Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


Using six extraordinary shawls from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this presentation will explore the relationship bwtween how a shawl is made and the symmetry system used in its patterning, and briefly consider the terminology which might best express these relationships. Certain symmetry systems and styles of shawl patterning may evolve from the capabilities of particular looms. For instance, weaving on a basic Indian hand loom with the characteristic Indian shawl weave, 2/2 double-interlocked twill, is a very slow process, which encourages simple symmetry: a motif repeating exactly across the width of a textile, or straight repeat. With a draw loom, one could weave patterns in either straight or point repeat, in which the design reverses on an axis.

Technical innovations inspired by the evolution of the Jacquard loom made it possible to weave designs with only 2 large repeats. Market demands, however, often determined designs and the interaction among these factors will be examined utilizing the following: I-a classic Kashmir shawl made before 1810 and woven in one piece in 2/2 double-interlocked twill; 2-a quintessential "Kashmir" shawl from the second quarter of the 19th century, with the same weave structure but woven in sections; 3-an unusual "Kashmir" shawl dating after 1860 with an asymmetric design made possible by "patchwork" construction of myriad pieces woven in 2/2 double-interlocked twill; 4-a distinctively British drawloom-woven shawl dating c. 1830-40; 5-a superb mid-19th century Jacquard-woven French shawl with rotational symmetry; 6-a uniquely-Russian plain weave dovetailed-tapestry reversible shawl woven by serfs in the second quarter of the 19th century.