Paisley Shawls

Scope and Content

Kashmir inspired shawls produced in Edinburgh and Paisley. These include a wide range of styles such as simple Regency style oblongs to striped "Zebra" shawls and large plaids with complex allover patterns. The collection also includes some original shawls from Kashmir and India.

Administrative / Biographical History

Janet Paterson was a ceramics curator who worked for Huntley House Museum and Edinburgh College of Art. However, her main hobby was researching and collecting Kashmir inspired shawls produced in Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh shawl industry began in 1777, predating the Paisley industry by thirty years. The increased contact between Western Europe and India in the 18th century led to merchants and soldiers bringing the stunning shawls produced in Kashmir with the distinctive floral tear-drop motif back to Europe. However, these shawls were very expensive and weavers in Britain - notably Norwich and Edinburgh - began to weave their own Kashmir inspired shawls.

The industry in Edinburgh was primarily a cottage industry with weavers located in Portsburgh (West Port), Portobello and Sciennes. The Edinburgh Drawing School, a predecessor of Edinburgh College of Art, taught shawl design and Edinburgh shawls were famed for the high standard of design and weaving. However, the Edinburgh weavers could not compete with the mass production in Paisley and the last Kashmir shawl was woven in 1847 by David Sime.

Janet Paterson was one of several curators in the 1950s who felt passionately that the Edinburgh industry should not be forgotten. One problem was identifying Edinburgh shawls when the designs were not usually patented. Two distinctive characteristics are believed to have been a black line along the edge and a yellow cream colour of silk.

Several shawls were also donated by Ebeneezer Y Johnston, Chairman of the Board of Governors, Scottish College of Textiles. In addition to running his own successful mill, he collected textiles from all over the world.

Access Information

By appointment at the Scottish Borders Campus, Heriot-Watt University, Netherdale, Galashiels.

Acquisition Information

Deposited with the Scottish College of Textiles in 1972.

Other Finding Aids

Paper finding aid is available in the search room.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some shawls are very large, approximately 6 feet by 12 feet. This makes access difficult and advance notice is required for access. Some are also quite damaged and access to these may be restricted for preservation reasons. All shawls are photographed.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Helen Taylor, Archivist, Heriot-Watt University Archive, Records Management and Museum Service.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on the condition. Permission to publish material from the Archive must be sought in advance from the University Archivist. Responsibility for obtaining copyright clearance rests with the applicant.

Related Material

Paisley Museum, The Museum of Edinburgh and the Royal Museum of Scotland have Edinburgh shawls.


Helen Taylor The Edinburgh Kashmir Shawl Industry: 1777-1847. Scottish Textile Heritage Online 2002. Meta Muir. The Edinburgh Shawl in Scotland's Magazine December 1961. Meta Muir The Edinburgh Shawl and Janet Paterson "Identifying the Edinburgh Shawl" in A Century of Scottish Shawl Making. Exhibition Catalogue. Edinburgh Corporation Libraries and Museums Committee, 1962. Dorothy A Whyte and Margaret H Sawin. Edinburgh Shawls in Book of Old Edinburgh Club vol xxxi, 1962.