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.

 

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The laal paad saree love

What is a Bengali woman without her shaada saree with the laal paad (white saree with a red border)?

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

In the age of wanting to make everything trendy and giving all kinds of garments a contemporary twist, I find old-school fun. The saree I am wearing in these photos is a very common variation of Begampuri taant and I love it.

I know a lot of handloom saree enthusiasts love to source rare weaves, on the verge of extinction or buy from revival initiatives and hate to see someone else wearing a similar saree. But I still get attracted to the quintessential Bengal handloom sarees that are commonly seen on women all over West Bengal.

I am no handloom expert and haven’t worked with textiles but I am an enthusiast who is watching the words like exotic and revived etc. been bandied about to sell handlooms at exorbitant rates. Tribal is the buzzword in handlooms today, if you are to believe certain re-sellers handwoven is becoming extinct and will soon be a luxury only few can afford.

Believe me all this is just plain hype that is being created by re-sellers who have jumped on the saree bandwagon recently. They have realised that there are tonnes of desi women in the sub-continent and overseas with disposable incomes, looking to buy the six yards online.

I like looking at photos of every day women just going about their daily lives in their sarees. Women that don’t treat the unstitched cloth like an acquisition to be stored safely, too scared to damage them, what they love goes on them and they live in it. It’s wearable art in every sense.

West Bengal handlooms to me are like comfy worn-in tee shirts that always feel soft and snuggly. I don’t care if my sarees have a stain here or discolouration there, they are little things that signify a well-loved and oft worn garment. I have the same obsession with hole-y, well-ventilated and tattered jeans and tee-shirts.

And once these taants have been worn a few times, they tend to become this wonderful texture which is when I can really play with drapes. I love the broad border of this saree so much, that I had to do a hi-low drape to show it off and swoosh about for a sunset stroll exploring old train sheds.

For me the rustic charm of age old motifs in colour palettes like this laal paad score time and again over the sophisticated colour schemes preferred by certain connoisseurs with deep pockets but debatable motives.

The blouse in these photos is a Pochampally Ikat with a little drama in the sleeves that works fabulously as a crop top with many other high waist items in my wardrobe. I love everything in my closet to work as separates with multiple things and I legit can make this blouse work with a tonne of other sarees and bottoms of various kinds.

My point is that one doesn’t need to spend heaps to acquire a rare weave to truly enjoy handlooms. I believe the real fun lies in picking up easily available good quality sarees with traditional motifs and style them in myriad ways that truly makes them stand out.

This saree was bought from a fabulous lady who goes exploring the deepest corners of India and Bangladesh to source locally made handlooms that are a sight for sore eyes. You can find her on instagram and facebook.

Kanjivaram silk for a day in the forest

I adore my silk sarees too much to limit them to special occasions and love draping them during my escapades away from the city into nature…

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

Kanjivaram sarees – Just the name conjures up images of opulence and Rekha at her elegant best. It also makes one think of a bride-to-be’s trousseau and traditional South Indian Pujas. Many people call these sarees South India’s answer to the Banarasi.

When I see these mulberry silk six and nine yard beauties from Kancheepuram, I am mesmerised by the colours and sheer art that they are. I think they are special, too special to hide away in my closet for the next big event that is fit to showcase them.

Silks from Kancheepuram age beautifully and it is a shame that people just see them as occasion wear. I recently wore a Kanjivaram in a dhoti drape that showed the borders off to my liking and I am sharing it here in the hope that some of you will pull out your grandmothers’ and mothers’ or even aunts’ older heavier sarees and enjoy their loveliness sans an event.

The day I wore this flowing, unstitched loveliness, we went gallavanting into a forest and spent the day revelling in the natural beauty that we were surrounded by. I don’t like clothing that restricts movement and this drape ensured that I was free to run around and gesture wildly.

Since this saree is such a beauty I haven’t bothered to wear a matching blouse, opting for a fun flowy top instead. I like to dress my heavier sarees down anyway, especially when they are almost completely free of zari like this one.

I like the drama of the Korvai border on this one and the juxtaposition of the two wildly different colours. Korvai means ‘contrast’ and it is the kind of saree where the border and the body are two different colours. To weave this kind of design two weavers sit on either side of the loom to bring about the contrast in colours and this method of weaving originated in Kanchipuram.

This saree is from a woman-owned brand that I have come to love and appreciate for their quality products as well as the work they do with weavers. Vasini from the The Silk Line makes wonderful contemporary Kanjivarams that are rooted in traditional craftsmanship and continuously make my mouth water.

Their sarees range from wonderfully elaborate or deceptively simple, it is up to you to find the one that speaks to you. You can find them on instagram or their website.

 

Nine yard sarees as everyday wear?

Wearing a nine yard saree is actually quite fun if we think for ourselves and give it our own spin beyond the dos and don’ts. I think I could wear sarees every single day of my life and still be able to interpret it in new ways …

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

It really bothers me that nine-yard sarees have been relegated to as occasion wear for a very select few.

A lot of us have traditional nine yard Nauvari or Madisar sarees wasting away in our wardrobes at home as they seem too overwhelming to try and drape. Often times we’ve only been shown the more accepted traditional ways of draping them which might not really be the most practical.

I believe longer sarees are heaps fun as there is more fabric to play with. If you are keen to experiment with seven or nine yard sarees, here are some things that have worked for me to keep going in my longer saree journey:

  1. Soft cotton sarees preferably vintage work the best for the first few experiments. Leave silk sarees alone especially for the first couple of attempts and even if you do want to try wearing a silk saree I would suggest older, softer silks.
  2. I don’t let myself get overwhelmed with the availability of fabric and genuinely try to have fun with my drapes.
  3. I love delving into regional drapes that maybe unknown to most and with the sari series now available online there is no excuse not to try them.
  4. I believe in absolutely avoiding the petticoat as it is annoying to me in general and intolerable with my seven and nine yard sarees.
  5. Avoiding safety pins and keeping myself un-restricted really assists in wearing longer sarees. The drape in the photos has been worn with no safety pins at all and it just helps me be comfortable and stay mobile.
  6. Not limiting myself to what is conventionally acceptable as a saree and a blouse opens up heaps of new possibilities.
  7. Styling the nine-yard saree as per my personality and preferences helps me use these sarees and also enjoy them. I wear the accessories, shoes and jewellery I want not what I’ve been conditioned to think is correct.
  8. I believe anything over six yards makes for wonderful winter wear as there is extra fabric to keep me warm.
  9. Not limiting myself to the traditional even less known regional drapes. I love playing the with the unstitched cloth to do different things like creating two pallus, draping longer sarees into stunning lehengas and much more.
  10. Getting a saree customised to my liking. Any saree doesn’t have to be what is available in shops, unstitched yardage in weaves that one prefers usually looks amazing. I was very keen to play with nine yard sarees but didn’t have access to one, what I am wearing here is actually four dupattas sewn together to make one.

If you are curious about nine yard sarees please know that there are ways to play with them for traditional as well as non-traditional occasions.

In these photos I am wearing eight metres of hand block print fabric in the Boggili Posi Kattukodam Drape, worn by the Golla shepherd community and Gudati Kapulu agriculturists of southern Andhra Pradesh.

The blouse is a vintage Kutchi choli that I bought ages ago to wear for Garba but now wear with jeans and sarees as well.

I hope many more of us will give longer sarees a go and explore the myriad possibilities of the unstitched fabric and the fun we can have with them.

 

Weaves of India: Moirang Phee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

Reimagining the saree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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