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.

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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.

 

Weaves of India: Moirang Phee

When struggling to wear a hard to tame fabric, the trick is to not give up and wear it again and again till you finally master the drape …IMG_1020

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

A lot of us struggle with certain kinds of sarees and tend to avoid them or completely give up on those kinds of fabrics. Over the course of my saree adventures I have identified that heavily starched and heavy zari sarees completely confound me.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t like them or wear them, I just scuffle with them more than I do with others. But with difficult sarees, any problematic fabric for the matter I’ve discovered the one thing that always works is to wear them … Again and again.

In the case of heavily starched cottons, repeat uses, steam iron and handwashing are my go to. The way I come to terms with hard to drape textiles is by playing with them to figure out how they prefer to fall, not forcing them to submit to what I want.

The saree in these photos is a stiff Moirang Phee that I played with for almost two months before I was happy with the way I wore it. I gave up trying to drape it the way I had wanted to when I first saw it and went with easy and relaxed.

Wore it casually over a gathered skirt with applique work and my swim-suit top to frolic on the beach one evening post sunset not caring if the pleats or the pallu were askew. As usual I skipped wearing safety pins and played in the waves till it got dark and a ranger came over with a torch telling people that the access gates were being shut.

I have wanted a Moirang Phee for ages before I got this beauty that was woven in Manipur by two female weavers and took about a week to be handcrafted to perfection.

Manipur is a tiny state in India’s spectacular North-east, set among breathtaking blue hills full of stunning water-falls, beautiful temples, picturesque paddy fields, scenic lakes and a plethora of indigenous flora and fauna. The art of weaving has developed and been perfected over centuries in the state.

Even though the weaves from there are not as well-known as others like the Kanjeevaram or the Benarasi, I believe Manipur has some of the most beautiful handlooms in India. Also, unlike other parts of India weaving in Manipur is entirely the work of women.

Most of the Meitei families in the rural areas in the Barak Valley depend on weaving and the handloom industry. The unique ethnic designs of Meitei handloom weaving include Ningthou-Phee, Namthang-khut-hat, Lashing-Phee, Moirang-Phee and Leiroom etc.

Moirang-Phee is a textile fabric which has a specific design called ‘MoirangPheejin’ which is woven sequentially on both longitudinal edges of the fabric and oriented towards the centre of the cloth with cotton or silk threads. Orginally a product of the Moirang village in the Bishnupur district this design is now protected under the Geographical Indicator registration and produced throughout Manipur.

The ‘MoirangPheejin’ design is locally known as ‘YarongPhi’, ‘ya’ meaning tooth, ‘rong’ meaning long and ‘longba’ denoting pronged. The design is said to represent the thin and pointed teeth of ‘Pakhangba’, the Pythonic God in Manipuri mythology.

I have come across a lot of sellers selling these sarees but only two who genuinely source from weavers in Manipur, are able to give me details about where their products have been made, tell me about the yarns used and the meaning behind different motifs.

It has also come to my attention that a lot of similar looking sarees woven with substandard yarn in Bangladesh are passed off by unscrupulous sellers as Moirang Phees.

One thing I’ve learnt is to stay away from sellers who can’t answer my questions or avoid them and those who claim to sell authentic products for ridiculously low prices.

This saree is from a woman-owned and operated business run by a fabulous Manipuri lady, Amy Aribam who stocks delectable handloom concoctions. Check out her MoirangPhee stocks on her website or on instagram.

Reimagining the saree

Why can’t a saree wearer also wear bikinis or enjoy a drink or date someone out of their own race or religion?

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

I get a lot of comments and questions on my clothing, they are mostly appreciative, sometimes funny and at other times downright offensive.

I have been documenting what I wear off and on for over five years now and have always veered towards handcrafted ethically made/ sourced clothing. I wear sarees very often but I also wear a lot more than that. I hate labelling my clothes or accessories as desi or western or fusion, I wear what I want to wear in combinations that make me happy.

This blog and the accompanying Instagram is about draping the six and nine yards of unstitched fabric so here you only see my adventures in them but I am a massive believer in people wearing whatever they choose to. Rules, trends and opinions of others be damned!

A lot of people somehow can’t reconcile the fact that I constantly talk about handloom sarees with the girl who will happily frolic in skimpier clothes. I didn’t know that I had to be exclusive to any item of clothing or any specific school of thought on how a woman should dress.

I wear my booty shorts with as much ease as I drape my nine-yard sarees and refuse to fit my personal style into a box to please a certain section of people. I will cheerfully wear my swimwear as well as sarees on the beach, I will drink like a sailor when I please and liking handlooms does not make me or anyone else a ‘behenji’. By the same token, wearing something skimpier does not make any of us sluts!

The last time I wore a saree as a gown/ maxi dress (you can view the post here) I got reported for being offensive and got tonnes of messages accusing me of insulting my culture.

Here is the thing though, culture is not static and changes with time. It is constantly evolving and being re-interpreted by different individuals in myriad ways. I might express, communicate and celebrate my culture in ways that are different to someone else but that does not make me or anyone else right or wrong, just dissimilar.

I don’t think of a saree as something staid or boring or even just traditional, the unstitched cloth can be whatever I want it to be, it is fluid and timeless. So here I am with another Gajji silk bandhani saree worn as an off-shoulder dress. A bunch of pleats, tucks, knot, a belt and one safety pin is all it took to create this dress.

I wanted to wear something fabulous for someone special on a day that meant a great deal to them. And this is what my sister came up with, a tweak from me here and an adjustment there and I was ready to spend a fabulous evening with a bunch of friends.

This drape lets me run, dance, jump, hi-kick and twirl while feeling really pretty. If someone fails to see the beauty and versatility of this hand tie-dyed beauty and all they notice are my bare shoulders or legs then the problem is with them not me!

My love affair with linen sarees just got serious with this Jamdani

Customised drape for a linen jamdani saree that is light as a feather and drapes like a dream

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

I am an absolute hoarder of linens in any form and have an ongoing love affair with the fabric. Shirts, tops, dresses, pants, sarees, bed clothes, you name it and I adore it in linen.

I know a lot of us are intimidated by the thought of ironing the creases but I feel linen can make for great outfits when one knows how to get the best out of it. It is one of the oldest fabrics known to mankind and really comes into its own after a period of rigorous wear. It tends to get softer and shinier with each wash as flax fibres don’t stretch a great deal and are resilient against damage caused by abrasion.

To wear linen confidently is to embrace the material’s relaxed crumpled-ness. I carry a lot of linen while travelling as well and I absolutely refuse to iron my clothes. I just hang any crumply item of clothing in the bathroom on a hanger while its steamy from a shower and that usually eases out the creases.

What I also like about linen is that it is a natural fabric which breaks down over time and causes little harm to the environment. It is also easy on the environment during cultivation and production. Unless organically manufactured, cotton production requires a lot of water and is heavily reliant on pesticides which impacts the health of farmers in developing countries, pollutes waterways and soil.

Linen on the other hand consumes much less water and needs fewer chemical interventions during manufacture. I find it best to stick to organically produced natural fabrics, they come with a higher price tag but leave a smaller environmental foot-print.

I don’t think any other form of clothing does as much justice to linen as a saree. The fabric inherently lends itself to drapes beautifully, is very flattering to form without being clingy and doesn’t stick out in stiff folds. I find linen/ linen-cotton mix sarees to be malleable to my draping experiments.

In these photos I am wearing a wonderful linen-cotton with a temple border and Jamdani motifs on the pallu that was hand-woven in West Bengal. The drape has been customised to make the best use of the stunning aanchol/ pallu with a tulip opening in the front, pleats at the back and a long pallu.

This saree is a brainchild of a fabulously talented woman I am honoured to call my friend, Amy Aribam. She is the tremendously inspiring lady behind the indie label based out of Delhi: Amaria. Check them out on Instagram here and you can visit their website here.

The Dhoti style saree drape

A handcrafted beauty of a saree in the dhoti drape with a silk stole worn as a halter top for an afternoon of fun …

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

If you follow the Pleats N Pallu on instagram you will know that I rarely wear my everyday sarees in the usual Nivi drape. I get bored with things easily and feel there is so much more that can be done with the six-yards of fabric.

One of my most repeated drapes is the dhoti (or dhuti as we say in Bengali) drape that I customise a lot once the bottom is done. I find this style really easy to play with, especially with the usual saree length as I don’t have very many nine-yard sarees.

The saree I have worn here is a hand crafted beauty received as a gift from a woman I have come to admire and love. I wore it in the dhoti/ pant drape with a fanned out section at the back, no petticoat, no safety pins and no fuss for an afternoon of fun. The blouse worn with the saree is a silk stole that I wore as a halter top. I like using everything I have as separates and put them together in ways that are pleasing to my eyes.

A few posts ago I waxed eloquent about the global saree sisterhood and these photos are a visual representation of it. This saree is a Durga Pujo gift from one of the wonderful ladies I have met via the online community of women who love the six-yards. Deepa has fabulous taste and I am beyond grateful she and her wonderful M thought of me during the festive season.

I think the love for handcrafted textiles binds a lot of us in a bond of affection that is hard to describe. Deepa and I started talking about sarees but discovered one day that conversing with each other became a daily part of our routines. We can chat for hours moving from topic to topic and not tire.

There is tremendous support and strength in solidarity and I completely believe that women supporting each other can vanquish all negativity. I absolutely reject the idea that women inherently envy each other. Women competing, comparing, undermining and undercutting one another is just the prevailing notion of how we interact. It doesn’t have to be our absolute truth.

Women don’t hate each other but patriarchy does dictate that we should. It is a system ensures that we are in constant competition with each other. It is 2017 and we should stop seeing each other as rivals, and more as comrades.

Patriarchal and misogynistic systems will only collapse when women stop holding themselves and fellow women to its standards. So, can we just stop reinforcing this trope that women are inherently ‘bitchy’ toward each other? It doesn’t do us or other ladies any good and will hold us back in a system that is already doing its best to keep us down.

Women standing together is patriarchy’s biggest threat.

If you want to follow the saree Goddess that is Deepa you can find her on instagram.

 

 

 

Saree clad skateboarder

I know that not many people associate skateboards and sarees together but here I am skateboarding in a handwoven and hand embroidered beauty in two drapes that have been concocted by my sister and I to facilitate my movement and be comfortable …

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

For some reason wearing sarees is synonymous with being coy, conservative and a whole lot of other stereotypes, which is absolute rubbish! A saree wearing woman is whoever she wants to be, the six-yards of fabric don’t wear the person, the wearer wears the drape.

Before I started this blog and its accompanying instagram, I was just plain annoyed with the online photos of women in sarees, same kind of bodies wearing similar kinds of slinky sarees, looking pretty in a studio. I found photos of real women doing fun stuff missing from the narrative and here are a few photos of me having fun while wearing the same saree in two distinctly different ways.

I know that not many people associate skateboards and sarees together but here I am skateboarding in a handwoven and hand embroidered saree. Both the drapes I am wearing have been concocted by my sister and I to facilitate my movement and be comfortable. The first drape was worn on a drizzly cooler day with a merino wool top, my trusty converse and a pair of baggy cords and the second drape was accompanied by a hand block print wrap around skirt worn as a top plus my beat-up vans.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that sarees can only be worn with tight bottoms, I beg to differ. Sarees can be worn with whatever the hell takes one’s fancy and they can be worn to make the best of any adventure you want to undertake.

The saree I am wearing in these photos is a Chikankari on handwoven mulmul, I know it looks nothing like we expect a Chikan textile to be. It is a concept creation that blends of two schools of thought that have influenced the craft, Mughal & Nawab and the motifs used are typical of Mughal fresco art, instead of the more regularly used Nawabi motifs . Some rarely used exotic stitches can be seen on this saree including ghaspatti, shadow, ulta bakhiya, phanda, etc.

I get tonnes of queries a day asking me where I get my sarees and where I’d recommend someone go and buy a certain kind of saree. I have consciously  stayed away from naming sources here because this blog is about hand crafted textiles especially in their six yard avatars and not about where one should buy the latest trending item.

But I also know a lot of small independent businesses all over India that are trying really hard to keep some of our arts and crafts alive. So, from now on if I am wearing an extra special handcrafted saree or blouse/ top or even jewellery or other accessories from an independent craftsperson or business I admire for their ethics I will tell you the source. I am even more likely to love a brand that is woman owned and has predominantly female artisans.

This saree was created by an amazing lady called Vidhi Rastogi who started dabbling in textiles along with a day job with a corporate giant. She says, “The need to make a difference for our artisans was so strong, that I worked an extremely demanding day job and came home to  work on ethically sourced handcrafted textiles.”

Earlier this year she quit her day job and decided to work solely on her fabulous brand Meiraas that can be found online, on Facebook and on instagram.