Friday, July 15, 2011


French silk scarf from the Collection of Deanna Littell

When my mother's aunt Flora came from Drayton Plains to visit us in Detroit one cold fall, she forgot to pack a head scarf.  The four of us, my father staying in the parked car, made the nearest Montgomery Ward's our one-stop shop for a new scarf.

Flora, a no-fuss-woman,  expertly reached into the counter's neat pile of 36-inch silk squares and fished out a print, shook it open, then refolded it into a triangle and tied the ends under her chin,  "A paisley is always good", she explained when paying for it.

"What is a paisley?" I wanted to know. I have no idea how old I was, maybe 9 and as usual, when I asked a question of adults I walked into a bubble of empty, airless silence. No one ever acknowledged or answered, so I discovered that the best route was to pretend it didn't matter.  But obviously, it really did.

Decades later, I found out that Flora's father, François, was from Farbersviller, a small commune in the Lorraine region of France and that Lorraine's twin region, Alsace, was famous for the Mulhouse commune where some of the world's most uniquely beautiful paisley (cachemire) motifs were printed onto fabric. Perhaps one day in a Lorraine market of the mid 19th century, Flora's grandmother picked out a Mulhouse fabric and contemplated turning it into an apron to wear over her Sunday skirt.  She may have also explained: "Le cachemire est toujours un bon choix." JP