shawl / siôl

Shawl (Siôl) / Shoulder shawl (Siôl wâr) / Neck Shawl (Siôl bach) / Turnovers / Fold over shawl

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Traditional shawls
Nursing shawl (siôl magu, siôl nyrsio)
Kerchief  (Head shawl)
Paisley shawl

The term ‘mantle’ might also have been used for shawls, although it appears that this was restricted to large shawls otherwise known as whittles and cloaks.

Square woven woollen shawls had been part of the working woman’s costume throughout Europe from at least the mid 18th century. They vary from small shawls either plain or with a simple check pattern, or plain in the centre with stripes around the the edges, to large plain soft shawls (nursing shawls). Colours vary from natural (white through cream and grey to black), to brightly coloured patterns.

Shawls could have no fringe or on two or all four a sides. If on two sides, the fringe would normally be the warp: these are generally found on smaller shawls.  Nursing shawls and some other shawls have fringes on all four sides. On these, the selvedge (edge) of the fabric would have to be unpicked and the weft twisted to form a fringe. Sometimes the fringe is as long as 10cms (4 ins).

Most shawls remained in loom state – i.e. untreated after weaving, but some of the surviving plain red shawls appear to have been processed into flannel. The account book of Thomas Lewis of Pennant, near Aberaeron of the 1850s records the sale of several flannel shawls at 3 or 4 shillings each and one at 11s 6d. (St Fagans, Welsh Methodist (Wesleyan) 1 13D)

There has been very little research carried out on shawls in Welsh collections and they are difficult to date with any certainty. It is assumed that most of the plain  woven shawls were made in Wales, while the fine woven and printed patterned shawls (especially Paisley) were imported from elsewhere.

Shawls as part of working costume were worn in the following ways:

  • tucked into top of bedgown
  • folded around body and tied at the back
  • folded in half to form a rectangle and worn around shoulders held together with a pin. Illustrations suggest that this was a method worn by women in the fields, and by older women, and it may have provided more protection to the upper body from rain. It did not need to be tucked into the gown and would not have got in the way when working as did those folded in a triangle.
  • tied around the waist to carry goods to and from market.

There is not much evidence that shawls were worn in Wales over the head as was seen in Ireland and Scotland. In Scotland, the arisaid, similar to the plaid was worn by women but went out of fashion during the 18th century. (Quye, Anita and Cheape, Hugh, Rediscovering the Arisaid, Costume, no 42, (2008), pp. 1-20). Kerchiefs were worn over the head in Wales but often beneath a hat.

Fashion items
Another type of shawls came to France and Britain as a fashion item during the 18th century, based on the original rectangular Kashmir shawl worn by men in India. These were originally very expensive items made of fine wool (cashmere), but were later produced of woven wool, cotton or silk or a mixture of all three. Fine designs, including the Paisley pattern, were produced on hand and jacquard looms. Similar patterns were printed on fine wool or cotton. Some illustrations show knitted shawls.

Fashionable shawls were worn:

  • folded in half to form a triangle. This was more common when wearing best costume, or as fashion item to enabled the fine fabric and decoration to be clearly visible.
  • draped over the neck and arms
  • worn like a scarf
  • tied around the bustle and waist.

Some of the finer  decorated printed shawls, known as turnovers, were made with two adjacent edges face up, and the opposite way on the other two sides so that when the shawl was folded diagonally, they both appeared face up.

1791 south Wales
I am particularly struck with the simplicity of their mantle, or cloak.  It is nothing more than a square piece of white flannel, bordered with coloured binding. This they throw carelessly over their shoulders, and fasten with a hook and eye, or tie with a piece of binding. They do not put it on crosswise, as we do a handkerchief, but with the straight side about the neck. (Morgan, Mrs, A Tour to Milford Haven, in the Year 1791, (London, 1795), p. 274)