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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

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.