The recent exhibition at ULITA (University of Leads International Textile Archive) displayed and documented the Kashmir and Paisley shawls collected by Sir Michael Sadler, who was vice-chancellor at the University of Leeds from 1911 to 1923 and a champion of the Arts.
Another Stories of the World exhibition as part of the Cultural Olympiad – At Home with the World, at the Geffyre Museum in London, illustrates and documents the British admiration for objects and artefacts from all over the world. While many museums including the V&A, the Ashmolean and the Whitworth (as I mentioned in my previous post about the Cotton exhibition) have documented objects and textiles of world trade, the Geffrye Museum is the first I’ve seen to illustrate the final use of these objects at the time they were traded. A Kashmir shawl is included in the display, as shown above. I found it interesting to see these objects of trade in their final context.
Kashmir is an example of a textile that had a heavy influence on British fashion during the East India Company trade, particularly between 1790 and 1870 (see http://www.paisley.org.uk/paisley-history/paisley-pattern/). The floral teardrop motif or boteh became distinctive of the Kashmir shawl and its name derived not from its roots in Kashmir or Persia, but from the town of Paisley in Scotland, which became the epicentre for the production of imitation Kashmir shawls.
What I found most interesting about the ULITA exhibition was its presentation of the chronological development of the boteh pattern, its adaptation largely based on changing Western markets.
An accompanying caption to these displays states ‘later forms did not necessarily displace earlier types. It was often the case that the older well-used patterns out-lived the new’.
The boteh motif is elongated and stretched, and brighter colours are introduced as chemical dyes become available. Bright red is synonymous with the Scottish production of these shawls.
The motif is also widely used in textiles all over India, including Varanassi shawls and block-printed textiles.
Although the only information provided for the above image is in the caption above, this dress appears to be from Rajasthan or Gujarat and printed using natural dyes – textiles that began growing in popularity from the end of the 20th century amongst middle-class Indian markets, and Western markets who can afford these. This is evidence of a pattern and style that continues to be fashionable both at home in India and abroad, and follows a cycle of adaptation and revival, largely dependent on changing fashions and tastes and the desire for the ‘traditional’.
The influence of the boteh spreads across countries and cultures. Interestingly the new Millennium collection by Tommy Hillfiger includes similar patterns, and bears close resemblance to the patterns of the block-printed textiles of India, but are produced in Uganda, as the fashion for ‘tribal’ appears again this summer, and the need to support fair trade grows.