What is a Piano Shawl?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A piano shawl is a large square or rectangular piece of fabric that is used to decorate the top surface of a grand piano. It serves the practical purpose of protecting the piano from nicks, scratches, and the elements. However, many such shawls are quite elaborate and also serve as decoration.

Piano shawls may be used to decorate baby grand pianos.
Piano shawls may be used to decorate baby grand pianos.

Piano shawls are very often heavily embroidered with bold colors and patterns. The patterns often incorporate flowers or nature scenes. It is also quite common for them to be edged in long fringe. Not only does the fringe look exquisite, but it also helps to drape the shawl evenly over the piano.

Piano shawls were popular during England's Victorian era, which ran from 1837 to 1901.
Piano shawls were popular during England's Victorian era, which ran from 1837 to 1901.

Piano shawls are generally made of thick silk. This fabric glides naturally onto the surface of a piano and is kept in place by its natural weight as well as the weight of the embroidery. They became quite popular in the Victorian era when having a piano in one's parlor was considered to be at the height of sophistication.

In addition to serving as a decoration, the piano shawl has also been incorporated into women's fashion. Just as a shawl drapes beautifully on a baby grand, it hangs exquisitely on a woman's body. When piano shawls are worn as garments, they are generally used as accessories to evening wear. They can be worn over gowns or even cocktail dresses. Furthermore, they offer a nice amount of warmth and can be used as a very fashionable alternative to a coat.

If you are interested in purchasing a piano shawl, be sure to check the antique market. They are not as popular today as they once were, and it can be difficult to find one that is newly fabricated. You should be able to find an antique piano shawl that is in very good condition. If you find an antique shawl online, be sure to communicate directly with the seller to determine the condition of the fabric before making your purchase.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


@Animalz – Yeah, those old piano shawls can bring a pretty penny, but some of the new ones are pretty pricey, too. The ones that are made to glow under black light can go for $100 or more. I think that’s kind of high, since they’re usually mass-produced, and not made of silk. However, some new piano shawls are still being made in the traditional style. You can get stunningly beautiful, imported, hand-embroidered ones for like $350.


@ginSoul – I’m sorry you don’t get to wear your grandmother’s piano shawl. At least you’re putting it to good use, though. Take good care of it. In some fashion circles, shawls and wraps are very popular, so piano shawls – especially older ones like yours – can fetch high prices. If your grandmother’s piano shawl is truly made of silk, has a lot of detailed embroidery on it, and is in good condition, it can be worth up to $500 dollars.


It’s so sad that people just don’t wear elegant things like that anymore. Back when things were much more formal (before jeans and t-shirts were invented), women would wear their piano shawls draped over glitzy dresses every weekend.

I still have my grandmother’s piano shawl. It’s made of black silk and decorated with beautiful pink flowers. Unfortunately, I don’t have anywhere to wear it, so I’m reduced to using it as a wall decoration. That’s a common use for them now.

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