Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Textiles as Primary Sources: Proceedings of the First Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Minneapolis Institute of Art, September 16-18, 1988


Copyright © 1988 by the author(s).


The 19th century witnessed the development of considerable piecework in the manufacture of twill tapestry shawls in both Kashmir and Persia. Modes of construction parallel so closely as to be indistinguishable. This is not surprising considering the centuries-long lively cultural intercourse between the two areas and especially their exchange of designs, weavers and textile technology. In both regions piecework was a response to pressure for faster production, the culmination of a gradual shift from atelier weaving toward a mass market.

Among construction modes, the weaving and subsequent assembly of many rectilinear shapes is to be found especially among long shawls. No. 1 shows a piecing diagram for half the field of one such long shawl Dark wavy lines that divide the figure into thirds represent selvedges. These selvedged strips are further divided by horizontal dashed lines that represent seams uniting rectangular shapes that carry the design. The gray area shows a black plain twill insert, pieced as indicated by dotted cross lines. That this mode of construction is not unique may be observed from various published photographs of other long shawls. (E.g., Irwin 1973,P1.39 and Yale 1975 P1.19, both Kashmir shawls.)

The point in dispersion of shawl weaving into many parts each woven by a single man was to allow each weaver to virtually memorize a small portion of the design so that he need not wait for nor even attend instruction by the color-calling guru, but could rapidly proceed as fast as he was able. The 40 cm selvedged width is about right for a single tapestry weaver to control efficiently.

A second mode of construction involves a more complex piecing of triangular as well as rectilinear shapes and a mixture of four standard directions in which warps might be placed; i.e. vertical, horizontal, and the two 45° diagonals. The full, half, and quarter moon parts of No. 2 may be regarded as a development from the multi-moon square shawl. Its piecing diagram. No. 3, though not filled in completely for clarity's sake, rightfully extends identically over the entire shawl. Observe in the lower right-hand section the composite squares from which the field doubtless was finally assembled. Controlling tension in lesser sections first, helped completion of a shawl that would lie flat without bulging, a difficult feat with so many bias seams. Warp directions of the multitude of small pieces all lie in one of four axes, with the exception only of the domes that line the central moon.