An ode to the global saree sisterhood

As women who drape handlooms and are concerned about the the disappearing crafts sector in India I believe we share a common vision with many saree sisters across the world.

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I carry a deep love in my heart for West Bengal handlooms and soft Fulia cottons just melt my heart. I have many memories of women in my family wearing them just out and about in their daily lives and I have never met a Fulia I didn’t absolutely adore.

The Fulia saree in these photos is a prized find because it just signifies everything that is wonderful about making friends online with global saree sisters. Padmani Suppiah is a fellow handloom saree enthusiast from Kuala Lumpur and a few months ago she was posting about the Global Indian festival and the sarees that were being showcased there by weavers.

I was beyond envious and told her so, at which point she said she was happy to send me photos of what was there and happy to buy and ship me what I wanted. Now this is someone I have never met, who I’ve connected with over the internet and she just offered to do something that I only ever expect from my family.

The thing with Padmani is that she echoes my feelings about handlooms and handicrafts, she writes about weaves as I would and sometimes I just read and re-read her posts because it feels like she is reading my mind. Anyone who knows me will tell you I don’t like most people but this lady I have never met, feels like someone I have known forever and that is the magic of the saree sisterhood.

It connects people on different continents and sometimes shows us the true meaning of solidarity. Hand crafted sarees are inextricably linked to India’s artisans and people who celebrate them are just all kinds of special. This post is not to wax eloquent about buying a saree for someone who doesn’t have direct access to weavers but to talk about women like Padmani who define camaraderie and are a lesson in how we should treat each other.

As women who drape handlooms and are concerned about the the disappearing crafts sector in India I believe we share a common vision with many saree sisters across the world. As human beings who are appalled at what fast fashion is doing to the planet I believe we stand together in solidarity. And I for one can’t think of anything better to celebrate in the lead up to Durga Pujo than women who lift each other up.

So Padmani, here’s to women like you! You make the world an infinitely better place and I am lucky to have bumped into you and consider it an honour to call you a friend. May we all meet more Padmanis and may we all learn to be kinder to other women across the world.

If you are curious about this fabulousness of a person give her instagram feed a look and you will see what I mean.

 

 

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Chasing waterfalls in a block print saree

Cotton sarees with Ganesh tees and vans sneakers make for a great outfit to run up and down mountains …

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

I like chasing waterfalls, climbing cliffs by the sea, walking through deep rainforests, riding my bike in national parks, floating leisurely in backwaters … basically enjoying the world around me that isn’t constricted by concrete walls.

I have been told again and again that the photos I post are too removed from most people’s reality and sometimes it does make me stop and think. But I always come to the same conclusion, I don’t know how to be anyone else apart from me.

So if you want to follow my adventures, there will be a lot of curious exploration of the world around me, there will be innumerable photos of water bodies, heaps of animals and plants, there will also be a lot of mis-matched accessories and ambivalence regarding things that others may have strong opinions on.

I also get asked (often) if I only wear sarees. Here’s the thing, I wear whatever I feel like wearing on a given day. This blog is about wearing the six yards, so photos on this blog are of myself and other women wearing sarees. I also have another blog where I share my outfits that may or may not be sarees.

On the day these photos were taking we were running late and I had the last minute inspiration to take our mini super hero nephew waterfall chasing with us. I wanted to wear comfy track pants, an over size tee-shirt and comfy sneakers but I also felt like wearing a saree. So what did I do? I wore everything I just mentioned, all together.

The saree was thick enough for the pallu to be used as a scarf to protect against sudden gusts of winds on the way, it is a soft enough cotton that it survived hours in the car without looking like a wrinkly mess and I like the way it looks with the Ganesh tee.

I think the way one looks at life manifests in photos, I have always thought there is a bit of magic in the world and have never stopped looking for it. And I think it comes through in the photos we take and share, that as hard as it is sometimes, we would like to see beauty in this world.

We’re both hellbent on chasing our own kind of peace and happy while trying to drown out the negativity that surrounds everyone. Nobody’s life is perfect and ours is far from it but we’re just trying to find beauty where we can and engage with things plus people we love.

 

 

 

 

Why mulmul block print sarees are great

I think mulmul sarees are a great place to start one’s six-yard journey

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IMG_2662Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

Mulmul is a fine cotton fabric, slightly heavier than the gossamer-thin muslin that India has been known for since ancient times.

I think the world of mulmul sarees, they are like that buttery soft, comfy tee-shirt you have had for years, hassle free and simple. I prefer my mulmuls to be hand block printed with the designs made using organic dyes and traditional techniques.

This blue mulmul DIY saree made from Jaipur hand block printed scarves and travelled with me to Europe this summer and is worn here with a Bandhani kediyu. These pictures were taken on a warm day when we spotted lovely violet flowers blooming in the middle of the forest in Picardie in France and wanted to get a bunch for home.

I think mulmul sarees are a great place to start one’s six-yard journey, especially if one is busy and can’t be bothered with heavy sarees that need a tonne of safety pins.

I have made a list of why I love these kinds of fabric and enjoy draping them as sarees regularly:

  1. They require hardly any maintenance, can be chucked in the washing machine, don’t need to be ironed if they are dried right and above all get better with wear.
  2. This light-weight fabric is a known summer staple but honestly, worn with the right things it is great for winter as well and is fabulous for travel.
  3. They are tremendously easy to drape, support various experiments and will make the messiest pleats look pretty.
  4. A lot of the indigenous block-print techniques use natural dyes that are better for one’s skin and general well-being.
  5. Depending on the kind of printing technique mulmul sarees come in various bright as well as sober hues of the colour spectrum, appealing to people with different colour sensibilities.
  6. You can dress them up or down, wear them to work or to a function, it all depends on how they have been accessorised. And I’ve worn them with both gold and silver jewellery.
  7. They are very easily available in most saree shops, government emporiums or independent boutiques.
  8. Depending on the amount of work these fabrics are priced to suit a range of budgets and can be bought by students for a pittance as well as connoisseurs of higher end designers.
  9. They come in a tremendous variety of patterns and prints from stripes, checks, geometric or floral to suit every design sensibility.
  10. You can get mulmul hand block prints from different states that look completely different from each other, for example: Kalamkari from Andhra, Ajrakh from Kutch, Vegetable prints from Dessa, Ahmedabad and Kutch, Saudagiri prints of Ahmedabad, all in Gujarat, Dabu, Bagru, Sanganeri block print from Rajasthan, Bagh from Madhya Pradesh etc.

I always have and I think I always will like clothing ethically made with handloom-ed, handcrafted natural fabrics in cuts that are breathable.

Having lived in India and elsewhere, I have a huge reverence for our traditional techniques of dyeing, weaving, stitching and embroidery that are still culturally relevant.

Artisan handicraft is still the second largest source of employment in India with an estimated 200 million workers at the core of the handicraft industry (Crafts Council of India, 2011).

I like clothing woven with stories, so when I am buying something that is handcrafted I am buying a slice of heritage handed down through generations.

And I find mulmul block prints even though the fabric may be power loom just ticks all the right boxes for me because of the efforts of the craftspeople who decorate the textile with their art.

Do’s and don’ts of wearing a saree

What a saree gives you is, the freedom to interpret it in new ways or happily be comfortable in the tried and tested..

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

I have come across an article that talks about what not to do when wearing a saree, a well-wisher (read asshole) sent it to me in the murky world that is Instagram direct message.

I am definitely not sharing a link to the article because I think it is absolute nonsense of the worst kind but here is what I will share: A list of dos and don’ts when wearing a saree:

  1. Choose the right blouse

Wondering if you should wear a matching blouse or a contrast blouse with your saree, or about the neckline or design at the back or sleeve length? That skimpy choli you saw on a celebrity, could you wear it and look great? Should it be fitted or boxy?

How about just wearing whatever the hell you feel like and whatever is within arm’s reach on the day? Its a whole different kind of fun to design one’s blouse and feel fabulous in it. But you can also wear whatever top YOU thinks looks fabulous and if the blouse police has a problem with it, it is THEIR problem.

2. Choose the right pallu length

This is one of my favourites! You know what they say? The pallu length is crucial to the final look of the saree. Too long or too short pallu will just make one look, hmm what exactly?

How about wearing the length that seems right for you, on that day? I like my pallu long, but you might feel completely different about a long pallu, so you do you my friend, you do you!

3. Choose the right petticoat (under skirt)

Asking yourself questions like: How can one have a matching petticoat for every saree? What if the petticoat you’re wearing is wrong for the saree? What if the petticoat kills your entire look?

How about just having a nude petticoat that looks good under any saree? How about no petticoat? How about wearing your sarees with pants? And above all how about wearing a fun underskirt and not caring if it matches or peeks out from under? How about making what you already have, work for you?

4. Choose the right footwear

We’ve all heard things like wear your heels before you start draping or you’ll mess up the length. Asking yourself if you should wear heels with your saree as it will give you extra length and look great? Should you wear those high heels that you love but makes you tower over guys? Wondering if you could get away with embellished flats because it is going to be a long day and you don’t want to wear heels?

How about just wearing whatever you feel like? Wear the flats if you want to, wear heels if you feel like, wear sneakers if you’re running from pillar to post. 

5. Choose the right length for the saree

You know what they say? The length of your saree should be neither too long nor too short, just right. (Are we stuck in a Goldilocks and the three bears universe?)

What is just right length though? How about just wearing it the way you want? Mini-length, midi-length, dhoti style till the ankles, knee-length dhoti, anything you want!

6. Choose the right draping style

Have you been told any of the following: Stick to the drape that looks good on your shape, some draping styles makes one look bulky, others flatteringly slim, wear your pallu pleated and ‘flaunt’ your flat stomach, hide your not-so-flat stomach. Hmm?

Also don’t show too much cleavage and definitely no back cleavage! Yaar! back cleavage kya hota hai?

There are hundreds of draping styles in India and there are many more ways of experimenting with the saree. How about just playing with your drape till YOU feel great? Or just sticking to YOUR tried and tested?

7. Choose the right bra

Ooh! This is a big one. Have you heard something along the lines of, wear the right bra in the right colour for a saree/saree blouse and make sure the straps are not visible?

How about wearing the bra you like in whatever colour you like? Or going bra-less or wearing a fun bralette, sports bra or swimsuit top as your blouse? The bra that feels right for your needs is the right bra for a saree! I wear a sports bra if I feel like it, a lacy bra if I want to and if a strap peeks out, I make sure its a bloody cute colour!

8. Choose the right fabric and colour

Did you know there is the right fabric for every body shape? And suitable colour options based on the shade of your skin, age and marital status?? Mujhe toh pata hi nahi tha!

Rubbish like, skinny girls with no curves should wear certain fabrics, curvier ladies should wear another and who knows what else. Or one should wear cotton with cotton, silk with silk and of course only silk for pujas or weddings, you know because cotton is for the poor and silk means opulence and wealth?

How about just wearing the saree you want to wear, not the one THEY say is right for YOUR body type, skin colour, age, socio-economic status etc.?

9. Choose the right jewellery

Should you wear all the jewellery you have because you love them all? Should you wear nothing because jewellery isn’t really your thing? But your friend reminds you, not to look like a Christmas tree or that you’re going to a wedding and should wear some gold. Or that well-meaning relative says that you look like you’re going to a funeral because of minimal jewellery.

One, what’s wrong about looking like a Christmas tree because you want to?! I mean most people love looking at/ decorating Christmas trees. And what’s wrong with wearing plastic, wood or any other kind of jewellery you like with your saree? Or no jewellery at all, because you feel like it?

How about just wearing the jewellery you like, you want to wear and you feel comfortable wearing? 

10. Choose where and how to pin your saree

They say, securing your pleats and your pallu are a must, the pins shouldn’t show and definitely must be positioned right?

How about pinning or not pinning the saree based on what you prefer or wearing fun pins and not caring if they show? How about filling your saree with brooches? 

11. Choose the right hair cut/ colour/ style

Have any of you been told any of the following: Straighten your hair into sleekness when wearing a saree, girls with long lustrous locks look best in sarees, wear your hair in nice bun, don’t leave it wild and unruly!

How about just let your hair be the way it wants to be? Wear a saree with long hair or short, with thick unruly hair or a shaved head, tie it up or leave it down, whatever YOU want.

What not to do when wearing a saree?

Don’t be a misogynistic, gender roles obsessed, douche that wants to maintain shitty beauty standards and views people’s bodies as objects meant to please the viewer’s gaze!

Also remember saree is probably one of the first gender neutral clothing options meant for everyone inside and outside of one’s understanding of the gender spectrum.

The saree doesn’t have to come with a set of dreary rules, an expiry date based on trends especially if you choose timeless handlooms, it doesn’t have to have an age limit, or a body shape preference!

What a saree gives you is, the freedom to interpret it in new ways or happily be comfortable in the tried and tested! So if the saree police accosts you, ask them to get lost and choose to feel good about YOU!

Tell me what saree rule gets your goat, let’s keep the conversation going in the comments section.

 

Leather jacket and boots with a vintage saree?

Isn’t it time we took one of the oldest, continuosly worn garment and made it our own?

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

Leather jacket and boots with a vintage saree? Why not? Isn’t it time we stopped wearing things the way other people wear them? Isn’t it time we took one of the oldest, continuosly worn garment and made it our own?

Here’s the thing, I don’t care how you wear your sarees, I wear mine the way I like and the way I feel on the day. I love leather anything and I love sarees and sometimes I wear everything I like together.  Old world Ikats with perfectly worn in leather was the choice of this particular day of roaming about to get some brunch and walk around the neighbourhood.

I cannot get enough of material that has softened with time, aged beautifully and has character. I love the quality, the uniqueness, the stories and the images I conjure up of vintage garments. They are more than just used-clothes, they come with history, an old world charm, a sprinkle of magic and are what I think; clothing with a soul. And in my opinion the best kind of vintage item is the perfectly preserved saree, the old world craftsmanship, wrapped up in whimsy, its truly a handloom lover’s dream come true.

One is never too old or too young to wear vintage, it can be styled in myriad different ways but it still somehow retains its soul. And there is much more creative freedom in doing things in one’s own way, to cause one to grin from ear to ear in joy at the reflection in the mirror!

 

 

 

 

Travel stories of a saree enthusiast

I don’t think travelling in sarees is a big deal at all, I have photos of my Mother and GrandMother both globetrotting in their stunning six yard beauties forming my earliest fashion inspirations and now I am just continuing the tradition.

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

The memories I have of travelling on my own, initially to university, then moving cities for work before eventually moving to a different continent, to now traipsing all over the world, all have sarees attached to them.

I remember carrying three sarees when I had to pack up my life and condense it to 40 kgs for my move to Australia. I don’t think travelling in sarees is a big deal at all, I have photos of my Mother and GrandMother both globetrotting in their stunning six yard beauties forming my earliest fashion inspirations and now I am just continuing the tradition.

When we travelled to Europe this summer, road tripping across the spectacular South of France, bumming around in Amsterdam before coming home to the countryside around Paris, I carried six sarees and was given one while I was there. If you have been following @dtanaya or @pleatsnpallu on instagram you have seen photos in realtime of my travel adventures in these sarees.

Although I carried half a dozen six yard beauties, I carried no underskirt or saree blouse as I absolutely don’t believe that they are needed especially when living out of a suitcase for weeks, flying budget airlines and dealing with the Paris metro. Every piece of clothing I carried could be worn with each other and I really don’t like matching separates.

In these photos I am wearing a chiffon leheriya saree from Jamnagar with a dabu print top and leather shorts at the lovely Château de Pierrefonds. It is a medieval castle at the edge of the Forest of Compiègne, northeast of Paris and the picturesque village with a lake in the centre is also very pleasant to explore.

Leheriya gets its name from the Hindi word for wave, ‘leher’ and is a tie & dye technique that produces ripple-like patterns. I have many many sarees in Bandhani as well as Leheriya and cannot get enough of them, this saree barely weighs anything and looks pretty even when its crushed (at least to me, I hate ironing clothes).

Sarees and travel both play an integral part in my stories so here’s to travelling the world one handcrafted saree at a time!

Saree love in the Netherlands

Rules like ‘fat girls shouldn’t wear light and starchy tangails just because it might makes them look even bigger’ are bullshit. Pick whatever YOU think is beautiful and my one styling/draping tip is not to follow any rulebook..

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

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Photos: Koel Banerjee’s family archives

From wrapping big gamchhas and shawls as sarees to mimic the older ladies of her Bengali household, to being a true connoisseur of handloom beauties, Koel Banerjee has come a long way in her saree journey.

We caught up with her on summer day in Netherlands for an adda about her love and celebration of the six yards as well as her thoughts on the various rules that people have around wearing sarees.

In between sumptuous food and endless giggles she said, “Born in a middle class joint family in Calcutta I have always seen all the female members of the family wearing only sarees, since my birth I have been literally surrounded by sarees”.

Her earliest memories include her Mother’s tomato colour organdy saree with spaced out small checkered fabric appliqué flowers on the body with very thin lace borders which she remembers vividly, a saree bought from New Market in Calcutta.

She said, “I used to love most of my mom’s sarees but this one in particular is engraved in my memory”.

Koel’s grandmother was endlessly entertained with both her grand daughters’ love for the six yards as well as playing dress-up in sarees and she bought them one kid sized saree each.

Her grandfather, a freelance photographer documented the saree shenanigans in the afternoons while the household was quiet during siesta, “I was his favourite muse and was about three or four and during my first saree photo session”.

As she left her idyllic childhood behind for studies and moved overseas it became harder and harder to continue with the saree love on a daily basis. But then Koel decided to to join the 100SareePact, a saree movement started by two friends who wanted to wear 100 sarees in 12 months and tell their saree stories.

Koel said, “Earlier I used to wear sarees for special occasions only, like birthdays/anniversaries/Durga Pujo, but ever since I started my 100SareePact journey last year and successfully reached the target in an year, it gave me immense motivation and strength to keep going. Geographical location, weather, profession, age, body type etc are all excuses we make up in our minds”.

She revels in wearing her saree loud and proud while globetrotting as one half of an expat couple, “I feel beautiful and feminine in a saree which usually doesn’t happen in any other attire. And also the fact that I am wearing my culture and tradition makes me feel proud too. Oh and not to miss that I love to be the ‘odd’ one out in a crowd…especially out of India”.

Her one buying tip to newbie saree enthusiasts is to go for handlooms to start with, “The most important piece of advice is to not let anyone else tell you what kind of sarees you should wear. Because you need to see and feel how a drape falls on your body rather than someone else tell you that”.

In her opinion, “Rules like ‘fat girl shouldn’t wear light and starchy tangails just because it might makes them look even bigger’ are bullshit. Pick whatever YOU think is beautiful and my one styling/draping tip is not to follow any rulebook. Just mix and match with any blouse/top/tees etc. with any colour you feel. Though I have never tried draping a saree without an in-skirt but I have seen a few who look stunning draped in a saree on jeans or trousers or dresses. So just be your own stylist”.

In these photos Koel is wearing a linen with different shades of thread in warp and weft which makes large checks of combination hues in the body with a lovely silver pallu and a thin silver border. She said, “I am crazy about silver zari and that is one reason i chose this saree”.

She says that her biggest saree wearing inspiration is her mother, “She (Koel’s Mother) has always looked so classy and elegant even in the simplest and inexpensive sarees. And even now at this old age she looks the best amongst the three of us (me and my sister) when we all wear sarees for any occasion”.

 

Get in touch with Koel via her instagram handle @k_babushka