We started at the Paisley Abbey which dominates the center of town. Robin Craig and James Wardrop guided our groups through the Abbey. St. Murrin founded a church on this site in the 6th century. In 1180, thirteen monks from the monastic order from Cluny, France, arrived to start the monestary. The weaving trade in Paisley developed to provide fabric for the monestary. The 12th century abbey has a medieval nave from the time of the founders.
After the Reformation in the 1500's, the monestary disbanded in 1560. The central tower of the abbey collapsed in the same century. Restoration started in the 19th century and continues into the 21st century with the recent refurbishing of the organ. The abbey also houses a 10th century stone carved Barochen cross which used to stand in a field near the town, carvings of 16 different monks faces tucked into various niches in the Abbey and stunning stained glass windows. Two queens and one king are buried in the church including the Royal Tombs of Marjory Bruce, the daughter of Robert the Bruce, and King James III. The Abbey is known as the “Cradle of the Stewart Kings” of which the current queen of England can trace her lineage. www.paisleyabbey.org.uk/
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 just retired curator, Valerie Reilly, graciously came back to gave us a powerpoint lecture of the history of the Paisley shawl. From the design's origins in Babylon where it was a fertility symbol, 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, Napoleon'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. Here is a "kirking" shawl that women would wear to church the first Sunday after the birth of a child. 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. www.paisley.org.uk/attractions/museum.php
Dan Coughlin is now not only the head weaver, but the shawl curator at the museum. Part of his job is to research and rebuild the equipment and examples of looms used in the shawl industry. He also teaches weaving classes 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 cottages sit on Shuttle Street.
In 1704 the weavers union started. The union watched out for the weavers. If trade was bad and the weaving was scarce, they gave the weaver 10 pounds cash and sent them off to America. One such weaver who came to America from Paisley was Alexander Wilson. He went onto to become a leading ornathologist, poet, and president of Princeton University.
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."
Ellen Farmer, president of the society and her group of volunteers do a smashing job of keeping the story of Sma Shot alive. http://www.smashot.co.uk/
When you step outside the cottages, you can see the parish church where John Witherspoon preached. Witherspoon emmigrated to America and was the only Scot and the only minister to sign The Declaration of Independence.
My camera was quite keen on picture taking at Sma Shot, so below is a flurry of shots from our visit.
a) the paisley pattern shaped herb garden in the Sma Shot courtyard
b) Mary H., Judy L. and Nickie W. enjoying the gift shop
c) Jere L. wrapped up in 150 year old paisley shawl
d) Wallie W. emerging from the cottage
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 for lovingly sharing the history of the thread mill industry with us.
Here is Eleanor standing here by a crocheted wedding dress. When one of the last of the functioning mills was closed, the mill was stripped of equipment for scrap. This dress was found some years later in a bin that had not gone to the smelters. It was crocheted with Anchor thread by an unknown mill worker and only recently donated to the museum.
http://www.paisleythread.org/ The thread mill's website is currently offline but here is the cities' link to the mill www.paisley.org.uk/attractions/paisley_thread_mill_museum.php