Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 2 Paisley

Wednesday 22 April. We started at the Paisley City Museum. This is a free museum and the oldest municipal museum in Scotland. It houses one of the best collections of Paisley shawls in the world. The collection curator, Valerie Reilly, gave us a detailed talk and slide presentation of the history of the Paisley shawl from the design's origins in Babylon where it was a fertility symbol, how it spread to the Kashmir region of India, and then finally to Europe. The East India company started importing them to Europe in 1780.

Originally the shawls coming from Kashmir were made of pashmina goat fiber that was collected from bushes where the goats would rub it off. These shawls were woven on simple wooden looms and took months to weave. The limited source of the fiber and the time it took to weave these shawls in Kashmir made them very expensive. Josephine, Napolean's wife, had 200 shawls in her wardrobe. By the late 1700's the shawls were being produced in Edinburgh, Norwich, France, Russia and Paisley on draw looms. Paisley had highly skilled weavers who had previously woven linen.

The town of Paisley in the height of popularity of the Paisley shawls around 1840, had thousands of weavers making these wonderful cloths, then on the Jacquard loom. An elaborate paisley design could take 484,000 pattern cards to produce it. But the weavers had to be accurate in their weaving, so that by the time they had woven an entire shawl pattern, they were within 1/4" of the required length.

The paisley pattern changed throughout the 100 years the shawls were in fashion The designs became more elongated in the Victorian era. The size of the shawls also changed as women's fashion changed. In the 1850's, the shawls were woven 5' 6" x 11' so they could be folded and used like a coat to fit over crinoline skirts. When the bustle came into fashion 1865-1870, this was the death of the paisley shawl as the shawls didn't work with the protruding bustle shape. Some Paisley weavers found work into the early 20th centuries when “fur shawls” enjoyed a period of fashion popularity.

Dan Coughlin is far more than the weaver at the museum. Part of hisjob is to research the equipment used in the shawl industry. He also teaches weaving classes on Fridays at the museum. Dan showed us pattern books and explained the process from designing to weaving. At the peak of the Paisley shawl industry there were 10,000 weavers working in their homes and perhaps 20,000 more people supporting the trade. The fine threads, 80 to 120 ends per inch in paisley shawls and the exacting weaving specifications meant the Paisley weavers were highly skilled. Dan has rebuilt several jacquard looms back to working condition in the weaving studio at the museum. He made a shuttle box that holds 10 shuttles for one of the looms. Paisley is the only place he found that shuttle boxes this large were used on the looms. He is currently building a draw loom and turning 200, 3/16” thick pulleys for it. His next project is designing a beaming frame. Here Dan is showing how the pattern cards were punched for the Jacquard looms that wove the shawls. Once the weaving industry died, most of the looms were turned into firewood. But with Dan’s passion, skill, and dedication, he is bringing the history of the weaving equipment and the art of weaving back to Paisley. Nowadays, people can weave for enjoyment, unlike the past where the weaver was the loom’s slave. One journal of a weaver of Paisley reads “I’m glad to be free of the four posts of misery.”

Sma Shot Cottages are just down the road. The name Sma Shot comes from the binding weft thread that was thrown every 7th pick to hold the rest of weft threads in place in the paisley fabric. A society has resurrected and preserved one of the weavers cottages from the era when linen was woven Paisley, (1700's) and then other rooms depicting life in later years.

The men were the weavers, but there were many other jobs associated with making the shawls including designers, beamers, warpers, washers, steam pressers, stenters, fringers, and then the marketers. The weaver took an oath to eat his shuttle rather than give away trade secrets. Thus the shield for the weaver's trade has 3 tabby cats on it with shuttles in their mouths. Their motto was "Weave Truth with Trust" The first Saturday of July, is "Sma Shot Day", still celebrated. This commemorates the day in 1856 when the weavers won the case to be paid for the yarn used to weave the "sma shot."

Here is a shot of the group in the courtyard garden at Sma Shot. Dan came down to the weaver's cottage to demonstrate weaving on a countermarche loom he has set up. Here he is flanked by 3 of my female travelers. Once in a while there is a perk to being a weaver!

We always enjoy a nice lunch complete with clootie dumplings at Sma Shot. Ellen Farmer, president of the society and her group of volunteers do a smashing job of keeping the story of Sma Shot alive. We thank the following dedicated volunteers: Joanie Taylor, Jenny Kemp, Sandra Hurst, Di Adam, Anne Milne, Douglas Gillepsie, Margaret Devlin, Agnes Maclean, Elinor Robinson, Mary Reed, Cathy Wier, and custodian Angela Gillespie.

The Thread Mill museum tells the story of the huge thread industry in Paisley that shut the last door in 1992. The Coats and Clark Company which was a combination of the Anchor Thread Mill and the Ferguslie Thread Mill, at one time produced 90% of all the thread made in the world. 10,000 workers were employed in the mills. To allow mothers to work, there was a twilight shift from 5:00-9:00 pm. The cases display mile reels of thread, posters, memorabilia from mill workers, and now all the photographs have been digitalized and are displayed on a large plasma screen. Most of the volunteers who run this museum worked in one of the mills. We thank Eleanor, the leader of the volunteers and Nessie, one of our guides for lovingly sharing the history of the thread mill industry with us.

Paisley Abbey dominates the center of town. 13 monks from the monastic order from Cluny, France, founded the monestary. The 12th century abbey has a medieval nave. The monestary was disbanded in 1560 and the central tower of the abbey collapsed in the same century. Restoration started in the 19th century and continued into the 20th century and even now. This week the pipe organ will be removed for restoration. Since we couldn’t hear the organ, I asked permission to sing a bit of Handel. I love the acoustics of fine old buildings like this. The stained glass windows all have interesting stories, described in a pamphlet available at the entry. The abbey also houses Royal Tombs including Marjory Bruce, the daughter of Robert the Bruce and King James III. The Abbey is known as the “Cradle of the Stewart Kings.” We couldn’t stop exclaiming at the magnificent beauty of the flowering cherry trees in bloom on the Abbey grounds.

Part of the group traveled to Edinburgh tonight to hear a fiddle legend, Frankie Gavin, of Ireland. The Edinburgh Folk Club presents live music every Wednesday night at the Pleasance Bar. For anyone traveling to Scotland, be aware that many towns have folk clubs with weekly gatherings for singing, playing, or performances. Here is where the real music can be heard. Foot Stompin has an excellent website that list folk clubs and a concert calendar that lists performances to be found all over Scotland.

I’ve heard many fiddle players. Frankie is certainly the one with the fastest fingers!I wished for my metronome to see just how fast he was playing some of the reels.He played tunes on both the viola and the violin. It is not a common thing to hear celtic tunes played on the lower pitched viola. He was accompanied by a very creative, improvisational guitar player, Mike Galvin. To attest to Frankie’s genius status, the audience included some of the top musicians in Scotland including lads from Battlefield Band and Boys of the Lough. Look for video that Paul and I shot on YouTube later this spring. Frankie’s friend noticed us shooting some sets from our primo front row seats and requested footage!

No comments: