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.

 

 

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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.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

Sarees: A link to the motherland

We all have black and white photos in our houses of our mothers, grandmothers, maashis and pishees in sarees that in equal measures intimidate and inspire us. For those of us in the diaspora these photos along with vintage sarees are a safe deposit box of family history, draping inspiration and a search for identity — a lifetime of gathering pleats and draping the pallu.

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Amrita’s mother (on the right) with her younger sister Nina both in saris though they would not have been past their early twenties

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Amrita’s mother with her as a baby – staring curiously at the camera while she smiles at her child with love
Gopa and Sweta (2)
Amrita’s mother (on the left) with her younger sister Sweta
Teen BhaiiBou (2)

 

Amrita’s mother (on the extreme right) and her sisters-in-law on the roof of her ancestral home just after her parents’ marriage

This post is written by Amrita Dasvarma based in Byron Bay, Australia and the photos are a stunning repository of her family story taken by her camera enthusiast father Gouranga Dasvarma.

As a little girl growing up outside of the land of my birth, the sari to me was a mystical garment – yards and yards of cloth – silks, cottons or chiffons, block-printed or bordered with intricate zari work, which my mother, with a flick of her wrist and dexterous fingers, would drape around herself in a matter of minutes.   Not a button or zipper or safety-pin in sight, just pleats and folds and voila!

For my mother, saris were a coveted garment – she tells me stories of how at age 9 or 10, while other girls were running around in skirts and dresses, she would sneak saris out of her auntie’s wardrobe and put them on, racing to her friend’s house before getting caught.  And then by the age fifteen, saris became the school uniform.  

It boggles my mind even today how much she, my grandmother, and my aunties manage to do in a sari – from bending over a boti (an old-fashioned scythe shaped cutting knife used in traditional Bengali kitchens to chop vegetables) to running after an over-crowded bus on a Kolkata street to hop on as the driver slowed down (never to a complete stop,) to tending to the needs of family members, from toddlers to elderly in-laws.  

My mother for me is my most intimate link to the land of my birth – India.  She taught me how to wear my first sari, usually when dressing up for folk dance performances or one of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance dramas – Shyama, Chitrangadha, or for Saraswati Pujo or the week-long Durga Pujo.

I love looking at old black and white photos of my mother and her sisters in their saris – they stir in me a nostalgia for a time of glamour and femininity long gone.  And it saddens me that I am more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts than in my native sari.

The #100sarisin100days and #sareenotsorry movements flooding Instagram make me think – perhaps I could put on a sari now and then – why should I be intimidated to wear my heritage as countless women have done before me, as countless women still do?  Why should I only stick to special occasions – pujas, festivals, weddings, name ceremonies, dance performances, to pull out the saris I have been gifted?  And perhaps, over time, I too will be able to throw a sari on with the grace of my mother (and without the help of safety-pins?)

 

Not your sati savitri

Being Sati Savitri is overrated, I’d rather drink some beer and have some fun.

This post is hopefully the start of a community where saree loving women from all over the world can have a little space to call their own.

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

This blog is a quest to find what the six yards of fabric means to women at home in the Indian sub-continent and abroad. A saree isn’t just something one wears on special occassions and then forgets, it is a living embodiment of tens of thousands of years of culture, of resistance, it is a celebration of womanhood, our strength and more importantly our imperfections.

To me there is a lot of meaning behind the fact that the saree is one of the few truly free size garments, one doesn’t have to fit any beauty standards to feel absolutely breathtaking.

My name is Tanaya, I live in Sydney and I am an avid saree collector as well as wearer. However, I wear my sarees mostly with things that I’ve been told are a no no. In these photos, I am wearing a vintage Jamdani that belonged to my grandmother with ripped jeans and a panda tee-shirt.

I almost never wear petticoats (under skirt) with my sarees, I prefer denim, shorts, skirts and full length pants and I don’t like matching blouses. It started with me not being willing to wait on a beautiful garment just because I didn’t have the matching top and bottom to go with it.

As time went by I got more and more happy with experimenting and now I wear my sarees with pretty much anything I can lay my hands on and wear them out and about everywhere, I really mean EVERYWHERE. In these photos, we were walking about on a warm afternoon drinking beers before going to a pub, playing Cards Against Humanity, drinking some more and enjoying a live band.

I believe there is no place or occasion to wear something that has survived centuries, it can and should be worn anywhere we want to. So my friends, lets wear sarees, be nasty and take up space. Being Sati Savitri is overrated, I’d rather drink some beer and have some fun.