employ modern manufacturing techniques, and all garments were made in calico. The design for the piece was inspired by a fashion plate from 1852, taken from English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century  by C.Williett Cunnington, an absolutely wonderful book that I had been eager to use.

The final design.

This post has went on longer than I intended so I’ll leave the manufacturing process for the next post. The Kashmir Shawl by John Irwin and English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C. Williett Cunnington were essential in this project and I recommend them highly, even just for an interesting read. I also have to say thanks to the Historical Sew Fortnightly for all their advice for this project.



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