The paisley is a classic symbol with a rich textile history. The motif itself has countless interpretations and iterations but at its core it is a teardrop shape based on a stylized plant or flower. It originated in Persia, appearing in art and textiles. It’s probably fair to say that almost every country has a version of the paisley in its history of art, fashion or decor. Other words used for paisley include “boteh” (Persian for flower) and “kalga” (Indian for mango).
Paisley became popular in Kashmir, India’s northernmost state and main passageway into the region for trade. In the late 17th century Kashmir shawls were woven and embroidered of fine wool and featured intricate paisley patterns. They were exported to Europe and became a fashionable and coveted item for women, as well as a symbol of wealth and luxury. Due to the high demand, a town in Scotland called Paisley began weaving the shawls, giving birth to the name for this elegant design. The invention of the jacquard loom in the early 19th century contributed to the shawls being woven more quickly and less expensively – leading to the shawls flooding the market and becoming less of a luxury item.
The current trend of bohemianism in interior design seems to have resurrected paisley in textiles, although it never really went away. Every fabric house has at least one paisley design in its collection. But current designers such as Peter Dunham,, Lisa Fine, John Robshaw and Raoul Textiles have all helped make the paisley popular again, offering a wide range of colorful and stylish versions fit for many different interiors. I think this has a lot to do with paisley’s lasting appeal; the patterns can be used for an all out bohemian look as well as a modern or more formal setting, depending on how the pattern is rendered. It can be quite relaxed or more tailored.
The look of block printed fabrics is also experiencing a renaissance in interior design – fueled by a fascination with exoticism, travel to places such as Morocco, and the “gypset” lifestyle. Block prints have a loose quality to them that is appealing and exudes romanticism. The technique of true block printing is very time intensive and exacting, with each shape being applied with a carved block hammered gently to its exact location on a bolt of fabric. The layering of colors and motifs creates a rich look that appears centuries old, and the occasional mistake only adds to the pattern’s charm.
Boho prints and paisley may be on trend right now, but the paisley symbol has been around for over 500 years. Like other exotic textiles such as suzanis, ikat, and tree of life designs, the paisley evokes a globetrotting spirit and a sense of adventure.
These images of paisley fabrics are all pieces that I’ve been collecting – they are a mix of textile fragments, scarves and pieces of vintage clothing. I find it fascinating how many variations of the paisley exist; some are quite simple and graphic while others become rather detailed with flowering centers and intricate patterns within patterns.
I thought it would be fun to look at some interiors that feature paisleys. Below are a few images that demonstrate the lasting appeal of paisley textiles through the decades.