[Rock and Roll Rachel B Tana Lawn from the 2011 New Season Liberty Art Fabrics collection. Image via Liberty London.]
For me, rich color is one of paisley's major draws, so, when I first flipped through my vintage find -- a copy of V & A curator John Irwin's The Kashmir Shawl published in the early 1970s -- I was disappointed by the small number of color illustrations.
But soon I noticed that all the black and white was causing me to focus on the incredible lines. Just to recap, the leaf-like or stylized teardrop now universally referred to as paisley is actually a "boteh" or "buta" in Kashmir, India, literally meaning flower. Irwin says that the floral motif became harder and formally stylized in the mid-18th century, and westerners eventually dubbed the design "cone" or "pine". Paisley later became part of the vocabulary when wool shawls crafted in Paisley, Scotland (close copies of Kashmir patterns) took off.
Irwin also explains that the cone (boteh) became increasingly abstract and elongated over time. By the mid-to-late-19th century it morphed into a "scroll-like unit as part of a complicated over-all pattern" with much of the textile's background color obscured.
To experience the fine details of these early drawings and photos of textiles, and to read the captions, please click the images and zoom in.