This essay examines a multicolored woolen shawl owned by the poet Emily Dickinson. Contemporary writings from the period referred to such textiles as “India shawls,” although the provenance of Dickinson’s shawl is unknown. India shawls frequently appear in sources ranging from advertisements to fashion columns to fiction, but as often as not, the modifier India is emptied of its meaning and extrapolated, by association, to shawls made in Europe and elsewhere. The shawl’s true site of origin in Kashmir is thus obscured by the process through which India comes to bear the weight of Orientalist commodification for a market of female consumers. This essay traces the literary, historical, cultural, social, and economic significance of both Kashmiri and European shawls, reading them alongside the production of cotton textiles and in the larger context of transnational and transoceanic networks of imperial commodity culture. Drawing on the poet’s references to shawls and fabrics as well as on the qualities of the textile itself, this essay takes Dickinson’s shawl as a starting point from which to begin unraveling the tangled threads that make up the production and consumption of one particularly fashionable nineteenth-century garment.

You do not currently have access to this content.