Handloom silk in the French countryside

I didn’t wait for a special occasion to bust out this silk loveliness and wore it to prance around a tiny village set in the picturesque French countryside, surrounded by sandstone cottages, miles and miles of fields and lush green forests.IMG_2555IMG_2565IMG_2567IMG_2595Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

For sometime a few stray comments (meant as compliments) have been weighing on my mind and I’ve been meaning express my thoughts on them but since we’ve been away I didn’t get around to doing so. However, this past week a video came to my attention and I found the reaction to the video appalling on many levels.

I won’t bore you with the details but it was a video about five women in India accepting a challenge to wear the saree to work for five days. Let’s just say they weren’t exactly pleased but what really surprised me was the rabid nastiness of the online response I saw.

Here were these grown women who extolled the virtues of wearing handcrafted sarees, trolling a bunch of young girls because they expressed discomfort at wearing something that we apparently MUST respect as our cultural attire! Not to mention the body shaming in the name of feedback. I was asked to write an opinion piece on it and I politely declined because I don’t understand why I should have an opinion in what another woman finds easy or hard to wear all day.

Here’s the thing, I love handcrafted, ethically made clothing, I love wearing handloom-ed sarees, I love learning about them, I collect them and most of all I feel comfortable in the folds of something that I’ve been given with love. The saree in the photos above is something that my Mother painstakingly picked out on an incredibly hot afternoon in Chennai because she knew I would love it.

I didn’t wait for a special occasion to bust out this silk loveliness and wore it to prance around a tiny village set in the picturesque French countryside, surrounded by sandstone cottages, miles and miles of fields and lush green forests. I used to be intimidated by stiff silks till I learnt not to try and tame them into shape with safety pins but to just wear them in my own messy way.

I get a lot of messages telling me people love that I am promoting wearing sarees, I would like to clarify that I am a saree enthusiast and I am not promoting any particular type of clothing. I share what I like not what I think someone else should like.

I also don’t think that telling me women look their best in a saree is a compliment. Women should wear whatever they want to wear and it is nobody’s business but their own, it is not my or anyone else’s place to tell anyone what constitutes appropriate attire.

My point is that I choose to wear whatever makes me happy, whether it is the skimpiest bathers, booty shorts, anarkali or torn jeans and a raggedly tee-shirt or a fabulous saree. I carried a bunch of sarees including this one on a trip to Europe because I knew I’d want to wear them at some point, I also carried a whole lot of other clothing. A peek at my personal instagram or blog will show you that my clothing preferences vary wildly from day to day.

Telling people what to wear implies that they can’t think/ choose for themselves, women don’t exist to satisfy someone else’s gaze, nothing outweighs her own autonomy over how she chooses to exist in the world and we definitely don’t need commentary on our bodies or clothing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo dabu print by the lakeside

Here you have a garment that didn’t cause much destruction to the environment while in production, is ageless, fits any size or gender, can be worn in innumerable ways and lasts and lasts ..

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

Immersed in the patterns of Rajasthani tribes in India’s west, this hand blocked dabu print indigo saree is the very definition of softness created with natural colours and gets better with ever wash. In my opinion, garments that have been made following age old practices not only look fabulous, they have a long life, are good for the environment and for the wearer as well.

Indigo, the most commonly known natural dye, is traced back to the days of the Indus valley civilisation, is the only dye that bonds naturally with cotton fibre, so it does not need a mordant (dye fixative) and (in my limited knowledge) it is also the only dye that is done in a cold process and not in a hot bath. It is highly revered among the craftsmen and wearing indigo dyed fabric is thereby considered auspicious.

Gorgeous embossed designs have been found on the cloth scraps in the carcass of Mohenjo Daro proving that block printing in India was used as early as 3000 B.C. One of the main forms of block printing consists of the Dabu & Bagru Block printing of the Thar desert.

If I could, I would solely wear natural over synthetic dyes, apart from being more sustainable natural dyes are also less of an irritant to one’s skin. Researchers have discovered that, as clothing comes into prolonged contact with one’s skin, toxic chemicals are often absorbed into the body, especially when one is warm and skin pores have opened to allow perspiration.

The fashion industry has been called the second biggest polluter on the planet and an average fast fashion garment does more harm than we can imagine to the environment. Think of the genetically modified seeds, harmful chemicals including synthetic dyes, pesticides and fertilizers, carcinogens, child labour, people losing their lives in questionable factories and pollution of water resources that are the requirements of the fashion industry.

Made from petrochemicals, polyester and nylon are not biodegradable, so they are unsustainable by their very nature. Cotton is a very thirsty plant and growing it in vast quantities can deplete valuable resources as well which is why I believe handcrafted/ hand loomed sarees that last generations are one of the most sustainable garments on this planet.

They are free-size so the fit is never a problem, if one doesn’t stress too much about matching blouses and fitted underskirts it is genuinely one of the longest lasting item of clothing a person could have.

Also this saree blouse and petticoat business is a Victorian British introduction which I have no fondness for. Don’t get me wrong, I love elaborate cholis and bright saree blouses as much as the next person but I don’t think the lack of those, impacts one’s ability to wear a saree.

Wearing different coloured tops and accessories along with a novel drapes can genuinely completely change the look. So basically here you have a garment that didn’t cause much destruction in production, is ageless, fits any size or gender, can be worn in innumerable ways and lasts and lasts.

Have I made enough of an argument about how ethical produced sarees are one of the most sustainable garments known to humans?

 

 

Khadi saree by the rock pools

The goal is not just to post photos but is to have a conversation about being comfortable in one’s own skin.

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

I love love love khadi sarees and since I’ve begun my modest little six-yard collection I’ve always wanted a simple, coarse handwoven piece from Khadibhandar. But since I live away from home, a little DIY to make three khadi scarves into a saree resulted in the pretty pink loveliness in the above photos.

As you probably know, Pleats N Pallu has a pretty active instagram page, a not-so-dormant Facebook page and I post from time to time on my personal Facebook about my  saree journey. And on these various platforms one of the oft repeated questions I get is: Do you wear these outfits for occasions and normal days or are these just for photographs?

Heres the thing, if you follow my other blog and/ or this blog, you might have noticed that the photos Vince takes are pretty decent but they are by no means professional photos. We are both photography enthusiasts and have no lighting equipment or anything, hell these photos aren’t even photoshopped! We take photos of my everyday outfits on days with good natural light and fortunately we live in a city with some spectacular natural spots so they make a good backdrop.

The whole point of Pleats N Pallu is to talk about your average person in a saree doing everyday things. Most of the photos I post of me are taken when we are out doing normal things, I wear sarees way more than I document in photos on social media. The goal is not just to post photos but is to have a conversation about being comfortable in one’s own skin.

On the day these photos were taken, we wanted to go to by the water and walk one of the coastal trails. I just wore the saree because I felt like it, the shoes I wore were beaten up converse sneakers, the top I am wearing is a merino tee (autumn in Sydney can be chilly), there was a jacket on top for the bike ride and it was genuinely a breeze to just hang about and soak in the day.

So, for all those wondering, yes these outfits are worn to do every day fun things involving, rainforest exploring, coastal gallivanting, doggie walking, working, brunching and myriad other things that a normal human being does.

 

 

 

Sarees: A link to the motherland

We all have black and white photos in our houses of our mothers, grandmothers, maashis and pishees in sarees that in equal measures intimidate and inspire us. For those of us in the diaspora these photos along with vintage sarees are a safe deposit box of family history, draping inspiration and a search for identity — a lifetime of gathering pleats and draping the pallu.

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Amrita’s mother (on the right) with her younger sister Nina both in saris though they would not have been past their early twenties

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Amrita’s mother with her as a baby – staring curiously at the camera while she smiles at her child with love
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Amrita’s mother (on the left) with her younger sister Sweta
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Amrita’s mother (on the extreme right) and her sisters-in-law on the roof of her ancestral home just after her parents’ marriage

This post is written by Amrita Dasvarma based in Byron Bay, Australia and the photos are a stunning repository of her family story taken by her camera enthusiast father Gouranga Dasvarma.

As a little girl growing up outside of the land of my birth, the sari to me was a mystical garment – yards and yards of cloth – silks, cottons or chiffons, block-printed or bordered with intricate zari work, which my mother, with a flick of her wrist and dexterous fingers, would drape around herself in a matter of minutes.   Not a button or zipper or safety-pin in sight, just pleats and folds and voila!

For my mother, saris were a coveted garment – she tells me stories of how at age 9 or 10, while other girls were running around in skirts and dresses, she would sneak saris out of her auntie’s wardrobe and put them on, racing to her friend’s house before getting caught.  And then by the age fifteen, saris became the school uniform.  

It boggles my mind even today how much she, my grandmother, and my aunties manage to do in a sari – from bending over a boti (an old-fashioned scythe shaped cutting knife used in traditional Bengali kitchens to chop vegetables) to running after an over-crowded bus on a Kolkata street to hop on as the driver slowed down (never to a complete stop,) to tending to the needs of family members, from toddlers to elderly in-laws.  

My mother for me is my most intimate link to the land of my birth – India.  She taught me how to wear my first sari, usually when dressing up for folk dance performances or one of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance dramas – Shyama, Chitrangadha, or for Saraswati Pujo or the week-long Durga Pujo.

I love looking at old black and white photos of my mother and her sisters in their saris – they stir in me a nostalgia for a time of glamour and femininity long gone.  And it saddens me that I am more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts than in my native sari.

The #100sarisin100days and #sareenotsorry movements flooding Instagram make me think – perhaps I could put on a sari now and then – why should I be intimidated to wear my heritage as countless women have done before me, as countless women still do?  Why should I only stick to special occasions – pujas, festivals, weddings, name ceremonies, dance performances, to pull out the saris I have been gifted?  And perhaps, over time, I too will be able to throw a sari on with the grace of my mother (and without the help of safety-pins?)

 

Print on print done the handcrafted way

Just do you! Whatever takes your fancy. There is no right size, shape, pattern, colour or drape that looks better on you because some rule book says so.

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

I love the feel of a light, soft cotton mulmul saree especially when it is hand block printed with lovely colours and paired with another block print flowy top. Often I knot the pallu multiple times on very light sarees so it stays in place and is easier to manage.

Also a lot of times I’ve been given (unsolicited) advice on what to wear with what and because I am on the skinny side I’ve often been told wearing loose clothes make me look shapeless. So here’s my two cents on what to wear with sarees: Whatever the hell you want to wear.

Don’t have a matching blouse? Wear it with a tee-shirt. Too hot for a tee-shirt? Wear it with a swim-suit top. Don’t like plain blouses? Wear print on print. Don’t like bright colours? Wear all the greys, browns and any colour you like. Like bright colours but worry that you look too colourful? Just wear every colour you like, all together. Hate wearing underskirts? Wear the saree with your denim shorts. Hate wearing heels? Rock your saree with your keds or motorcycle boots. Hate wearing flats? Wear your sky high heels to duck out to the supermarket.

Just do you! Whatever takes your fancy. There is no right size, shape, pattern, colour or drape that looks better on you because some rule book says so. One more time someone tells me, “Beta its great to see that you like sarees, but (I am sure you can finish the sentence) … I will genuinely throw a heavy rock at their face.

People come in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders and sexual orientations, there is no rule-book that can capture the vastness of the various kinds of people and we shouldn’t limit our imaginations. Tell me what is your favourite way to break the saree wearing rules?

P.S. This saree is actually three dupattas stitched together to form a length of fabric long enough to drape with pleats around me. Like I said, no rules!

 

Shibori saree in the rice fields of Bali

To each of us in the diaspora scattered across the globe the saree is living symbol of our connection with our identities, linking us to millions of women in the past and the present. Today we feature an expat Indian, the lovely eShmruthi in her shibori saree frolicking in the spectacular rice fields of Bali …

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Photos by Kannan: Say hi on instagram @kapturesbyk or on facebook 

Smruthi’s recent saree experiments started from a sudden urge to connect back to her roots. Having been born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, she moved abroad for her masters like many of us.

A dreamer and seeker by heart, she has always found herself pondering over the intricacies of life. She says, “Sometimes, the questions for why life happens in a certain way will remain unanswered but I obsess over Steve Job’s words that looking back we will all be able to connect the dots”.

Unlike many though, Shmruthi’s last five years were spent hopping between several countries including France, Belgium, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan for studies and work. She continues, “My quench for adventure and travel was fueled and I discovered a new side of me through these experiences. And somewhere along the way, as I was creating a new identity I got terrified of losing my real identity. Sarees are now my reassurance and connection to my real self, the one who grew up seeing my mom don one every day to work”.

And thus started her saree journey with a resolve to wear a saree at least once a week. She says, “My goal was to get comfortable in wearing this integral piece of my culture and be confident in owning it. I started wearing my sarees in Singapore to work, dinner with friends and of course temples”.

But the one occurrence where she surprised even herself was, when she wore a saree during her vacation in Bali. “My two passions – travel and sarees, coming together was an incredible feeling. It didn’t hurt that the pictures came out so beautiful too 😉 I am now daring enough to do this in my future travels too,” she enthuses.

Her advice for all strong, independent women living outside India who have this ache in your heart whenever they think of home is: “Give the #sareepact a chance. You will be surprised how much it will make you content and close to home. Just as it does for me!”

Connect with her on Instagram @shmruthi

Gamcha saree and Sydney autumn

Every piece in this outfit has tells a story, of the people who make it and the indigenous cultures that benefit from consumers ethically purchasing original pieces of hand-made clothing.

 

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

The saree I am wearing here is a coarse, stiff, handloom-ed cotton gamcha worn with a kediyu that young Bharvad girls wear paired with a Wayuu Mochila bag.

The gamcha is a thin, coarse, traditional cotton towel from the Indian subcontinent that comes in different sizes, colour schemes and complexity of pattern based on the width of the loom. They are a staple in homes where I come from in East India, are woven locally and I find the chequered pattern endlessly fascinating.

The Bharvad are a group of people who used to lead nomadic lives herding cattle, goats and sheep in Gujarat, western India. They wear the most amazing clothes as well as jewellery, all of which is hand-crafted in designs and patterns specific to the tribe.

I don’t believe in having matching blouses and petticoats for every saree, I like to make my separates work with multiple items. For example: This kediyu is worn here as a saree blouse, is also used as a jacket as well as a top with jeans and I am actually wearing a denim skirt under the saree.

The bag in the photos is a Wayuu Mochila piece made by the indigenous women of the Wayuu Tribe from La Guajira, Colombia. Each Mochila Bag is a unique piece of art on its own and takes about a month to be hand-knitted.

Every piece in this outfit has tells a story, of the people who make it and the indigenous cultures that benefit from consumers ethically purchasing original pieces of hand-made clothing. I am looking to build a more meaningful wardrobe comprising of pieces representing a deeper connection to the earth through natural fabrics and to cultures who make their clothes through artisanal crafting and design.