Tips for buying handlooms online

This post is for those of you who live outside of the sub-continent and have asked me questions about starting your handloom journey. If you are already a handloom connoisseur, you don’t need me to tell you what to do …

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

I would love to buy all my sarees from brick and mortar shops, hole in the wall shacks in bazaars, sleepy Government emporiums or Khadi bhandars, directly from artisans at various exhibitions and on visits to weaving clusters …However, I live no where close to any of the above.

So, I often wear and re-wear my sarees, wait to go home to India to satisfy my buying fix or coax my friends with impeccable taste into picking stuff up for me. But there are a lot of you who may be new to the idea of handloom sarees and I do know that not everyone in the diaspora goes to India often.

So here are some things I have learnt about shopping online for handlooms as a beginner:

  • I prefer to buy from websites that have the the handloom mark or are government certified handloom resellers. Also, most of the bigger websites will have complimentary services to get the fall attached to the bottom of the saree and close the edges.
  • Remember to be patient and look for what really feels like you. Whether we like it or not, most saree websites stock what is popular among customers (i.e. bling-ey non-handlooms), so you will need patience to sift through.
  • Set your own budget, there is a handloom saree for EVERY budget. Don’t let anyone tell you that your interest is not legitimate because you are not buying the latest super expensive revival weave and/ or you are not a textile scholar.
  • Don’t let anyone else tell you what to buy and what to pair with what. Especially ignore cranky purveyors of saree sanctity on various saree groups.
  • Interact with people online who are passionate about sarees, they will be able to point you in the right direction.
  • When buying online, ask questions to know what you are buying:

– what is the material and where has it been sourced?
– is it from a weaver or a middle person? (imo stay away from resellers who refuse to call themselves that.)
-what exactly is handcrafted and what is special about the work? (A craftsperson or an honest reseller should also be able to give you some added information and knowledge of the weave/print/ craft.)

  • Enlarge the photos on display so that you can see the fabric clearly or ask for close-up photos if you need. Handlooms show up fine irregularities, handblock is easy to distinguish from machine prints and printed bandhani/ leheriya is discernible from real hand tied work.
  • Check the website/ online store a couple of times before you buy anything, speak to people who have already bought from them and check the reviews.
  • Research the various weaves, fabrics, hand block prints and embroidery styles available. There is a lot of information out there that will help you decide where you want to start.
  • Most of us have been exposed to hand crafted beauties in our families, our Mothers, aunts, uncles and grandmothers are sometimes the best people to guide us.

This saree is a budget handloom from Karnataka sourced via a website who I have had a fabulous experience with. They have a decent selection of handlooms for someone who is just starting out, offer complimentary finishing to make the saree read-to-wear, their blouse tailors have given me the best blouse I have ever had made plus the person I spoke to on live chat was wonderfully helpful.

I find this saree very versatile, it can easily be dressed up or down based on where you are planning to wear it. I have worn it here with a hand embroidered Kutchi choli bought from the community that wears these in their every-day lives, along with a massive flower head-band.

This was worn to go to a national park and float about in the backwaters for a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of the city. I don’t know if the photos to justice to the perfect colour of the fabric, it is bright but in an understated way and the checks are heaps fun.

I would wear something like this with some silver jewellery to a day wedding or I would wear a white tee to wear this saree to work. Styling options are limitless based on your ability to re-imagine simple cotton textiles.

Most of what I have in my tiny saree collection are gifts from family and friends therefore I have no idea about the source. But this saree was sent to me by Sareez.com, I have not been asked to review or write about the saree but I loved dealing with them and what they sent me, therefore I am choosing to share my views.

 

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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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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