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Shawl (tilikar)

In less than a century the shawl changed from a garment fit for a queen to a forgotten fashion, rejected even by shop girls. The earliest shawls, thought to be so fine they could be gathered and drawn through a woman’s ring, became popular around 1780. Demand for the shawls increased after a portrait of Empress Josephine (of the Napoleonic empire) achieved widespread circulation. In the portrait, she wore a white Kashmir shawl with boteh borders. Artisans began piecing the shawls from small woven sections and adding embroidered edges. With the invention of the Jacquard loom, European production was stepped up (especially in Paisley, Scotland) and shawls began to flood the market, only to fall out of favour by the 1880s.

Where was this textile created?

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The Paisley

Shawl (tilikar)
Asia: South Asia, India, Northern India, Kashmir
Mid 19th century
Goat hair, twill tapestry woven, pieced, with embroidered borders
192 cm x 190 cm
From the Opekar/Webster Collection
T94.0843 Textile Museum of Canada

Rich and dramatic patterns of motifs, known as botehs in India, swirl gracefully around a black centre in this tilikar – a twill-tapestry, woven and pieced shawl. Shawls such as this one were woven in Kashmir in the 19th century. Each corner motif has a different coloured outline so the wearer can fold the shawl to display one or another. The bright harlequin edges have been pieced and embroidered rather than woven. The embroidered mark in the centre likely identifies the workshop where it was made; however, this mark and those found on similar shawls have never been deciphered.

Pashmina shawls are descendants of the original Kashmir shawls. Today, they are available in clothing stores as prized fashion accessories. Pashminas come in a range of vibrant colours and are wonderfully soft and thin, although there is usually not a trace of pattern anywhere on their surface.

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