Trekking in the mountains in a saree

Whether I am wearing a saree at a formal event, for an event at the pub or trekking in the mountains chasing waterfalls—details matter …

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

I posted one of the photos from this set on instagram recently and had a lot of people ask me how I wear sarees while trekking deep in the forests, while climbing or descending mountains.

I also had someone get very upset that I was setting dangerous precedents!

I didn’t know that wearing a saree on a trek was something that would elicit such a lot of response and garner such intense reactions. This is not the first time I have posted about hiking while draped in unstitched fabric, it will certainly not be the last. Case in point here, hereherehere, here, here and here.

For me wearing sarees is enjoyable, I don’t feel restricted in the saree because I don’t follow the arbitrary draping rules that govern the garment. I am no saree evangelist, I wear whatever I want, however I like. I just always ensure that my clothing doesn’t restrict my activity and believe that nothing can hold me back from doing what I truly want to do.

I have been hiking for years and truly know my fitness levels, prepare my gear based on the intensity of the climb and dress according to the weather.

When gearing up to head out on a hike, I make sure I have all the right equipment, such as the proper backpack, maps, footwear and other gear, I also wear the right clothes.

Wearing the right hiking clothes whether I choose to wear a saree or not is based on the same logic—knowing the type of trail I’ll be on, what the temperature and climate will be, and how long I’ll be outdoors.

The day that these photos were taken was quite cool, I wore multiple layers that could be taken off easily, the saree was draped to aid my movement plus worn at a length that I was comfortable with, the boots could easily handle the terrain, I was carrying everything I needed in my backpack and we knew exactly where we were going plus what to expect.

In these photos, the sweater I am wearing is merino wool, the saree I am wearing is super comfortable cotton with hand crafted bandhani motifs and the backpack I am carrying was handwoven by artisans in South America. Everything I wear and carry on a hike like this has a purpose and aids my activities.

I am no expert but I do know to invest in the right gear before embarking on a hike and I don’t push myself too far beyond my comfort zone when I am in the middle of the forest in the mountains.

The saree is just another clothing option I have that I find quite flexible and suited to the many outdoors activity that I choose to undertake. I am not asking anyone to follow my lead, I am quite happy marching to the beat of my own drum and wearing what I feel like.

 

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Walking the dog in a nandana print saree

Sarees can be a fuss-free but vibrant clothing option if only we eschew the popular edicts that govern women’s clothing  …

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

After a month of showcasing various weaves from West Bengal, I am ready to explore other states in my sartorial journey…

These photos were taken on an afternoon spent with the furbaby, playing in the park, walking around the neighborhood and getting yummy gelatos. Wore a Nandana print cotton saree draped in a fun way with a gajji silk bandhani blouse, no petticoat, no pins just easy breezy relaxed comfort.

Nandana is an elaborate style of hand block printing practiced by local Chippa community in the Tarapur village of Madhya Pradesh. It is a time consuming and labor intensive process involving about 16 steps to get to the final design.

Traditionally these prints decorated rough thick fabrics used for making ghagras by the women of tribal communities in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. These prints have a limited number of block patterns, mostly flowers and fruits and printed in the same manner all over the fabric.

I believe there are just five designs ranging from small buti to big buta known as mirch, champakali, dholamaru, amba and salaam are the signature motifs for these prints.

I love easy lengths of fabrics like this saree with handcrafted fun patterns because I don’t have to worry about them too much and can get on with my monkeying. I chuck them in the washing machine and never bother ironing out creases.

In the last decade my wardrobe has seen an addition of these kinds of fuss-free clothing over the harder to maintain pieces.

In my opinion the unstitched cloth can be a wonderfully practical garment that really adapts to the needs of the wearer if we remove the baggage of rules and  traditions.

The saree is a purely functional garment that has been saddled with too many do’s and don’ts.

We must remember that anyone can wear sarees (if they want to). Anyone can have fun with sarees, you don’t need video tutorials just an open mind and the willingness to play with them.

No one, I repeat no one is the wrong shape or size or age for them, and we must stop stressing about the nonsensical rules tied to the wearing of sarees.

Don’t believe me? Here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here are a few of my older posts where either my sister or I concocted a drape on handcrafted sarees.

None of these are the result of any one else’s tutorials, just the outcome of enjoying playing with the six yards of fabric.

 

 

 

Perfect saree pleats feat. a vintage jamdani

A lot of people insist on the perfect pleats on a saree but I wonder why that is?

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

There are a plethora of articles online telling women how to wear sarees, with tips to get the neatest pleats to look slim, elegant, poised and who knows what else.

What these articles seem to forget is that women are living breathing entities who actually believe it or not run around and get sh*t done. And people who are doing stuff and living their lives don’t have the time or the inclination to perfectly pleat their sarees. Also, what I find most appalling about these articles is that they are almost always written by women.

The multiple ways in which women who wear sarees are shamed by other women are subtle but obvious, small but inescapable. What is the big deal about perfect pleats anyway? To be honest the stiff safety pinned look does nothing for me.

These articles get shared and re-shared and we’ve set up a world in which wearing a saree seems like an unknowable mystery and we all feel at least a little unsure and bad about ourselves while trying to sort it out.

I don’t know what is it but asserting some sense of moral authority, know-how, expertise at another’s expense seems like people’s favourite sport. We like rules and we like checklists and we are vulnerable to people who seem like they have it all figured out.

Rules about wearing a saree well are not actually real but a reflection of the institutionally sizeist/racist/ageist/misogynist stew we’re all marinating in.

There are no actual experts when it comes to wearing sarees, it is a fluid garment that takes the personality of the wearer. No one knows how you should be wearing your unstitched cloth — not the bullies, not the rule-makers, not the writers of stupid articles online.

Often people think there’s only one way to wear a sari – that is the ‘Nivi’ drape.

But the truth is that there are hundreds of different region specific ways to drape a sari.  Just like cuisines,  language and customs in India – the drapes are an outcome of context, geography, climate and function.

I would assume that there are other drapes that have died out or ones that haven’t yet been officially documented. And this safety-pinned neatly pleated look that most of us are told to aspire to is a very recent concoction.

So I say, wear whatever the hell kinda saree you want, in any damn way you want. We are all perfectly imperfect and our sarees don’t have to be impeccably pleated if we are happy running around chasing our dreams and having fun.

I strut around all day in this vintage jamdani, put it on over my bathing suit in the morning, road-tripped in it through tropical rainforests, danced in the said forests, took it off to swim and put it back on, had a picnic lunch, drank copious amounts of beer, hug and kissed my love and above all chased waterfalls with him all day.

I see no reason for neat pleats or to ‘secure’ the saree with safety pins while doing any of the above. Even at work, I refuse to pin my pallu up, instead I use it as a scarf to protect me from the freezing temperatures.

In fact, I feel most people overuse safety pins  and often make their sarees more rigid, which is not absolutely not how I wear my un-stiched cloth.

As women, we need to set new saree styling rules for ourselves, ones that have nothing to do with age, body types, colors or shapes but everything to do with how our clothing makes us feel.

 

 

Laying claim to the six yards: The saree as a beach wrap

Rocking a vintage handloom silk saree with woven in ikat patterns by the seaside as a beach wrap …

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

I’ve spoken about my love for ikats before (here) and have draped another vintage worn-in silk in a similar pattern (here), so today I won’t drone on about my low-key obsession with the textile.

I want to talk about wearing the saree, it is mostly viewed as a private affair and one doesn’t see a woman making heavy adjustments to her drape in public. And here I am wearing the saree over my bathers and basically using it as a casual beach wrap.

The saree has not always been worn in ways that are popular today. For example the women in my family didn’t always wear blouses or petticoats, they didn’t sew falls at the bottom or use safety-pins.

Most people think that a saree must be worn modestly while respecting cultural traditions/ prohibitions. I have no time for that, I am laying claim to the six yards and refuse to wear it in any other way than what appeals to me.

A lot of people believe that the saree is the most graceful/ feminine garment a woman can wear and attach a lot of religious or cultural connotations to it. I call bull-shit on all of that. I am for women choosing whatever the hell they want to wear.

I have no qualms about wearing a saree to the beach, taking it off for a swim and draping it back on over my bathing suit. I also have no inhibitions about playing in the water wearing the unstitched cloth on me.

Does that make me an immodest, vulgar woman? If you think that about a person, it just shows your state of mind and does nothing to describe who I am.

Here’s the thing, I have no problems with any of those words. Labels are for boxes, I am a person, a woman and I will wear the saree in any way I want to. Does that make me an extreme feminist? Sure, I AM an extreme feminist, in that I believe in equality and personal freedom.

I am loud-mouthed with an opinion on everything, I take up space and refuse to back down when faced with nonsense.

Also, let me be clear, I am not the first person to portray the saree as some sort of swimwear. Countless women in the hinterland who live by streams and rivers swim across banks, tucking in their sari, wash parts of the sari while some of it remains draped, and emerge from the waters with not a pleat out of place.

Wearing a saree in my own way makes me feel like its mine. Not society’s to dictate, not men’s to find me attractive, not something to worry about or to define my femininity, just mine to play with and enjoy.

I am me and mine, I refuse to be anyone else or anyone else’s. I am celebrating the six and nine yards in my own way and hoping that other’s will also feel the urge to free themselves from the rigid rules of wearing the saree.

Indian women get a lot of unsolicited expectations on what we are and are not supposed to be and do. I find that terribly restricting and feel that a lot of us are capable of a lot more if only we break the made up shackles that bind us to outdated traditions.

My online presence is a form of resistance to the shaming and silencing we constantly face as women. This blog and its social media presence is a celebration of the spirit of freedom, personal style, the fluidity of the saree and above all choice.

Patola saree and some more sisterhood

Here’s to stunning ikat textiles that never fail to mesmerise me with their beauty …

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

This patola saree in the photos is an example of one of my most favourite kinds of textiles, ikat, an exquisite form of tie-dye. The patterns are created by protecting parts of the yarn by binding it before the dyeing process, removing the binds after dyeing, possibly repeating this process multiple times, and then using this yarn in the warp, weft, or both to create stunning ombre patterns.

I’ve grown up around various ikats from Orissa (or Cottoki as I called it as a kid), Pochampally and Patolas. It is a weave I continue to be obsessed with, want more of and wear in many different forms like sarees, pants, shorts/skirts or tops as you can see here. It is also a weave that binds India to vast sections of Asia and South America.

The technique seems to have developed independently across many different cultures and continents, appearing in places like Peru, Chile, Guatemala, Yemen, Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, Kyrghystan, Uzbekistan and probably more locations that I am not aware of.

The saree I am wearing in the photos above is a single ikat Patola from Gujarat woven painstakingly by a skilled artisan. I bought this saree from one of the loveliest, most knowledgable and down-to-earth textile expert, Archana Jain of Jhini Chadariya. Since February is all about girl love here on Pleats n Pallu, I would like to take a moment to appreciate everything wonderful that women like Archana personify.

Willingness to share knowledge, celebrating everything from humble weaves and crafts to grander more illustrious ones, being open and transparent about the exact origins of her products, never bad-mouthing other online sellers and above all celebrating the artisans who create the products.

There is a lot to love about her way of operating her business and I wish there were more people like her around. Everyone that has interacted with her have nothing but wonderful things to say and I cannot wait to see her when I am in India next.

I wanted to write about her because my experience of buying from her has been truly great and she doesn’t go around marketing her brand much. Just the fact that she doesn’t tom-tom about her products and doesn’t get other people to shout from the rooftops about her products means that when you buy from people like her, your money is truly going to the artists that create your products and not paying for sponsored posts all over the internet.

So, if you’re looking to buy wonderful handmade products from a truly ethical business run by a woman check Jhini Chadariya out on facebook and instagram.

Kanjivaram silk for a day in the forest

I adore my silk sarees too much to limit them to special occasions and love draping them during my escapades away from the city into nature…

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

Kanjivaram sarees – Just the name conjures up images of opulence and Rekha at her elegant best. It also makes one think of a bride-to-be’s trousseau and traditional South Indian Pujas. Many people call these sarees South India’s answer to the Banarasi.

When I see these mulberry silk six and nine yard beauties from Kancheepuram, I am mesmerised by the colours and sheer art that they are. I think they are special, too special to hide away in my closet for the next big event that is fit to showcase them.

Silks from Kancheepuram age beautifully and it is a shame that people just see them as occasion wear. I recently wore a Kanjivaram in a dhoti drape that showed the borders off to my liking and I am sharing it here in the hope that some of you will pull out your grandmothers’ and mothers’ or even aunts’ older heavier sarees and enjoy their loveliness sans an event.

The day I wore this flowing, unstitched loveliness, we went gallavanting into a forest and spent the day revelling in the natural beauty that we were surrounded by. I don’t like clothing that restricts movement and this drape ensured that I was free to run around and gesture wildly.

Since this saree is such a beauty I haven’t bothered to wear a matching blouse, opting for a fun flowy top instead. I like to dress my heavier sarees down anyway, especially when they are almost completely free of zari like this one.

I like the drama of the Korvai border on this one and the juxtaposition of the two wildly different colours. Korvai means ‘contrast’ and it is the kind of saree where the border and the body are two different colours. To weave this kind of design two weavers sit on either side of the loom to bring about the contrast in colours and this method of weaving originated in Kanchipuram.

This saree is from a woman-owned brand that I have come to love and appreciate for their quality products as well as the work they do with weavers. Vasini from the The Silk Line makes wonderful contemporary Kanjivarams that are rooted in traditional craftsmanship and continuously make my mouth water.

Their sarees range from wonderfully elaborate or deceptively simple, it is up to you to find the one that speaks to you. You can find them on instagram or their website.

 

Nine yard sarees as everyday wear?

Wearing a nine yard saree is actually quite fun if we think for ourselves and give it our own spin beyond the dos and don’ts. I think I could wear sarees every single day of my life and still be able to interpret it in new ways …

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

It really bothers me that nine-yard sarees have been relegated to as occasion wear for a very select few.

A lot of us have traditional nine yard Nauvari or Madisar sarees wasting away in our wardrobes at home as they seem too overwhelming to try and drape. Often times we’ve only been shown the more accepted traditional ways of draping them which might not really be the most practical.

I believe longer sarees are heaps fun as there is more fabric to play with. If you are keen to experiment with seven or nine yard sarees, here are some things that have worked for me to keep going in my longer saree journey:

  1. Soft cotton sarees preferably vintage work the best for the first few experiments. Leave silk sarees alone especially for the first couple of attempts and even if you do want to try wearing a silk saree I would suggest older, softer silks.
  2. I don’t let myself get overwhelmed with the availability of fabric and genuinely try to have fun with my drapes.
  3. I love delving into regional drapes that maybe unknown to most and with the sari series now available online there is no excuse not to try them.
  4. I believe in absolutely avoiding the petticoat as it is annoying to me in general and intolerable with my seven and nine yard sarees.
  5. Avoiding safety pins and keeping myself un-restricted really assists in wearing longer sarees. The drape in the photos has been worn with no safety pins at all and it just helps me be comfortable and stay mobile.
  6. Not limiting myself to what is conventionally acceptable as a saree and a blouse opens up heaps of new possibilities.
  7. Styling the nine-yard saree as per my personality and preferences helps me use these sarees and also enjoy them. I wear the accessories, shoes and jewellery I want not what I’ve been conditioned to think is correct.
  8. I believe anything over six yards makes for wonderful winter wear as there is extra fabric to keep me warm.
  9. Not limiting myself to the traditional even less known regional drapes. I love playing the with the unstitched cloth to do different things like creating two pallus, draping longer sarees into stunning lehengas and much more.
  10. Getting a saree customised to my liking. Any saree doesn’t have to be what is available in shops, unstitched yardage in weaves that one prefers usually looks amazing. I was very keen to play with nine yard sarees but didn’t have access to one, what I am wearing here is actually four dupattas sewn together to make one.

If you are curious about nine yard sarees please know that there are ways to play with them for traditional as well as non-traditional occasions.

In these photos I am wearing eight metres of hand block print fabric in the Boggili Posi Kattukodam Drape, worn by the Golla shepherd community and Gudati Kapulu agriculturists of southern Andhra Pradesh.

The blouse is a vintage Kutchi choli that I bought ages ago to wear for Garba but now wear with jeans and sarees as well.

I hope many more of us will give longer sarees a go and explore the myriad possibilities of the unstitched fabric and the fun we can have with them.