From Buteh To Paisley

Printed cloth sample with paisley motifs, European, 20th century.. Printed cloth sample with paisley motifs, European, 20th century.. TRC 2017.1139

4. The world of paisley

The spread of the paisley/buteh motif around the world is closely connected with the vast trade in textiles from India which has been carried out for at least 2,000 years. From India the paisley/buteh motif has spread to countries as far apart as Ghana in West Africa and Japan in East Asia. In the 19th and 20th century, the production of paisley/butehtextiles (mainly woven and printed forms) in Europe, as well as India, was well developed, although by the end of the 20th century much cheaper items from China had taken over much of the market. Yet throughout these centuries the popularity of the paisley motif has not declined. If anything, it has become more diverse and became incorporated into the design heritage of many cultures.

The paisley motif and Southwest Asia

The use of the paisley/buteh motif started in Iran and became very popular in India, so it is not surprising that it remained popular in these and neighbouring countries. There are numerous examples of 19th century Qajar paintings from Iran, for instance, which include depictions of members of the various royal courts wearing garments with the paisley motif. In addition, household items such as prayer mats, wall hangings and towels, were often decorated with the buteh

2005.0351aPair of man's trousers from eastern Turkey, early 20th century, with paisley motifs (TRC 2005.0351a).By the end of the 20th century, buteh remained a popular motif and was used for both urban and regional clothing. It was used among urban, village and nomadic groups for both men and women’s clothing, including headwear and a variety of shawls and head coverings.

The paisley/buteh motif could also be found in Afghanistan and Central Asia and again it was popular for both men and women’s clothing. In particular it was used for headwear and items such as  jackets and coats. 

The paisley motif and Southeast Asia

The paisley motif appears to have arrived in East and Southeast Asia by at least the 19th century and came mainly via Indian textiles. It has remained a feature of various East and Southeast Asian countries, notably Japan and Indonesia. For some reason, while known in countries such as China, Malaysia and Thailand, it was not as popular as elsewhere.

2020.3933a bePair of Japanese socks with paisley motifs, c. 2020 (TRC 2020.3933a-b).Japan

The paisley motif has been popular in Japan for at least 200 years. It is known as the skoukyumoyo or pinecone pattern. It appears to have been introduced by European and Indian merchants, especially those dealing in textiles and garments. It is regarded by the Japanese as being a typically British, or Scottish pattern. The paisley motif is now used for a variety of garments, including the kimono and obi (sash). In some cases, the motifs are small and discreet, on other occasions they may be large and loud. 


For several hundred years, the paisley/buteh motif has been a popular form in Indonesia, especially in Java. It can be found mainly on batiks and takes on ornate forms. In Indonesia the buteh has become very popular among the Indian community. With the recent resurgence of Islam, wearing the buteh motif declined as it was seen as a Hindu motif, although, ironically, it originally derived from Iran, a Muslim country. 

The paisley motif, Turkey and the Middle East 

The paisley motif can be found in both Turkey and the Middle East. In particular, it was popular in Turkey during the 19th century and later, and it has survived in various parts of the country as part of regional dress, notably as decoration on headscarves and the resist-dyed aprons in eastern Anatolia.

In contrast to many other regions, the motif does not appear to have been so popular in the Arab Middle East. This may be due to a preference for geometric, rather than ‘organic’ designs. The paisley motif does occur, but it tends to be mainly in areas where there has been a strong European influence, such as in Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon, which had access to imported European materials, ribbons and bands.

2014.0929Wrap-around cloth (kanga) from Tanzania, 1960's, with paisley motifs (TRC 2014.0929).

The paisley motif and Africa

The paisley motif can be found on a variety of African objects, including the wrap-around garments for women known as kanga in East Africa, as well as on printed women’s headwear in West Africa. Many of these pieces used to be made in Europe and western India for the local markets, but more and more are being made in China. Sometimes these textiles have a mixed Chinese/African feel to the designs! As a result, sometimes the paisley motif can take on a more Chinese yin-yang design.



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