Commissioned Paisley Pattern
for Scotland Malawi Partnership Project
Companies worldwide regularly contact me via my website to commission paisley patterns but on 10th February 2017 I received a request from a high school. A pupil from a school in the town of Paisley, Scotland asked if I had a paisley pattern that could be used for a team project. The school is part of the Scotland Malawi Partnership, a national civil society network that builds connections between the two countries. Every 2 years a group of pupils from the school travel to their twinned school in Malawi to take part in renovation work at the school. The project team of pupils wanted to produce special t-shirts for this particular trip. They designed their own elephant logo but they needed a paisley pattern to use on the elephant graphic to symbolise part of their Scottish culture. The pattern was popularised in the town in the 18th century, hence its name “paisley pattern”. The team asked if I had a design they could use. They also requested that the pattern was designed in their school colours to help show their identity and background.
I decided that a completely unique new paisley was needed. I knew that the pattern had to be very eye-catching and dynamic so that it was clearly visible from a distance on a t-shirt; it shouldn’t be too fancy or intricate. I also thought that it would be preferable to give the pattern some relevance or connection to Malawi, if possible. I had lots of historical images of paisley patterns from India, the Middle East, Europe (especially Paisley, Scotland), US, Russia and Central Asia. I only had one image of a paisley pattern from Africa. The image is a photo of 2 African women, one of which is wearing fabric printed with very large paisley motifs. The caption to the photo is “Makua Women 19th century Mozambique”. I checked online to find out about the Makua peoples and where they live. I discovered that not only do they live in Mozambique (800,000) but a smaller population also live in the neighbouring country Malawi (20,000) as well as Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Kenya. I was glad to have discovered a connection. I have made a map diagram so that you can see the main area of Makua population and the close proximity to Malawi.
In the photo of the Makua women, the paisley motifs are printed on a wrap-around cloth known as a capulana. A capulana is mainly worn in Mozambique but is also worn in other areas of south-eastern Africa. It is a type of sarong. The fabric for the capulanas originally came from India via the Arab/Indian trade routes. This explains the use of the paisley form, which originated in the Middle East and then became popular on India textiles in the 16th century onward. The paisley form was very popular on fabrics at this time in East Africa because it resembled the cashew nut. The cashew nut became a commercial commodity in the 19th century, channeled worldwide via India but with large quantities of the nut imported from East Africa.
I decided to try to design a paisley pattern that incorporated paisley forms similar to the paisleys in the Makua women photo. I drew the paisley pattern by hand and decided to use a stencil style (quite similar to mosaics). This would give solid blocks of colour with no thin lines, ensuring that the pattern would be clearly seen from a distance. On this page you can view a time-lapse video of me drawing the design. Due to the nature of the project, based on international friendship, I donated my designing services free.
I will post pics of the finished elephant logo and the t-shirts when I receive them. I have posted on this page an early version of the elephant logo that the school sent me. The pupils and teachers were extremely pleased with the paisley pattern.
I am sure the school team will have an exciting and productive trip to Malawi later this year. It was a real privilege to be invited to participate with one of my designs.
The Scotland Malawi Partnership (SMP) is the national civil society network coordinating, supporting and representing the people-to-people links between the two nations. Its member organisations include every Scottish university and most of its colleges, 200 primary and secondary schools. Many Scottish businesses, charities and half of Scotland's local authorities are members. The friendship between the two countries dates back more than 150 years to the time of the famous Scottish explorer David Livingstone.