What Is a Paisley Design?


Paisley is among the most distinctive pattern designs but also one of the hardest to describe. Often there is no discernible pattern, as there is in stripes or checks. Paisley designs come in all color combinations and print sizes. The unifying factor in a paisley design is the presence of the signature paisley motif, a quirky, sort-of curvy doo-dad that is head-over-heels as often as not.


  • The Scottish town of Paisley is home to textile mills which have produced exports since the 18th century. Paisley gained renown in the 19th century for its distinctively patterned wool shawls. Over the years, the shawl pattern became synonymous with the name of the town.


  • The paisley pattern or design consists of variations on a curvy motif which resembles a bent drop of water, similar to the shape of a half of a Yin-Yang symbol. The pattern repeats the motif in a seemingly random fashion, adding dots and feathered lines for a swirly, colorful paisley design.


  • Paisley patterned shawls were in vogue for nearly 100 years, from approximately 1780 to 1870. Not only were they woven in Paisley, Scotland, but weavers and fabric printing factories in Kashmir, Persia, India, Russia, U.S., France, Austria and England produced popular paisley fabrics. Historians generally credit designers in the Indian city of Kashmir with the original evolution of the paisley design, gradually stylizing what was once a botanical depiction of a single flowering plant into a cone-shaped motif called a "boteh" or the Paisley pine. Designers then curved and stylized the boteh further until in the 18th century it had become an elongated curve. Historians compare the boteh to the ancient Babylonian tear-drop shaped symbol of a date palm shoot.


  • Long before the industrialized mills of Paisley began cranking out wool and silk shawls, Kashmir artisans were weaving their shawls in paisley designs with soft Himalayan goat fibers. Until around 1850, weavers created Kashmir shawls one at a time on hand-operated looms. In 1805, hand weavers in Paisley started creating Kashmir shawl imitations, and could copy the latest Kashmir imports in only a few days for a fraction of the cost. When the industrial revolution arrived in Paisley, around 1820, mill workers were able to produce paisley shawls even faster and more cheaply for domestic customers, and this ability contributed greatly to the popularity of both the design and the concept.

Famous Ties

  • The paisley design has ties to the psychedelic 1960s. In 1967 John Lennon commissioned a makeover for his Rolls Royce, hiring artists at British coachworks company J.P. Fallon Limited to paint it all-over psychedelic, a design that incorporated some paisley motifs.

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  • Photo Credit accent chair image by James Phelps from Fotolia.com yin yang image by mercedes navarro from Fotolia.com
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