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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When sisterhood meets sareelove

Celebrating the enduring power of female friendships and saree love …

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

February is called the month of love and I have always wondered why celebrate love just one day of the year. The world today could do with a lot more love and understanding.

One of my biggest gripes with Valentine’s day is that it predominantly sells the idea of cis heterosexual romantic love. The majority of cards depict images of heterosexual couples, or male and female animals, soft toys, and the like, in the same way that anniversary cards are almost entirely designed for opposite sex partners.

However, as saccharine sweet, cheesy and commercialised as I may think the socially accepted version of Valentine’s day is, I can’t help but get behind the message of celebrating positivity and affection. Just not the romantic, boy-girl kind.

What I would like to celebrate this month is the love and solidarity that has ensured my existence today: female friendships.

We are told that our romantic partners are supposed to complete us but our most profound relationships are just as likely to be with our close female friends. For many women, friends are our primary partners through life and are those who centre us emotionally.

So in the sprit of sisterhood and saree love, all through this month I am going to highlight fabulous women who love sarees. Some of them wear sarees, some design them and others work with weavers and karigars to bring to us most delectable unstitched concoctions.

The saree I am wearing in the photos is a symbol of that exact kind of love in more ways than one, I won’t go into details as I’ve been told not to!

It is a Begumpuri weave from the cluster of villages around Hooghly in West Bengal and it has been customised with stunning Moroccan motifs embroidered  on by the lovely team at Sutaknotty (find them on instagram or facebook). Begumpuri sarees are cotton weaves with bold lines and geometric patterns that run across the body.

The lady behind Sutaknotty, Sweta is a veritable encyclopaedia of weaves from West Bengal and she customises sarees with the most exquisite and quirky touches. She also patiently answers questions about handlooms without being pushy to make sales and will try and source the most obscure weaves.

It is women like Sweta who make online shopping for sarees a fun experience for me and Sutaknotty is the kind of business I would like to see do tremendously well.

I am tired of resellers making a quick buck by selling really commonly available, reasonably priced weaves for exorbitant prices by presenting them as something on the brink of extinction!

Wearing handcrafted, ethically made clothing doesn’t have to cost heaps and there are businesses run by ladies who not only sell the most amazing stuff but are also taking sisterhood to new heights. Happy love month Sweta and I am glad you’re a part of my life.

 

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.

 

Wear a saree in the winter and stay warm

Just like sarees needn’t be occasion wear, they also don’t have to be just pleasant weather outfits and can totally be transitioned into the colder months …

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

A lot of you have asked me how I incorporate my six and nine yard beauties in my daily wear in the colder months and the only answer I have is that our mothers and grandmothers have been rocking the unstitched cloth with sweaters and coats for ages.

However, since so many women have asked me the same question over and over I have made a list of a few things that I do to wear sarees when it is really cold or I travel to sub-zero temperatures. In my opinion there is no such thing as too cold to wear what you want if you wear the right kind of layers.

  1. Merino base layers: Lightweight merino wool base layers are incredibly warm, soft against the skin and absorb sweat keeping you dry, don’t need to be washed very frequently and can be chucked in the washing machine. I shudder at the thought of  going anywhere near synthetic thermals.
  2. Use the pallu as a warm scarf: Wrap the pallu in myriad ways around your neck and torso to keep it out of the way and to keep you toasty.
  3. Don’t shy away from beanies: There is no reason to not wear cute beanies when there are tonnes of options to choose from and a lot of independent women owned businesses that will knit you cute ones.
  4. Heavy boots and sneakers look fabulous with sarees: Heavy duty socks along with thick soled boots and sneakers look amazing with sarees. I don’t understand women who wear uncomfortable strappy heels in the winter with their desi wear and get frost bite. I’d rather wear warm boots and dance!
  5. Buy good quality clothing in natural fabrics: Wearing the right fabrics will keep you looking great and feeling warm during the short days of the cold season. A good winter fabric should be strong, warm and natural, but should look amazing as well like merino or sheep wool, cashmere, pure silks etc.
  6. Incorporate down jackets into your layers: Down jackets have saved me from freezing in sub zero temperatures, I always add a vest under my final outer layer.
  7. Ditch the petticoats and wear wool leggings and skirts instead: I hate the petticoat in general and will never wear one in the winter. Merino wool is my choice of base on the lower part of my body as well.
  8. Play with drapes that work for the season and your lifestyle: I cannot stress how important it is to think beyond the Nivi drape if we want to actually wear sarees in general and especially in the winter. Customise your drape to your needs and screw the purists if they annoy you like they do me.
  9. Sarees don’t always need to be ankle length: Floor length drapes may not work in the rain and snow, so get creative with the length.
  10. Don’t hesitate to add a scarf: On really cold days I add my wool scarves and shawls or even dupattas to my sarees. The play of colours and textures is fun and it is functional.
  11. Winter outer wear like leather jackets, trench coats and wool overcoats work wonderfully with sarees.
  12. I love light merino or cashmere flowy cardigans in different lengths with everything I wear including saree.
  13. Thick and coarse sarees in silk, cotton, khadi work great as do the simple cottons. Just concentrate on your base and outer layer the most.
  14. Remember layers, layers and layers, you will be just fine. There is nothing that layers as easily as a saree.

I am wearing a hand block print mulmul cotton saree here on a cold day in Sydney, there is a merino base layer under my sweatshirt and a thick denim skirt under my saree. I have a massive collection of merino, cashmere and sheep wool socks & beanies that I love wearing on seriously cold days.

If you want to check out some of the other times I have worn my sarees out and about in on cold days, you can do so here, herehere, here, here and here.

 

 

The magic of Bengal handloom sarees

Handloom sarees from West Bengal never cease to amaze me with their unique designs and stunning craftsmanship …

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

My love for Bengal handloom knows no bounds and I will always invariably reach for them no matter what the occasion.

These photos were taken on a beautiful pre-spring day in Sydney when we wanted to go for a leisurely walk along the coast and chill on the rock-pools. And in my head this vintage taant seemed like the perfect outfit to wear. No petticoat, broad pleats like the Athpourey drape and a long pallu/aanchol that acted as a fabulous scarf.

I can never have enough of the spectacular taants, the awe inspiring Jamdanis, the fabulous Balucharis, the earthy Dhonekalis, the uncomplicated Begumpuris or the easy-to-wear Fulias. I get a lot of questions specifically on where I source my W Bengal handlooms, unfortunately most of mine including this one come from my GrandMother’s extensive wardrobe. But I LOVE what Biswa Bangla and Tantuja stock, weavers from Bengal are easy to find at exhibitions, the khadi emporium at Dakhinapan is a treasure trove and the Gariahat market in Calcutta is a handloom lover’s paradise.

There are multiple weaving clusters in the state with Shantipur, Hooghly, Nadia, Bardhaman, Dhaniakhali, Begampur, and Farasdanga being the main cotton weaving centres involved in the weaving of fine-textured saris and dhotis. There is a rich tradition of weaving handloom cotton textiles among the tribal and semi-tribal people n the districts of West Dinajpur, Jalpaiguri, Maldah, and Cooch Behar in North Bengal.

So if like me you are tired of all the blingy sarees clogging your social media feeds during the festive season and your eyes need a break, give your simple Bengal cottons a go. In my opinion they go with everything and are suitable for all activities.

 

 

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.

 

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.