The paisley motif resembling a curved tear-drop has long and varied history. It has
found itself adorning Scottish shawls imported from Kashmir during the Mughal rule,
Franco-Prussian war, and swinging sixties. Its origins can be traced back to Celtic
tradition used on highly decorated metal objects. In contemporary culture it has
found itself embellished, embroidered, and hand-coven on variety of handlooms from
sarees to home furnishings. Read more to understand the journey of the famed
paisley motif through centuries.
Paisley, as defined by the New Oxford Dictionary, is & a distinctive
intricate pattern of curved, feather-shaped figures based on a pine cone
design from India'. Historically the symbol was called boteh - the Persian
word for shrub or cluster of leaves. Visually it is a combination of a spray
of floral elements and a cypress tree. Centuries later the shape was
called Buta almond or bud. Design experts and historians have studied
origins of the motif and research shows it has a long and varied history.
One view claims that present day Iraq might be a place of origin of the
paisley form possibly dating back to 1700BCE. Another opinion,
expressed by Sam Willis in the 2016 BBC TV series ‘The Silk Road’, is
that the symbol originated from the city of Yazd in Iran. Also, the paisley
shape, believe experts, could be an adaptation of the yin-yang symbol
used in ancient Chinese medicine and philosophy.
Its roots can also be traced back to Celtic tradition. Celtic patterns were
used on several highly-decorated metal objects before the influence of
Romans on Britain. The Desborough Mirror, discovered at an
archaeological excavation in Northamptonshire in 1908, was made in the
Iron Age period in Britain around 50BC to AD50. Complex swirling
symbols, engraved on this mirror, closely resemble the paisley motif.
Another example is the ‘Wandsworth Shield’. This Iron Age bronze
shield, made in Britain around 200BC, has a curvilinear decoration of
two birds with feathers resembling paisley shapes.
During the 19 th century paisley motifs began to dominate textile design
across the world. As Mughal influence on provincial taste declined in the
18 th century the elegant silhouette of the Mughal flowering plant changed
mostly found on tapestry patterned shawls from Kashmir. The paisley
pattern evolved mainly in The Kingdom of Kashmir. During Mughal
Emperor Akbar's reign (1556–1605), shawl-weaving production had
increased substantially. The paisley motif depicted on these early shawls
were in the form of a curving flower with leaves and a stem, the roots of
which have striking similarities to Chinese calligraphy.
The motif as depicted by a plant was transformed into a baroque floral
bouquet compressed into a pear -shaped form, its tip deflected to the left
or right. This motif came to be known in India by different names across
decorative media and places of manufacture: ambi or kairi to describe a
tightly recurved shape of an unripe mango, or as kalka or kalgi, the
plumed turban ornament commonly worn by Indian princes. Globally, the
motif became famous as paisley, after the name of a Scottish town that
began producing faux Kashmir in the 19 th century to compete with Indian
originals that dominated European fashion at the time.
Due to the huge scale of shawl production in Paisley, Scotland, the
pattern was given the name 'paisley'. It is interesting to note that the
name 'paisley' is not universally internationally - it is called palme in
France, bota in Netherlands, bootar in India and peizuli in
Japan. ‘Paisley’ is also derived from the word Passeleg which means
'basilica' indicating a major church.
19 th Century Europe saw developments in printing technology that
enabled factories to mass-produce printed paisley fabrics and cater to
worldwide demand. Though this brought about decline in demand for
woven shawls by the late 19 th century paisley designs had acquired
wider uses appearing in prints and embroideries.
However, it was not until the late 1960’s when paisleys returned to their
former glory in the fashion world. Musical and artistic influences
catapulted them back into boutiques, magazines and adorned the
hippest pop icons of the day, such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones,
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Kinks, The Who and The Small
And much later in the 2000’s, the paisley print motif has continued to live
in all its glory with designers, media, private label brands, shop windows
A prime example of this is at 2010 Winter Olympics. The Azerbaijan
team sported modern graphic colourful paisley trousers, which gave the
small team great exposure at the opening ceremony.
The 2000’s also saw designers and private label brands draw inspiration
from paisley motif. Clothing label Pretty Green launched with Liam
Gallagher in 2009 have sported paisley prints in the collection on shirts,
polos, and shoes. Catwalk collections from many major designers
including Balenciaga, Jill Sander, Jonathan Saunders and Stella
McCartney have all featured variants of the paisley motif giving them a
new lease of life.
The buta shape is the national symbol of Azerbaijan symbolizing fire
The buta form in Azerbaijan is related to the Zoroastrian religion dating back to first
Paisley is part of Renfrewshire, 1 of 32 Scottish councils; it uses the paisley
symbol as it's official logo
Paisley designs in Britain were one of the first examples of copyright
protection in creative fields dating back to the 1840’s
Carnaby Street was the place to shop for the latest paisley fashions in the
The paisley design was commonly associated with rebellion as a statement of
non-conformity -a print for the androgynous hedonistic counterculture of the
hippies in the 1960’s
In 1982, 5,000 miles away on America's west coast, a new psychedelic genre
was developing called the Paisley Underground. This neo-psychedelic
movement included the bands: The Bangles, The Dream Syndicate, Green on
Red, The Long Ryders and The Three O'Clock to name a few.
Pop icon Prince’s 1985 album 'Around the World in a Day' included the single
‘Paisley Park' and came in an organic interlocking paisley printed record
sleeve with paisley typeface.
Prince named his record label and recording studios, Paisley Park Records
and Paisley Park Studios
Read More About the Impact of Technology on Design and Motifs Here
Reference source: www.paisleypower.com/history-of-paisley/ Rapture: The Art of Indian Textiles: Rahul Jain
Shonali Advani is a trained journalist, having worked previously with leading publications such as the Economic Times and the Entrepreneur magazine. She is now a freelance writer with a keen interest in arts, culture, and heritage and brings this passion to her posts for The Registry of Sarees.