Author: Pamela Parmal

September is New York Textile Month! In celebration, members of the Textile Society of America will author Object of the Day for the month. A non-profit professional organization of scholars, educators, and artists in the field of textiles, TSA provides an international forum for the exchange and dissemination of information about textiles worldwide.

Indian shawls from Kashmir, with their soft hand and delicate patterns, became fashionable in Europe during the first decade of the nineteenth century. Local merchants quickly sought to capitalize on their popularity and create European-made shawls. Weavers in the British cities of London, Norwich, Edinburgh and Paisley and the French towns of Lyon, Paris and Nîmes all put draw loom weavers, who lost work due to the late-eighteenth century fashion for printed cottons and simple silk fabrics, back to work. However, the weavers faced a challenge in translating the tapestry woven designs of Indian shawls into patterns created on a draw loom. One lingering problem was how to transition from a densely patterned border to a clear light center. In Indian tapestry woven shawls, the warps were often ikat or resist-dyed before weaving to make sure that they blended in with the more predominant wefts. European weavers eventually adopted a similar method, which was developed in Nîmes where this shawl probably originated. The warp would have been laid out and the central field clamped between two plates to protect it from the dye used to color the warps found in the borders. After weaving and on careful inspection the line between the central field and the borders along the warp direction is blurred where one color transitions to another. This is common when weaving with resist-dyed warps as they tend to shift slightly on the loom.

Nîmes was quick to develop an important and influential shawl industry. An important reason for this was the town’s emphasis on providing educational opportunities for its future workers. The town opened a School of Design in 1820, which was free and the children of weavers and even adults in the industry were encouraged to attend. In 1821 classes in chemistry were added to aid in training dyers. A School of Fabrication was eventually opened in 1828 where classes in weaving, weaving theory, design and the translation to jacquard patterning were taught. Nîmes remained an important and innovation weaving center throughout much of the nineteenth century.

Pamela A. Parmal is Chair of the David and Roberta Logie Department of Textile and Fashion Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

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