From Shawl to Scarf

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know that I’m not a fan of mindless “up-cycling.”  I didn’t arrive at that opinion quickly or lightly.  I’m a child of the 60s and 70s, and those of my generation thought we invented the re-crafting of old clothes.  Of course that was not true, no more than the DIYers of today invented the idea.

No, as long as there have been textiles, people have taken the old and tried to make it new.  Collectors of old clothes often come across garments that are reincarnations of an older item.  One favored material for such up-dating was the paisley shawl.

Shawls were popular during the age of the crinoline, the mid 1800s.  They were huge and rectangular in shape, and were used as a warm wrap over the voluminous dresses.   The very best ones were quite expensive.   After skirts began to shrink, so did the shawls.  Eventually, they became passe’.  But that did not mean that people discarded them.

I’ve seen many garments dating from the Edwardian era and the 1920s made from paisley shawls.  Many of them were cut into jackets and into robes.  Smaller pieces became handbags.  Here is an example form the 1890s.

Click to enlarge. From Handbags, by Anna Johnson

Even today, shawls are being made into new items.  A few years back, slipper-maker Stubbs and Wootton did a paisley slipper made from old shawls.

Several years ago I found what had once been a robe made from paisley.  It was missing an arm and most of one side, but the price was right – 50 cents if my memory is correct – and I knew that eventually I’d use it for something.  It was in such terrible shape that this was one piece that could be remade without guilt.  A few weeks ago it occurred to me that it would make a lovely scarf.

In order to get a good length, I had to piece the fabric.  I arranged and cut, and then resewed the paisley.

Then I had several larger holes to deal with.  I used a patch, but I’m not entirely happy with the results.  I may take off the patches and go with embroidery around each hole.

Finally, I backed the paisley with a length of black wool flannel.

To see more paisley, visit Brenna Barks’ blog, where Monica Murgia has written about an exhibition at the Allentown Art Museum.


Filed under Sewing

18 responses to “From Shawl to Scarf

  1. That’s beautiful Lizzie. And so satisfying to get use from something that isn’t worn any more. Nice job. 🙂


  2. Enjoyed seeing the paisley scarf…revived memories.
    As a teen ager in Milwaukee, in the late 40’s we used to wear the square paisley scarf on our heads like a bah bush ka (can’t spell the Russian word that means scarf…we called them Shelly print scarfs.) They were considered very cool….and were light weight wool and I remember them costing 4.98 at Gimbles. If you were lucky enough to have a US Army Parka jacket … you were even cooler. Thanks for the Memory, Lizzie.


  3. Love this~you saved a lovely design~


  4. So pretty! I love that you made the shawl useful again as a scarf! And I agree with you about the “mindless” up-cycling – unless something is damaged to prevent its continued use or seriously ugly style with wonderful fabric, don’t cut it up “just because.”


  5. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! But I am partial to a great scarf 😉 Despite the small imperfections, it looks like it’s in fantastic shape as it’s latest incarnation as a scarf. Reminds me so much of the beautiful paisley shawls and scarves at the Allentown Art Museum.


  6. Caryn

    That is an attractive scarf and a nice save of an already up-cycled piece. I was never keen on paisley until inheriting my grandmother’s Yves Saint Laurent paisley foulard shawl, which is 52″ x 52″ and receives compliments every time I wear it.

    As for the adage, “Everything old is new again”….I enjoy strolling visually through my 1949 edition of the “The New Encyclopedia of Modern Sewing”, in which smart housewives are provided measurements and diagrams on how to dress everyone in the house, including the interior of the house. I was particularly taken with the section on how to create a church suit for the little man in the family by sewing it from Dad’s business suit that was no longer appropriate for the office. Now that is proper up-cycling.


  7. petasvintageblog

    It’s just stunning x


  8. What a gorgeous piece of fabric and I love the way you’ve created something that was no longer wearable into a something new.


  9. Gorgeous! Would like to know more about why you are not always crazy about ‘upcycling’?


  10. I bought 2 of these in the 80s. They were damaged and I got them for a steal. I never intended to wear them, I just love the design and the colors. I have displayed them from time to time, need to dig them out again. Wish we would get a cold spell here in Florida!


  11. Pingback: Paisley, Please? | Monica D. Murgia

  12. Your new scarf is stunning. I adore paisley shawls and even did a pilgrimage to the Paisley Museum in Scotland some years back. That reminds me that I have two paisley shawl remnants somewhere that I should do something with…


  13. Pingback: “Indian Shawls” | Of Ravens and Writing Desks...

  14. LF Bullard

    Lovely scarf; thanks for sharing.
    I bought 3 vintage paisley shawls very cheaply in the 1960’s from a vendor at an antique show. There were a few holes and imperfections, of course — they were over 100 years old then — but I wore one as a spectacular evening wrap over a slim floor length black dress or a vintage black wool petticoat used as a skirt.
    I loved it and still have it, although since I don’t wear it now I will probably sell it.
    The other two I am currently using, one over the other, on a small table where I can enjoy the lovely colors and designs. I could put glass over it, but I prefer to use protective place mats if I want to eat there.
    On an old handmade pine church pew I have a flat cushion made from a scrap of paisley shawl given me — when I asked — by a thrift shop dealer who was using it as a cleaning rag. There are a couple of lengths of border left from that project which will probably end up on a vest or jacket. YES, I LOVE PAISLEY, and enjoyed the museum in Scotland that commemorates that vanished industry.


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