French Kashmir shawl from the 1830s

Gallery of my shawl
Gallery of my shawl

In July, I wrote about my antique “paisley shawl” that I bought in Edinburgh. I was trying to figure out when and where it was made? I had spent time in the library and read all I could find, and I had narrowed it down to a European-made shawl from the early 1800s.

Who could shed some light on it? Any “paisley shawl” experts?

I googled something like “US expert paisley shawl” and found Dr Joan Hart, a textile specialist and art historian who specializes in Kashmir and paisley shawls. Contacting her led to a wonderful exchange of emails and some very definite answers, for which I am very grateful – thank you!

Even though I bought the shawl in Edinburgh, it is French, and probably made in the 1830s. It is very fine early jacquard weave (not woven on a drawloom). I also received some great advice on how to wash and mend the shawl.

Excited about knowing that the shawl was French, I continued looking for pictures of similar French shawls. The closest one I found was a French, wool and silk jacquard shawl from around 1830. The picture is included in The Kashmiri Shawl by Sherry Rehman and Naheed Jafri. The design has many similarities and the color in the weft seem to be exactly the same as in my shawl. The width is also the same. According to the authors, ”the delicate fronds that creep upwards on to the small, plain cream section is a motif that came into European shawls around the 1830s.”

I also purchased a used copy of a beautiful book by Monique Levi-Strauss: Cashmere – A French Passion 1800-1880. Besides being stunningly beautiful, it is a fascinating read about the history and designers of French Kashmir shawls.

Verification des Cachemires
Verification des Cachemires

Where do I go next? I would love to know who actually designed and produced these shawls – maybe a research trip to France 🙂 ? The French have always been scrutinizing their Kashmir shawls – and finding cotton fibers among the silk and wool fibers must have been scandalous!

But what about the shawl Kerstin and I got from our aunt Eva – a reversible square paisley shawl. I asked Dr. Hart about that one as well. It turned out to be Scottish and from the 1850s or slightly later. There is a photo of a similar shawl in Frank Ames book: The Kashmir Shawl.

This has been an interesting and inspiring side-trip to Augusta’s Journey. I have discovered a whole new world of beautiful textiles that I knew nothing about before. But then, I have always liked scenic byways.

The First Train Ride

The Railroad to Berlin
The Railroad to Berlin

After having spent a week in Lübeck, Augusta and her mother leave for Berlin. The weather is rather miserable but they enjoy passing the “enchanting” little town of Ratzeburg. After Ratzeburg, the landscape is flat and infertile, but the scenery is not important to Augusta – she is excited about getting to Schwarzenbek where the railroad starts.

There were no railroads in Sweden in 1847 (the first local railroads opened in 1856 – after Augusta’s life time – and the railroad from Stockholm to Göteborg didn’t open until 1862).

I can almost envision Augusta and her mother when they finally are about to board the train – the novel and controversial mode of transportation. Augusta is waiting to step up into the train compartment, following her mother. Her mother’s wide dress fills the entire entrance to the compartment. When it is Augusta’s turn to step up, she gathers her skirt with her left hand. In her right hand, she is carrying a fashionable little reticule, a rolled-up travel blanket, and a parasol. The rest of the luggage has been left with the porters.

Now she will get to see the interior of a train car; this is what she has been looking forward to – and to experience the dizzying speed of a train ride. She is almost overwhelmed by what she sees and wonders how she will describe this luxury to her friends back home. She will not have a chance to write it down in her small diary until they have arrived at Hotel de Rome in Berlin and she has a desk to write on.

”Quite curious whether the journey in the so highly praised steam cars would please me, I waited with the utmost impatience for the train, which soon arrived. The first entrance in the wagon pleased me immensely. One was by Monsieur le Conducteur locked in a small delightful cabinet, with a ceiling lamp and four stuffed sofas, two and two against each other. The train started and I felt like I was flying through the air. In the distance, however, one could see the objects one passed, but as the whole of the Prussian countryside was ugly, I did not pay any attention to the scenery but instead conversed with my neighbors who, with the usual German talkativeness, informed us of everything we wanted to know for our stay in Berlin.”

Maybe the compartment looked like the one in Abraham Soloman’s 1854 controversial painting of flirtation in a first-class cabin while the girl’s father is asleep.

Abraham Soloman. First Class - The Meeting (original version) 1854
Abraham Soloman. First Class – The Meeting (original version) 1854

Soloman then re-painted the scene according to Victorian morals – now with the young man talking to the father.

Abraham Solomon (1824-1862) First Class - The Meeting (Revised Version)
Abraham Solomon (1824-1862) First Class – The Meeting (Revised Version)

Or maybe the compartment looked like the one in August Leopold Egg’s 1862 famous painting: The Travelling Companions.

The Travelling Companions
The Travelling Companions 1862

Now Kerstin and I are planning our travels by train through Germany. Hopefully the compartments will be just as cozy and the trains alot faster.