Pretty in Paisley

It is quite thrilling to see how the West embraced Eastern designs over the centuries with such verve! The East have had sophisticated designers, artists, musicians and craftsmen far longer than the West so when the two sides started trading the Europeans got to experience these items first hand. During the 15th to the 18th Century untold amounts of European money flowed to the East to acquire these beautiful, often rare and mystical, items. It wasn’t just food and flora, but also carpets, tapestries and textiles that flooded the homes of European royalty and elite.

During the 17th century European artists started mimicking the carpets, tapestries and even textiles, first by hand and later by machine. Even though the Eastern items were always regarded as far better quality, the newly European made items were a good second choice for most. They could mostly copy the designs, but not to the detailed extend of those made in the East, yet as time passed the Europeans improved their weaving to include better quality wool, cotton and silk as well as more colours. Over time the designs became "western" and the stories of their origins lost...

One such design that has been a Western favourite for centuries is Paisley. It was named after the town in Scotland that became most famous for producing exquisite paisley shawls. However, as with most designs, its origins lies east. One thing about the early cultures that populated the East and Middle East is that all their art had a meaning and a reference to their god/s. There is simply no design that does not correspond with a certain religion and the same with paisley.

In Iran it is called the Boteh (teardrop) and according to different accounts the Boteh has various origins. The first and most popular is that it represents the Cypress tree. In Mithraism – one of Iran’s first monotheistic religions – the Cypress tree held a great significance to Mithra. Even in the next religion, Zoroastriasm, the Cypress is regarded as holy and all tree of life motifs in Persian carpets are said to represent this tree. The second origin is that of the fig. When a fig is cut open its resemblance to paisley is uncanny and in Iran the fig is revered for its rejuvenating properties as a fruit as well as in many myths and legends. The third and probably most mystical is that it represents a pregnant womb of a mother. One can argue that the two first mentioned origins all stem from this one. It all comes down to the beautiful cycle of life creation on earth.

So next time you don your paisley shawl, shirt, skirt or jacket know you are wearing a very fashionable design with very mystical origins!