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.

 

 

 

 

Do’s and don’ts of wearing a saree

What a saree gives you is, the freedom to interpret it in new ways or happily be comfortable in the tried and tested..

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

I have come across an article that talks about what not to do when wearing a saree, a well-wisher (read asshole) sent it to me in the murky world that is Instagram direct message.

I am definitely not sharing a link to the article because I think it is absolute nonsense of the worst kind but here is what I will share: A list of dos and don’ts when wearing a saree:

  1. Choose the right blouse

Wondering if you should wear a matching blouse or a contrast blouse with your saree, or about the neckline or design at the back or sleeve length? That skimpy choli you saw on a celebrity, could you wear it and look great? Should it be fitted or boxy?

How about just wearing whatever the hell you feel like and whatever is within arm’s reach on the day? Its a whole different kind of fun to design one’s blouse and feel fabulous in it. But you can also wear whatever top YOU thinks looks fabulous and if the blouse police has a problem with it, it is THEIR problem.

2. Choose the right pallu length

This is one of my favourites! You know what they say? The pallu length is crucial to the final look of the saree. Too long or too short pallu will just make one look, hmm what exactly?

How about wearing the length that seems right for you, on that day? I like my pallu long, but you might feel completely different about a long pallu, so you do you my friend, you do you!

3. Choose the right petticoat (under skirt)

Asking yourself questions like: How can one have a matching petticoat for every saree? What if the petticoat you’re wearing is wrong for the saree? What if the petticoat kills your entire look?

How about just having a nude petticoat that looks good under any saree? How about no petticoat? How about wearing your sarees with pants? And above all how about wearing a fun underskirt and not caring if it matches or peeks out from under? How about making what you already have, work for you?

4. Choose the right footwear

We’ve all heard things like wear your heels before you start draping or you’ll mess up the length. Asking yourself if you should wear heels with your saree as it will give you extra length and look great? Should you wear those high heels that you love but makes you tower over guys? Wondering if you could get away with embellished flats because it is going to be a long day and you don’t want to wear heels?

How about just wearing whatever you feel like? Wear the flats if you want to, wear heels if you feel like, wear sneakers if you’re running from pillar to post. 

5. Choose the right length for the saree

You know what they say? The length of your saree should be neither too long nor too short, just right. (Are we stuck in a Goldilocks and the three bears universe?)

What is just right length though? How about just wearing it the way you want? Mini-length, midi-length, dhoti style till the ankles, knee-length dhoti, anything you want!

6. Choose the right draping style

Have you been told any of the following: Stick to the drape that looks good on your shape, some draping styles makes one look bulky, others flatteringly slim, wear your pallu pleated and ‘flaunt’ your flat stomach, hide your not-so-flat stomach. Hmm?

Also don’t show too much cleavage and definitely no back cleavage! Yaar! back cleavage kya hota hai?

There are hundreds of draping styles in India and there are many more ways of experimenting with the saree. How about just playing with your drape till YOU feel great? Or just sticking to YOUR tried and tested?

7. Choose the right bra

Ooh! This is a big one. Have you heard something along the lines of, wear the right bra in the right colour for a saree/saree blouse and make sure the straps are not visible?

How about wearing the bra you like in whatever colour you like? Or going bra-less or wearing a fun bralette, sports bra or swimsuit top as your blouse? The bra that feels right for your needs is the right bra for a saree! I wear a sports bra if I feel like it, a lacy bra if I want to and if a strap peeks out, I make sure its a bloody cute colour!

8. Choose the right fabric and colour

Did you know there is the right fabric for every body shape? And suitable colour options based on the shade of your skin, age and marital status?? Mujhe toh pata hi nahi tha!

Rubbish like, skinny girls with no curves should wear certain fabrics, curvier ladies should wear another and who knows what else. Or one should wear cotton with cotton, silk with silk and of course only silk for pujas or weddings, you know because cotton is for the poor and silk means opulence and wealth?

How about just wearing the saree you want to wear, not the one THEY say is right for YOUR body type, skin colour, age, socio-economic status etc.?

9. Choose the right jewellery

Should you wear all the jewellery you have because you love them all? Should you wear nothing because jewellery isn’t really your thing? But your friend reminds you, not to look like a Christmas tree or that you’re going to a wedding and should wear some gold. Or that well-meaning relative says that you look like you’re going to a funeral because of minimal jewellery.

One, what’s wrong about looking like a Christmas tree because you want to?! I mean most people love looking at/ decorating Christmas trees. And what’s wrong with wearing plastic, wood or any other kind of jewellery you like with your saree? Or no jewellery at all, because you feel like it?

How about just wearing the jewellery you like, you want to wear and you feel comfortable wearing? 

10. Choose where and how to pin your saree

They say, securing your pleats and your pallu are a must, the pins shouldn’t show and definitely must be positioned right?

How about pinning or not pinning the saree based on what you prefer or wearing fun pins and not caring if they show? How about filling your saree with brooches? 

11. Choose the right hair cut/ colour/ style

Have any of you been told any of the following: Straighten your hair into sleekness when wearing a saree, girls with long lustrous locks look best in sarees, wear your hair in nice bun, don’t leave it wild and unruly!

How about just let your hair be the way it wants to be? Wear a saree with long hair or short, with thick unruly hair or a shaved head, tie it up or leave it down, whatever YOU want.

What not to do when wearing a saree?

Don’t be a misogynistic, gender roles obsessed, douche that wants to maintain shitty beauty standards and views people’s bodies as objects meant to please the viewer’s gaze!

Also remember saree is probably one of the first gender neutral clothing options meant for everyone inside and outside of one’s understanding of the gender spectrum.

The saree doesn’t have to come with a set of dreary rules, an expiry date based on trends especially if you choose timeless handlooms, it doesn’t have to have an age limit, or a body shape preference!

What a saree gives you is, the freedom to interpret it in new ways or happily be comfortable in the tried and tested! So if the saree police accosts you, ask them to get lost and choose to feel good about YOU!

Tell me what saree rule gets your goat, let’s keep the conversation going in the comments section.

 

Leather jacket and boots with a vintage saree?

Isn’t it time we took one of the oldest, continuosly worn garment and made it our own?

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

Leather jacket and boots with a vintage saree? Why not? Isn’t it time we stopped wearing things the way other people wear them? Isn’t it time we took one of the oldest, continuosly worn garment and made it our own?

Here’s the thing, I don’t care how you wear your sarees, I wear mine the way I like and the way I feel on the day. I love leather anything and I love sarees and sometimes I wear everything I like together.  Old world Ikats with perfectly worn in leather was the choice of this particular day of roaming about to get some brunch and walk around the neighbourhood.

I cannot get enough of material that has softened with time, aged beautifully and has character. I love the quality, the uniqueness, the stories and the images I conjure up of vintage garments. They are more than just used-clothes, they come with history, an old world charm, a sprinkle of magic and are what I think; clothing with a soul. And in my opinion the best kind of vintage item is the perfectly preserved saree, the old world craftsmanship, wrapped up in whimsy, its truly a handloom lover’s dream come true.

One is never too old or too young to wear vintage, it can be styled in myriad different ways but it still somehow retains its soul. And there is much more creative freedom in doing things in one’s own way, to cause one to grin from ear to ear in joy at the reflection in the mirror!

 

 

 

 

Indigo dabu print by the lakeside

Here you have a garment that didn’t cause much destruction to the environment while in production, is ageless, fits any size or gender, can be worn in innumerable ways and lasts and lasts ..

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

Immersed in the patterns of Rajasthani tribes in India’s west, this hand blocked dabu print indigo saree is the very definition of softness created with natural colours and gets better with ever wash. In my opinion, garments that have been made following age old practices not only look fabulous, they have a long life, are good for the environment and for the wearer as well.

Indigo, the most commonly known natural dye, is traced back to the days of the Indus valley civilisation, is the only dye that bonds naturally with cotton fibre, so it does not need a mordant (dye fixative) and (in my limited knowledge) it is also the only dye that is done in a cold process and not in a hot bath. It is highly revered among the craftsmen and wearing indigo dyed fabric is thereby considered auspicious.

Gorgeous embossed designs have been found on the cloth scraps in the carcass of Mohenjo Daro proving that block printing in India was used as early as 3000 B.C. One of the main forms of block printing consists of the Dabu & Bagru Block printing of the Thar desert.

If I could, I would solely wear natural over synthetic dyes, apart from being more sustainable natural dyes are also less of an irritant to one’s skin. Researchers have discovered that, as clothing comes into prolonged contact with one’s skin, toxic chemicals are often absorbed into the body, especially when one is warm and skin pores have opened to allow perspiration.

The fashion industry has been called the second biggest polluter on the planet and an average fast fashion garment does more harm than we can imagine to the environment. Think of the genetically modified seeds, harmful chemicals including synthetic dyes, pesticides and fertilizers, carcinogens, child labour, people losing their lives in questionable factories and pollution of water resources that are the requirements of the fashion industry.

Made from petrochemicals, polyester and nylon are not biodegradable, so they are unsustainable by their very nature. Cotton is a very thirsty plant and growing it in vast quantities can deplete valuable resources as well which is why I believe handcrafted/ hand loomed sarees that last generations are one of the most sustainable garments on this planet.

They are free-size so the fit is never a problem, if one doesn’t stress too much about matching blouses and fitted underskirts it is genuinely one of the longest lasting item of clothing a person could have.

Also this saree blouse and petticoat business is a Victorian British introduction which I have no fondness for. Don’t get me wrong, I love elaborate cholis and bright saree blouses as much as the next person but I don’t think the lack of those, impacts one’s ability to wear a saree.

Wearing different coloured tops and accessories along with a novel drapes can genuinely completely change the look. So basically here you have a garment that didn’t cause much destruction in production, is ageless, fits any size or gender, can be worn in innumerable ways and lasts and lasts.

Have I made enough of an argument about how ethical produced sarees are one of the most sustainable garments known to humans?

 

 

Khadi saree by the rock pools

The goal is not just to post photos but is to have a conversation about being comfortable in one’s own skin.

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

I love love love khadi sarees and since I’ve begun my modest little six-yard collection I’ve always wanted a simple, coarse handwoven piece from Khadibhandar. But since I live away from home, a little DIY to make three khadi scarves into a saree resulted in the pretty pink loveliness in the above photos.

As you probably know, Pleats N Pallu has a pretty active instagram page, a not-so-dormant Facebook page and I post from time to time on my personal Facebook about my  saree journey. And on these various platforms one of the oft repeated questions I get is: Do you wear these outfits for occasions and normal days or are these just for photographs?

Heres the thing, if you follow my other blog and/ or this blog, you might have noticed that the photos Vince takes are pretty decent but they are by no means professional photos. We are both photography enthusiasts and have no lighting equipment or anything, hell these photos aren’t even photoshopped! We take photos of my everyday outfits on days with good natural light and fortunately we live in a city with some spectacular natural spots so they make a good backdrop.

The whole point of Pleats N Pallu is to talk about your average person in a saree doing everyday things. Most of the photos I post of me are taken when we are out doing normal things, I wear sarees way more than I document in photos on social media. The goal is not just to post photos but is to have a conversation about being comfortable in one’s own skin.

On the day these photos were taken, we wanted to go to by the water and walk one of the coastal trails. I just wore the saree because I felt like it, the shoes I wore were beaten up converse sneakers, the top I am wearing is a merino tee (autumn in Sydney can be chilly), there was a jacket on top for the bike ride and it was genuinely a breeze to just hang about and soak in the day.

So, for all those wondering, yes these outfits are worn to do every day fun things involving, rainforest exploring, coastal gallivanting, doggie walking, working, brunching and myriad other things that a normal human being does.