“Many of the weavers’ wives were not behind their husbands in intelligence. They were more noted, however, for sound practical sense and good household management. None of them ever aspired to be poets or politicians... They seem to have thought that one genius in a family was enough. If John ... (Show more)
“Many of the weavers’ wives were not behind their husbands in intelligence. They were more noted, however, for sound practical sense and good household management. None of them ever aspired to be poets or politicians... They seem to have thought that one genius in a family was enough. If John was to busy himself with the affairs of the nation, Jeanie must attend to the affairs of the house. The younger women found ample employment in winding the yarn, in fringing and hemming the shawls, in preparing the details of the harness, and in tambouring.”
This quote is from Paisley yarn merchant Matthew Blair’s book, The Paisley Shawl and the Men Who Produced It (1904, p. 53) – a text that celebrates (male) Paisley weavers’ poetical and political cultures and their creative “genius” in weaving the famous Paisley shawls. Despite Blair’s dismissive view of nineteenth-century women’s professional and personal aspirations, census returns, newspaper articles, and technical school minutes reveal that female textile workers did aspire to genius – in this case, to the more prestigious (and gendered male) maker/creator role of weaving the textiles. So what, specifically, prevented women from participating in this aspect of the industry in greater numbers?
This paper will investigate Paisley women’s participation in weaving fancy textiles, and the reasons that men dominated the more prestigious occupation of weaving. As I will demonstrate, more women wove than has often been portrayed in histories of Paisley’s textile industries. My paper will address a neglected population in Scottish textile history as Paisley Museum and Art Galleries (PMAG) re-opens after a four-year, £42m renovation of its facilities in 2023. It is only fitting that as the PMAG emerges as an international-class attraction, women’s history as producers as well as consumers of Paisley’s fine handwoven textiles is fully acknowledged and celebrated. (Show less)