The 14th Challenge in the Historical Sew Fortnightly 2014, due Friday the 1st of August is Paisley & Plaid.
This challenge is all about pattern, and all about contrasts and similarities. Paisley and plaid are quite interesting as patterns, because both patterns are instantly recognizable: the only patterns that are more easily named and identified are spots and stripes. Both patterns come in thousands of interpretations and variants. One is quite recent, and the other is a very ancient. Both are strongly associated with specific cultures, though our cultural associations for each pattern are, in many ways entirely inaccurate.
Plaid (or tartan or check, depending on where you are from in the world and how you define it) is one of the most ancient textile patterns. In fact, it is the most ancient known textile pattern. The oldest textile fragments that definitively have a pattern are woven in a checked plaid pattern. When most people hear plaid they think of Scotland, but in fact almost every culture in the world that has woven fabric has used the plaid/check design. There are pre-Columbian plaid fragments from South America, and checked cloth from Bronze age tombs in China. Bog mummies in Northern Europe were interred in plaid garments, and Egyptian tomb walls depict foreigners in boldly plaid tunics. Variations of plaids and checks have been used around the world in every century.
Paisley, on the other hand, is quite a recent pattern, at least in Western design. While swirls are a common motif, the boteh (as the paisley motif is properly known) wasn’t introduced to the West until the 18th century. Paisley is often thought of as an Indian motif (and the name paisley comes from a town in Scotland where what were essentially ‘knock-off’ boteh patterned products were made) but it probably originates in Iran. The motif as we know it today, however, was actually hugely influenced by Western aesthetics and demands for more exotic prints in the 19th century. In order to please Western consumers, it became longer, more twisted and sinuous.
I personally love both paisley and plaid, for their aesthetic, for their interesting histories, and perhaps just a little out of sheer contrariness, because they both have a reputation for being a bit bad taste (there is even a book called ‘Paisley Goes with Nothing’)!
Could there possibly be anything better than 18th century plaid shoes?
This particular ensemble didn’t do very well as a ‘Rate the Dress’, but I personally think it is rather fabulous:
And of course, you all know I love Regency kashmiri shawl gowns:
For something lovely and simple, what about this adorable bag (which is actually incredibly elaborate crochet):
I know you’ve seen this before (and I’ve even reproduced it!) but I’m going to include this because I love it SO MUCH and I feel the need to continue showing it for every possible challenge that it would qualify for!
This 1870s plaid gown just makes me swoon with the deliciousness of it. It’s very high on my to-make list!
OK, I’ll confess. I like this one just because it is so hilariously, awesomely bad, and because the paisley motif is so unusual in its execution (and thank goodness for that!)
On a more subtle note, the 1910s aren’t usually an era we associate with paisley, but this evening dress is rather sublime:
I absolutely adore this ‘teens plaid dress. The way the pattern plays with the fabric grainlines is so cunning.
And how chic is this plaid parasol?