Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society  |  April 27, 2015

Conserving Evidence of Wear to a Glasgow Shawl

This, my first blog for the Costume Society, is a snapshot into the world of a trainee textile conservator.  The shawl in question has been the conservation project of myself and a second student for the past five weeks.  Having allocated ourselves in excess of one hundred hours treatment time for its preservation, I now feel uniquely placed to report back some object insight gained during this period.

The Glasgow and Paisley area has a rich history of woven and printed shawl production dating back to the late 18th century.  As a student at The Centre for Textile Conservation, based just down the road from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, and stumbling distance from an excellent array of local auctions, it felt only a matter of time before one such example landed on my desk.  The cardboard shoe box, labelled ‘Glasgow Shawl’, was rather disappointing on first glance revealing only a greying, rather over-stuffed pillowcase.  Hidden within this unprepossessing bundle was an enormous shawl which, at 3.3 x1.7m, covered the entire table top and most of the conservation lab. 

Woven from a fine silk, this shawl was block printed at a forty-five degree angle, with a separately printed border of paisley inspired foliate repeats.  Registration marks in the printing indicate the size and angle of each block, acting as testament to the skill of the printer in matching the pattern.  The piece exhibits rounded lower corners; correspondence with the curator of textiles at Paisley Museum revealed that the ‘Glasgow Shawl’ box label was, in fact, in reference to this style (slightly rarer than its rectangular counterpart), rather than indicating its place of production. 

The shawl weaving and shawl printing industries developed in the South West of Scotland simultaneously, yet independently, both flourishing in tandem with the local dyeing industry.  Woven shawls were produced to imitate Kashmirs imported from India at a reduced cost, while fine printed silks, inspired by Indian design, were extremely prized and intended as glamorous evening attire for the upper classes.(1) The size of the piece indicates that it dates to the mid-nineteenth century when shawl size expanded to accommodate a hoopskirt.  The fashion did not last, for the advent of the bustle later in the century put an end to the Paisley shawl, which, in combination, gave its wearer a rather odd silhouette.

The shawl is a gauze weave; pairs of warps twist over each weft imparting strength to a fine fabric. Sadly, this strength-giving method of production is intrinsically linked to the shawl’s pattern of deterioration.  The warps, being finer, more twisted and further apart than the wefts, are inherently weaker and splitting in numerous places where they have been put under tension.  Splitting is predominantly located around the neck of the wearer and to the right side of the shawl, perhaps indicating that the piece was continually worn, tied or tensioned in a particular fashion.  The conservation strategy for this piece was devised with consideration to both the object’s condition and its intended future use as a study object.  New silk habutai has been dyed to match five of the colours and patches have been inserted to the reverse of the textile, secured with laid thread couching.  This treatment will visually infill loss to the front to create a coherent image and, more importantly, support the textile for regular unrolling and re-rolling. 

To this day, very little has been published on nineteenth century production of printed silk gauzes in the Glasgow and Paisley area.  It is my hope that, with this object now robust enough to withstand interrogation, the time has come to pursue further the connection between the weaving and printing industries in the area.

Jamie Robinson, Costume Society Ambassador 2015


1) Dorothy Whyte, “Paisley Shawls, and Others,” Costume 4 (1970): 35.

Futher reading:

1 Sinclair, Roy. “Textile Dyeing in Paisley 1800-1840.” Renfrewshire Local History Forum Journal 14: 1-6. Accessed March 14, 2015.
2 Hunter, Jim. “The Paisley Textile Industry, 1695-1830.” Costume 10 (1976): 1-15.
3 Reilly, Valerie. The Official Illustrated History: The Paisley Pattern. Glasgow: Richard Drew Publishing Ltd., 1987.

  • Shawl During Conservation Treatment © Jamie Robinson
  • Detail Showing Splits to the Shawl Before Treatment © Jamie Robinson
  • Design for a Printed Paisley Shawl, 1850 © Glasgow School of Art Archives