Bird Bird

Paisley's Enchanted Threads

New Threads

New threads

New Threads

The new widow soon embarked upon a tour of Europe. She was accompanied by her mother Christine, and they were suitably impressed when they travelled through Belgium and the Netherlands at both the quality of the linen on show and the industrious nature of production. It was not surprising that both were impressed, as the quality of Dutch thread was renowned. Mother and daughter gained first-hand experience of the new production methods when they were given a tour of a textile factory in Holland, and were presumably inspired.

Given Christian’s alleged skill and prior knowledge of the thread making process, it may very well have been a deliberate, and not a chance, excursion. Spinning was a regular trade in Scotland at this time, but it would seem that Christian had never witnessed the production process carried out in such a rational and methodical way before. It is said that Christian hastily sketched what she had viewed during her tour, and even that she smuggled pieces of machinery in her luggage when she travelled back to Scotland, a classic case of industrial espionage. She would use this new knowledge to transform the production and distribution of thread back home.

Christian quickly set about imitating the methods that she had seen in Holland, establishing a small thread manufacturing concern in Johnstone. Before long, her product was highly valued in the local area, and by the end of the 1720s the Bargarran Thread Company was thriving. The thread was marketed too, with advertisements in the local press. It must be remembered that despite, or perhaps because of her childhood trauma, Christian remained well connected. Lady Blantyre, whose husband had headed the Commission in 1697, retained an interest in her, and took her product to the spa town of Bath. The thread was of such good quality, both in purity of colour and strength that orders for Bargarran thread increased steadily, coming in from as far away as Devon.

Christian was by now a highly successful businesswoman. She had developed an innovative and modern method of manufacturing and marketing thread. Besides the marked improvement in quality, she also promoted very modern, rational production techniques. As well as employing growers, weavers, spinners, and other process workers in the production site at Johnstone, she also provided work for various cottage artisans. She became an important source of employment in the local area, although the work would have been hard, and profit would have been the priority.

Inevitably, others attempted to undercut Christian by copying her methods but producing thread of lesser quality. This became such an issue that the Company sought to protect their product by securing patent rights. Given that Christian had allegedly smuggled machinery into Scotland to begin with, this attempt at securing patent rights smacks of a little hypocrisy. Despite the best efforts of the Shaw family, the secret was out, and entrepreneurs in neighbouring areas began to develop their own thread-making production, including Paisley. It is arguable that the reputation Paisley gained for quality thread production can be traced back to the fame that Christian’s product brought to the wider Renfrewshire region.