Scottish Textiles

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Session Chair: Viccy Coltman

Rosie Waine (National Museums Scotland) 

Re-thinking the childhood experience of Highland dress: An object lesson from National Museums Scotland

The vogue for British boys and girls to adopt ‘Scotch suits’ and plaid frocks during the reign of Queen Victoria has come to dominate our understanding of Highland dress and the child. Historians of children’s clothing have hitherto viewed the rise of formal Highland dress for boys as a largely English phenomenon, with the height of its commercial popularity firmly situated in the later decades of the nineteenth century (Clare Rose: 2010). This Anglocentric perspective, while invaluable in many respects, fails to fully acknowledge or suitably contextualise the origins of formal Highland dress for children within early modern Scottish culture and society. The field of Highland dress scholarship is little better in this regard, for while it embraces a broader chronological and geographical scope, the discourse has traditionally centred on the experiences of adult wearers and of aristocratic men in particular.

Taking the form of an object lesson, this paper addresses such absences and assumptions in the existing literature by exploring the physical construction and cultural context of an early nineteenth-century kilt-dress in the collection of National Museums Scotland. As the earliest known example of its kind in public ownership (c.1815-20), this garment offers a unique material culture perspective on how the individual needs of young children were accommodated during the Highland dress ‘revival’ of the late Georgian era. This was a pivotal period for Highland dress, a time which saw the garb transformed into the national costume of all Scots – great and small.  

Suchitra Choudhury (Paisley Museum, V&A, University of Glasgow) 

Shawls: Fashion, Literature and the British Empire

Indian shawls were costly accessories in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Britain; what became known as Paisley shawls were their cheaper and affordable copies manufactured in Edinburgh, Norwich, and most famously, Paisley. Shawls have been a fairly staple subject in textile history, in which scholars such as John Irwin, Valerie Reilly and Pamela Clabburn discuss historical materials and designs. However, despite the fact that references to the shawl inundate imaginative literature of the long nineteenth century, it has enjoyed no such prominence in critical studies.

I propose a new cultural history of the Paisley shawl, focusing on their representation in literature. Contoured by Viccy Coltman’s recent highlight of the Scottish object in art history and material culture in Art and Identity in Scotland (2019) in particular, I seek to discuss the shawl and its association with Britain's nineteenth-century empire in India. The paper will also discuss Walter Scott, who viewed the Paisley shawl within a celebratory narrative of imperialism and industry.