The Complex History Of The Paisley Shawl Motif | TCG London

The Complex History Of The Paisley Shawl Motif | TCG London

Even compared to other types of garment, cashmere clothing has a somewhat fascinating history, one that has shaped two regions that would otherwise be completely different to each other.

Both of these areas, one a mountainous region deep in the Himalayas and Scotland’s largest town known for its complex and elaborate textile industry, are both connected to each other by one symbol that has endured for thousands of years.

From a religious symbol of eternal life to an icon of 1960s psychedelia, the story of Boteh Jehgeh, or the teardrop paisley motif, is a rich tapestry of multiple different stories.


Ancient Motif

It is telling that the history of the motif is so complex, but the motif is believed to have originated from one of two points.

The first is from the Sassanid Dynasty in Persia, located in modern-day Iran, at some point between 224AD and 651AD.

Their official religion was Zoroastrianism, and one of the most important symbols in that religion was the cypress tree, with some examples of Boteh Jehgeh resembling the leaves of the cypress tree, which was a symbol of strength, resilience and modesty.

Other theories have suggested the teardrop is the flame-like plumage of a Simurgh, a phoenix-like mythical creature who was the imperial emblem of the Sassanid Empire.

Irrespective of the origins, the symbol was used primarily as a design on royal clothing, crowns and shawls worn in the royal courts, before becoming a much more widely used pattern which can still be regularly seen in Iran and Uzbekistan.

So how did this pattern become so associated with a town in Scotland that its western name is derived from it?


From The Mountains To The Lowlands

It is known that by the 15th century, shawls and other pieces of clothing with the Boteh Jehgeh were being traded across the Silk Road, with Greek and Egyptian buyers of the fabric, but it would be in the early 19th century when it would make a big impact.

The identity of the first person to bring Boteh to Britain is not entirely clear but is believed to be the explorer William Moorcroft, who at the time was employed at the East India Company as a veterinarian.

Despite the chagrin of his employers, Mr Moorcroft loved exploring, ostensibly to find better horses, and would first get his hands on cashmere in 1812 on an expedition to Tibet.

Either here or on his later and much larger expedition that took him through Kashmir, he found and fell in love with the Boteh design, to the point that he tried to make arrangements to take families of textile workers to the United Kingdom to take advantage of larger and more industrial means of production.

Ultimately, whilst the Paisley design is associated with cashmere now, early imitation shawls, later known as the paisley shawls, were actually made of much thicker and warmer fleece, and the design would alter and shift over the years as it became more popular.

It would have a somewhat unexpected revival in the 1960s as a symbol of psychedelia, especially in popular pop and rock music of the time. This reached a point where Fender Guitars would produce several guitars with the paisley print, and it can still be found to this day in a lot of different garments.