Thursday, February 7, 2008

Six Yards of Magic

Sari – a garment that is perhaps worn by almost 70% of the female population of the Indian sub-continent and continues to hold it’s own amongst business suits, skirts, jeans and the whole gamut of Western as well as Indo-western outfits.

Six yards of cloth is all there is to the sari. Yet, this dress worn by millions of Indian women, is by far, the most elegant. It is not merely an outfit but an ornament, lending both grace and glamour to the wearer.

From the diaphanous cottons, soft and delicate chiffons and crepes, to sturdy silks of the South and the butter-soft muslins of Dhaka - the fabric, weave and colour makes each sari a masterpiece. Each region has its own special texture and design, depending on the regional crafts and the climate of that particular area. Brocaded silks, gauzy muslins, tie-and-die chiffons, and woven cottons find a cherished place in millions of women’s hearts and wardrobes.

If you ever peep into your mother’s treasured sari chest or maybe into your own wardrobe, you’ll be greeted with textures, jewel-colored fabrics and shimmering brocades. The brocades, the colour, the weave – each of these will determine the mood or occasion the sari can fit into. Like warm reds are for a bride; rich, jewel hues and brocades for festivals and weddings; stark white for mourning. Even the fabric can determine the event you can wear a particular sari to. Heavy silks for weddings; earthy cottons for poojas; light chiffons for cocktails and parties.

Kanika Goswami mentions a beautiful folktale in her article ‘The Sari - Mystery and Grace’ - “The Sari, it is said, was born on the loom of a fanciful weaver. He dreamt of Woman. The shimmer of her tears. The drape of her tumbling hair. The colors of her many moods. The softness of her touch. All these he wove together. He couldn't stop. He wove for many yards. And when he was done, the story goes; he sat back and smiled and smiled and smiled." This little story captures the essence of the sari so well – do we need to say anything more in its favour?

by Chandana Banerjee

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Drape it with style – The Myriad ways of wearing a Sari

Chanderis and heavy Kanjeevarams; Kantha stitch saris and crisp, cotton tant, jostle in trousseaus and wardrobes with light-as-soufflé chiffons, georgettes and crepes; butter-soft mysore silks; paper-thin tussar and royal paithani. Just like the variety of saris found across the length and breadth of the sub-continent, there are myriad ways of draping a sari.

Common and Popular: The urban Indian style is by far the most popular and convenient. Stiff tangails, flowing silks, elegant chiffons and heavy brocades – all of these can be easily maneuvered into this style. Tied around the waist, the sari forms a skirt with the pleats positioned in front thus allowing for free movement. The pallav or the part draped over the left shoulder is either pleated and pinned up the convenience, or is left flowing loose for glamour.

Bengali style: Another style that was popularized by Aishwarya Rai in Devdas is the Bengali drape. There are no pleats in the traditional Bengali style of draping a sari. The sari is wrapped around the waist and tucked in at the left. This is then brought back to the right side and draped over the left shoulder. The portion left over is brought up under the right arm and draped once again over the left shoulder. The bunch of keys usually tied to the end of the pallav, jingle merrily as they walk, giving the women a traditional air.

Drape it the Tamil way: There are two major groups in Tamil Nadu – the Iyers who worship Lord Shiva and the Iyengars, who worship Lord Vishnu. The way the sari is draped is different in both these communities. The women of both communities prefer to wear the nine-yard sari. Though in the Iyengar style of wearing a sari, after the first wrapping around the waist, the sari is brought back and pleated with the pleats positioned along the left leg. The rest of the sari is draped over the left shoulder, wrapped once again round the waist and tucked on the left side.
However the lyer style includes a few pleats at the back. It is not very often that one sees women dressed in such sarees today. The style is by far, too cumbersome for the modern women.

Coorg: It is the land of cardamom and coffee, of oranges and cashew, of brave generals and happy people. Here the women wear the sari in a unique way where the pleats of the sari are not in the front but at the back forming a fan. This is held in place with a broach or a pin.
Maharashtra: Here, the nine-yard sari is tied around the waist to form a loose trouser, which provides greater freedom of movement to the wearer. The pleats are in front with the pallav falling over the right shoulder.

Gujarat: To the north of the state of Maharashtra is the state of Gujarat. The typical patola saris in vibrant silks and earthy cottons are worn by the women of Gujarat in a style quite similar to the urban Indian one. The only difference is that the pallav is brought over the right shoulder and tucked across in front on the left side.

Bihar: Bihar in the east is the home of the Santhal tribals. The saree as worn by these tribal women is quite different. Tied around the waist, the saree reaches upto the kness. The pallav is draped in the normal way around the left shoulder and then tucked in at the waist making for easy movement through the forests.

So, a variety of saris that can be draped in a million ways – now isn’t that a fashion statement in itself?

by Chandana Banerjee

Paithani Sari – The Golden Legacy of Maharashtra

A silk sari of jewel colours, intricate design, zari work and painstaking labour – the Paithani sari of Maharashtra is all this and more. Paithani saris tell us of a people who were willing to spend lavishly to clothe their womenfolk in nine yards of the traditional silk and spun gold, crafted by indigenous weavers. No Maharashtrian wedding trousseau was complete without the Paithani sari and shela or stole, the best the family could afford. They then became treasured heirlooms which could be preserved and worn by three generations of women.

Ask any Maharashtrian and she will tell you that the art of weaving Paithani saris is 2000 years old, developed in the city of Pratishthan. This city was ruled by the legendary Shalivahana (now Paithan by the Godavari in Marathwada, some 50 km from Aurangabad). In the far past it had been an international trade centre for silk and zari.

During the 17th century, Aurangzeb patronized the weavers and the designs in this era came to be known as “Aurangzebi”. Yeola is another place where Paithani is still alive, although few families practice the art now. The Peshwa rulers were patrons of this art and had a special love for Paithani – while the men wore the stole over their dhoti and kurta, the women were resplendent in Paithani saris at weddings, festivals and special occasions.

It is believed that the Nizam of Hyderabad was also attracted to the Paithanis and made several trips to the small town of Paithan. Niloufer, daughter-in-law of the late Nizam of Hyderabad, was one of the last of the erstwhile royals to be fascinated by the Paithani magic.

As with most of the traditional arts and crafts of India, Paithani too suffered a decline under the British Raj. Once there were over 500 families practicing this hereditary art which required high technical skill and aesthetic sense. Their migrations began with Muslim aggressions. The khatri community of weavers got scattered in search of work and settled down to whatever they found.

by Chandana Banerjee

Paithani – Nine-yards of Gold and Silk

Paithani is a gold and silk sari named after the Paithan region in Maharashtra state where they are woven by hand. Made from very fine silk, it is considered as one of the richest saris in Maharashtra.

Paithani evolved from a cotton base to a silk base. Silk was used in weft designs and in the borders, whereas cotton was used in the body of the fabric. Present day Paithani has no trace of cotton.

It is characterized by borders of an oblique square design, and a pallu with a peacock design. Among other varieties, single colored and kaleidoscope-colored designs are also popular. The kaleidoscopic effect is achieved by using one color for weaving lengthwise and another for weaving widthwise.

Paithani fabric is woven entirely on handlooms; the special dhoop-chaav (light and shade) effect is achieved by bringing two different coloured silk threads together in the process of a simple tabby weave. It has an ornamental zari border and pallav, and buttis (little designs) of tara (star), mor (peacock), popat (parrot), kuyri (mango), rui phool (flower) paisa (coin), pankha (fan), kalas pakli (petal), kamal (lotus), chandrakor (moon), narli (coconut) and so on. Many of these designs are found on the border and pallav in different sizes and patterns.

The designs show the Buddhist influence of the panels of Ajanta close by. The kamal (lotus), hans (swan), asawalli (flowering vines), bangadi mor (peacock in bangle), tota-maina and humarparinda (peasant bird) are some of the common designs for the sari.

The dominant traditional colours of vegetable dyes included neeligunji (blue), pasila (red and green), gujri (black and white), mirani (black and red), motiya (pink), kusumbi (purplish red), brinjal (purple), peacock (blue/green) and pophali (yellow).

In the olden days the zari was drawn from pure gold, but silver is the affordable substitute today. The zari comes from Surat, the resham (silk) from Bangalore. This raw silk is cleansed with caustic soda, dyed in the requisite shades, the threads carefully separated. Today's market also abounds in spurious material, cheap at Rs. 2000, minus quality texture and durability.

The sari takes its own time to get woven, from two weeks to a year, depending on the intricacy of the pattern. The cost can be anything from Rs. 5000 to Rs. 50,000. Saris worth over a lakh of rupees apiece are made to order.

by Chandana Banerjee

Bandhani Sari – A Story of Rainbows and Dots

Warm red bandhani sari (Credit: can’t get over the saris that I bought from Jaipur a few weeks ago. One is a bandhini in ruby red, while the other is a leheriya in shades of rich Rajasthani red and warm sunshine yellow. Delicate, vibrant and exquisitely pretty, these bandhani and leheriya saris can be worn for a party, wedding or for just another day.

Bandhani work is a type of dyeing practiced mainly in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. It is also referred to as Bandhani art or Bandhani art work. The term “bandhani” derives its name from a Hindi word Bandhan which means tying up. As the name suggests, this technique involves two stages: tying sections of a length of cloth (silk or cotton) and then dunking it into vats of colour.

Every Bandhani saree goes through a rather difficult and time-consuming process. First the cloth is tied at several places. This is done by holding up a small part of the cloth and tying it up several times with a thread. It is done so that when the saree is dyed, the tied portion stays as before. A Bandhai saree is tied at around a hundred places. The tying up is done keeping in mind a design. The cloth is then dipped into dye for five to ten minutes. It is then taken out and dried. If more colors or an elaborate design is to be made, the saree is then tied again according to the design to be formed and then dipped into a different colored dye.

The main colours used in Bandhani are yellow, green, red, pink, and black. It is essentially a household craft supervised by the head of the family. The fabric is skillfully knotted by the women, while the portfolio of dyeing rests with the men. The women often grow a long nail on the little finger of the left hand, or wear a ring with a little blunt spike on it, with which they push the cloth upwards to form a tiny peak.

The Jaipur dyer rarely works with more than two dye baths while the additional colours are spot dyed, which makes the process much easier. Thereafter, the fabric opens out into amazing designs in kaleidoscopic colours: dots, circles, squares, waves and stripes.

The Bandhani work in Gujarat has been exclusively carried out by the women of the Muslim Khatri community of Kutchh. The Bandhani work in Gujarat has been exclusively carried out by Muslim Khatri Community of Kutchh. A meter long of cloth can have millions of tiny knots known as "Bheendi" in local language ("Kutchhi"). Traditionally, the final products can be classified into "Khombi", "Ghar Chola", "Patori", and "Chandrokhani".

The leheriya or the ripple effect is achieved by a variation of this technique. Lengths of permeable muslin are rolled diagonally from one corner to the opposite, bound tightly at intervals and then dyed. The ties are then undone and the process repeated by diagonally rolling the adjacent corner toward the opposite and repeating the process. Both Jaipur and Jodhpur are major centers of laheriya.

If you’re visiting Gujarat or Rajasthan anytime in the near future, then do pop into the handicraft shops there to pick up a few pieces of rainbow for yourself.

by Chandana Banerjee

On the Textile Trail – Textiles of Northern and Western India

The butter-soft pashminas and intricate needlework of Kashmir; bold, bright prints of Gujarat and Rajasthan; dazzling gold brocades of Benaras; delicate white-on-white chikankari of Lucknow; sturdy silks of South – the colour, warmth and diversity found in India is reflected in the multitude of textiles in this country. Louis Levathes captures the essence of this in her article ‘The Fabric of India’, when she mentions, “India feels, to me, like a collection of countries reflected in its textiles.”

Resplendent, intricate, and varied, India’s textile tradition is a kaleidoscope of colors and cultures. Stretched along the length and breadth of the country, every region has its own design, motif and characteristic fabric.

Here's a peek at the myriad range of textiles from across the country.
Kashmir is famous for its exquisite embroidery – pashmina and jamwar shawls and warm woolen Namdas that can make you snug as a bug in a rug.
Punjab is associated with Phulkari. Jewel colored, shimmery fabrics are embroidered with geometric designs and floral motifs and turned into saris, salwar-suits, and dupattas.
The influence of Chamba pahari painting is evident in the Chamba rumals of Himachal Pradesh. The Chamba rumals are delicately embroidered kerchiefs in subtle shades of green, yellow and ochre with themes taken from Radha and Krishna stories.
Uttar Pradesh is the land of brocades and chikankari. The dazzling gold brocades of Varanasi are the stuff that dreams are made of. The brocade or 'kinkhwab' (fabric of dreams) is created by weaving pure silk and gold strands into intricate motifs like creepers, flowers, birds, animals and human forms.
The delicate chikankari embroidery is one of the things that Lucknow is famous for. If you’re visiting Lucknow, don’t forget to buy a pretty pastel sari or salwar kameez with chikankari work.
Gujarat and Kutch are known for their mirror work embroidery. Gujarat’s arid climate and susceptibility to droughts and floods have always made agriculture here uncertain. During the summer monsoons, when the grasslands north of Bhuj become an inland sea and farming has to be abandoned, mirror work, embroidery and beadwork flourish as means of making a living.
Block prints, bandhani and leheriya are characteristic of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Rajasthanis and Gujaratis create fabrics that stand out from their harsh landscapes.
As we move towards the eastern and southern part of India, we come across a kaleidoscope of fabrics and textile arts.

by Chandana Banerjee

On the Textile Trail – Textiles of Eastern and Southern India

Woven into the fabrics of India are stories about people and the colorful land they belong to.
Take for instance, the Paithani that speaks about tradition, history and beauty through its rich and resplendent paithani saris. Paithani is a gold and silk sari named after the Paithan region in Maharashtra state where they are woven by hand. Made from very fine silk, it is considered as one of the richest saris in Maharashtra.

Orissa is known for Ikkat. Ikkat is a type of weaving where the warp, weft or both are tie-dyed before weaving to create designs on the finished fabric. Orissa, in eastern India, is home to one of the most famous Ikkat traditions called the double Patan Patola. These silk fabrics are double Ikkat and are textile masterpieces. In fact the technique and process to make it has to be so precise, that, a sari length takes two men about seven months to complete.

Baluchari is synonymous with Bengal. Baluchari textiles come from the town of Baluchar in Bengal. It was during 1704 that the first Baluchari weaving took place. At one stage no gold or silver threads were used in the making of the fabric except the pure mulberry silk. The unique characteristic of this fabric is the white outlining of motifs like animals, vegetation and other figurative patterns.

West Bengal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Maharashtra produce a large variety of Tussar, both plain and with designs woven into the fabric. The "mekhala" worn in Assam has small woven motifs, which are unique to the region.

In Manipur, the borders of phaneks, a garment worn by Manipuri women is embroidered with delicate silk thread embroidery.

Kanchipuram in South India is a household word for the most desired silk wedding saris in India as well as cottons in brilliant checks and plaids. Typically, Kanchipuram saris have patterns of brightly contrasting colors—maroon and green, peacock blue and pink—and gold or silver thread woven into the borders.

Andhra Pradesh is called the Land Of head-woven Fabrics. And some of the most beautiful saris come from the looms of Pochampalli, Venkatagiri, Gadwal, Narayanpet, Dharmavaram and other regions of this state. They are named after the places of their origin. The Pochampalli textiles are made using the tie and dye technique. Different coloured yarns are woven to from exquisite geometrical designs.

Karnatak is known for Mysore silk and Kasuti – beautiful motifs created in cross stitch.
We’ve hopped across to almost every state and picked out a fabric and textile art special to that place. But there’s till so much more to explore.

Also read: On the Textile Trail - Part 1

by Chandana Banerjee

Banarasi Saris – Woven with dreams

Banarasi saris – five yards of exquisite brocade and luxurious silk – made of silk weft and silk wrap are famous all over the world. Royal and rich, in jewel colors and dazzling motifs, these saris find a coveted position in women’s wardrobes and trousseaus in India. The major varieties of saris available include pure silk, shatter, organza and fire kora with zari and georgette.

The era gone by: Banarasi saris became more popular during the Mughal era when the sari weaving art reached its zenith. The Persian motifs and Indian designs on silk texture studded with gold and silver remained the favourite of Mughals. Today, sari weaving is a cottage industry for people in Varanasi, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh.

Making of the sari: Most of the silk for the Banarasi saris comes from south India, mainly Bangalore. The sari weavers weave the basic texture of the sari on the power loom. In weaving the warp, the weavers create the base, which runs into 24 to 26 meters. In an ideal Banarasi Sari there are around 5600 thread wires with 45-inch width.

Generally three people are engaged in making the sari – while one weaves, the others work at the revolving ring to create bundles. The intricate motifs on the sari are first created on design boards – the artist sketches the pattern on graph paper with color concepts and then the final design is created on punch cards.

For a single design, one requires hundreds of perforated cards to execute the idea. The perforated cards are knitted with different threads and colors on the loom and then they are paddled in a systematic manner so that the main weaving picks up the right colors and pattern.
The design of your dreams: Intricate weave and fascinating zari work with gold and silver thread, that’s a Banarasi sari for you in a nutshell. But a nutshell description of what these saris are all about is not enough for saris woven with dreams. Here’s something more about them.
The bodies of the saris often depict scenes from village life, fairs, flowers and clouds, as well as temple and mosque designs. The dazzling gold brocades are woven with Mughal patterns such as intertwining floral and foliate motifs, kalga and bel.

A distinct feature found along the inner, and sometimes outer, edge of borders in this sari is a narrow fringe like pattern that often looks like a string of upright leaves called jhallr. The pallus of these sarees have elaborate pure gold and silver designs densely woven with gold and multicolor thread which lend the sari its elegance.

Dancing colors and spun sunshine – that’s what these saris are all about.

by Chandana Banerjee

Kanjeevaram – Saris from the Temple Town

Rich, luxuriant and in pure silk, Kanjeevaram saris are from the ancient temple town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. Believed to have been first woven around 400 years ago, Kanjeevaram saris now are coveted for weddings and important occasions.

The Kanjeevaram silk saris are known for their double warp and double weft. These saris are made of twisted silk yarn (three yarns twisted together into one). This gives the sari rich luster and makes it dense and durable. The cloth is thick yet soft and drapes very well. In a genuine Kancheepuram silk sari, the border, body and the pallu are woven separately and then interlocked together.

The Kanjeevaram sari is characterized by gold - dipped silver/ pure gold threads that are woven onto rich, beautiful, brilliant silk. The borders and the pallus carry ornate zari work, while the designs involve vertical and horizontal lines as well as checks.

The colors range from vibrant orange to mauve to purple, green, maroon, blue and rust. The heavier the silk, the better the quality of the sari. Peacocks, parrots and paisleys, swans, mangoes and leaves are the commonest motifs. Another important character of these saris are the vertical sets of caret (triangular) signs/marks lining the borders; they resemble pinnacles of temples and hence probably the name.

by Chandana Banerjee

An Ode to Orissa Saris

Orissa is known for its handlooms – rich colors, artistic designs, exquisite weaves – the saris of Orissa are all this and more.

Orissa saris have a close relation with the Jagannath culture. Originally, the four basic colors which are found on Jagannath—black, white, red and yellow—were extensively used in Oriya saris. Even motifs such as the temple border, lotus, conch and wheel, signify the affinity with the reigning deity. The traditional Orissa saris have undergone vast changes as weavers try to adapt the designs to popular taste.

The handloom saris of Orissa can be broadly classified into four groups: Ikkat, Bomkai, Bandha and Pasapalli.

Ikkat: Ikkat or tie and dye fabrics, known as "bandhas" in Orissa are recognized all over the country and abroad for their highly artistic designs, color combinations and durability. Ikkat is a type of weaving in general terms. The weft or the warp or both are tie-dyed before weaving to create designs on fabric in this method. With exquisite colors and beautiful motifs, Ikkat saris are considered as a magnum opus because each sari takes nearly seven months of craftsmanship. The traditional Ikkat saris of Orissa are also referred to as double Patan Patola.

Bomkai: Another variety of sari avaible in Orissa is the Bomkai sari, a recent adaptation from tribal saris. Produced in a small town called Bomkai in Orissa, these saris also have touches of ikat work, like the Sambalpuri saris.

Both cotton and silk fabric are used in making these saris. Some Bomkai saris have small fish woven onto the border that symbolize prosperity and good health. Bomkai saris feature threadwork ornament borders and pallu.

Sambalpuri Sari: Sambalpuri saris are famous for their unique designs and for their beautiful colors. Fish, conch shell and flower motifs are woven into the fabric and sometimes floral and animal motifs are also used to decorate the borders and pallu. Silk Sambalpuri saris from Orissa are also in single and double ikat.

Pasapalli Sari: The "pasapalli" sari with its distinctive black-and-white squares is a replica of the chessboard. Equally fascinating are the names—Vichitrapuri, Chandrika, Nabagunja, Asman Tara and Krishnapriya. The earlier yarns of coarse cotton have been replaced with fine cotton, silks, tussar and a cotton-silk mix called ‘bapta’. Gold thread and tissues are also used to enhance the patterns.

Bandha: Here, the yarn is first tied in portions, and each section is dyed in a different color according to the design. When woven, the designs emerge, and the special feature is that the design is prominent on both sides of the fabric. This is a very complicated process and it is rather amazing to find that the traditional weavers do not use any graphic designs on paper. The common motifs are borrowed from nature. Flowers, creepers, birds, animals are abundantly woven in myriad colors, all lending a distinct feature to the nine yards of woven wonder.

by Chandana Banerjee

Jamdani – The Precious Fabric of Bengal

Jamdani – one of the most beautiful and practical textiles of Bengal. History, legend and tradition are woven into the fabric along with the unique patterns that make jamdani so sought after. Here are some interesting facts that I cam across in an article in Indian Heritage.
Pages of history: The earliest mention of Jamdani and its development as an industry is to be found in Kautilya's Arthashashtra (book of economics) wherein it is stated that this fine cloth used to be made in Bengal and Pundra (parts of modern Bangladesh). Jamdani is also mentioned in the book of Periplus of the Eritrean Sea and in the accounts of Arab, Chinese and Italian travelers and traders.

The base fabric for Jamdani is unbleached cotton yarn and the design is woven using bleached cotton yarns so that a light-and-dark effect is created. Alexander the Great in 327 B.C mentions “beautiful printed cottons” in India. It is believed that the erstwhile Roman emperors paid fabulous sums for the prized Indian cotton.

Design: The method of weaving resembles tapestry work in which small shuttles of coloured, gold or silver threads, are passed through the weft. The jamdani dexterously combines intricate surface designs with delicate floral sprays. When the surface is covered with superb diagonally striped floral sprays, the sari is called terchha. The anchal (the portion that goes over and beyond the shoulder) is often decorated with dangling, tassel like corner motifs, known as jhalar.
The most coveted design is known as the panna hazaar (literally: a thousand emeralds) in which the floral pattern is highlighted with flowers interlaced like jewels by means of gold and silver thread. The kalka (paisley), whose origin may be traced to the painted manuscripts of the Mughal period, has emerged as a highly popular pattern. Yet another popular pattern in jamdani is the phulwar, usually worked on pure black, blue black, grey or off-white background colours.

Colors: The traditional nilambari, dyed with indigo, or designs such as toradar (literally: a bunch or bouquet) preserved in weaving families over generations are now being reproduced. Other jamdani patterns are known as phulwar, usually worked on pure black, blue black, grey or off-white background colours.

Weave: For traditional jamdani weaving, a very elementary pit loom is used and the work is carried on by the weaver and his apprentice. The latter works under instruction for each pick, weaving his needle made from, buffalo horn or tamarind wood to embroider the floral sequence. With a remarkable deftness, the weft yarn is woven into the warp in the background colour from one weaver to the other.

The butis (motifs) across the warp, the paar (border) and anchal (the portion that goes over and beyond the shoulder) are woven by using separate bobbins of yarn for each colour. The fine bobbins are made from tamarind wood or bamboo. After completion the cloth is washed and starched.

Some more history: Jamdani, because of its intricate patterns, has always been a highly expensive product. According to historical accounts, Jamdanis custom made for the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century cost over thirty pounds; evidently the jamdani fabric was essentially meant only for the affluent nobility, in those days.

The region in and around Dhaka (now in Bangladesh) became synonymous with this wonder fabric. For the Mughals it was fashioned into elaborate angarkhas (upper garment/shirt) worn by both men and women; it also travelled from Dhaka through Agra, to Bukhara, Samarkand and other parts of West Asia. In the centuries that followed Jamdani was procured European export companies which retailed it in cites like Hamburg, London, Madrid, Copenhagen and so forth.

by Chandana Banerjee

Jamdani Saris – Light, practical and pretty

If like me, you love to wear saris on an everyday basis to office, malls, multiplexes and of course, even to weddings and parties, then here is a sari that will work well for you. Jamdani saris of Bengal are known for their elegance and comfort and sought after for their beauty and craftsmanship.

Here are some of the categories that Jamdani saris can be slotted into:
Daccai Jamdani saris – have a fine texture, just like muslin and elaborate and ornate workmanship. Multi-colored linear or floral motifs all over the body and border and exquisitely designed pallu is what makes these saris so special. The mango motif that signifies fertility and marital bliss, is a popular design in Jamdani saris.
Saris with Jamdani motifs on Tangail fabric are known as Tangail Jamdani.
Shantipur Jamdani saris have a powder fine texture.
Dhaniakhali Jamdani has a tighter weave than the "tangail" or "shantipur", and is hardier. The bold colors and contrasting borders and absurdly low prices make them very affordable.

by Chandana Banerjee

Baluchari of Bengal – Sari or a Work of Art?

Baluchari saris are what dreams are made of – designed in silk and woven in contrasting colors with detailed figures, motifs, flowers or scenes from mythology. These saris with their enticing colors and alluring designs are prized possessions of most Bengali women and are worn for special occasions and religious ceremonies.

The Baluchari sari, developed some two hundred years ago, use a palette of dark red, yellow, green, purple, chocolate, cream, white and blue. The intricately carved terracotta temples of Bishnupur provide ample inspiration for the weavers who reproduce whole epics on the pallu of the sari. The sari is usually five yards in length and 42” wide and the field of the sari is covered with small butis and a beautiful floral design runs across the edges.

But behind each beautiful sari lies months of toil and planning as to how to get the design on the pieces with their clever use in the loom. First the designer makes the design on graph papers, which is then copied on punching cards. These cards are then joined to make the full design.

Two types of silk threads from two different regions of the country, Bangalore and West Bengal are used for the weaving—one set vertically and the order horizontally. A month before it is put in the loom, the thread is prepared according to the number of Baluchari saris to be woven in that design while the number of shutters to be used depends on the number of times the motifs will be used all over the sari.

The silk threads are put in boiling water and the next day tied with a rope and put into hot colors. Extra color is then drained out and the threads are put into the spinning wheel. So, whenever you drape yourself in an exquisite Baluchari sari, think of the rich color and bewitching patterns - and think of the weaver and his craftsmanship. Here is a piece of art that you can flaunt, possess and gift, with equal aplomb.

by Chandana Banerjee

Khadi – Fabric for princes and paupers

Wikipedia describes Khadi as “Indian handspun and hand-woven cloth.” Traditionally the raw material used was cotton, though these days khadi is handspun with wool or silk as well, on a spinning wheel called a charkha.

Quality: Khâdî is a versatile fabric, cool in summers and warm in winters. Being a cruder form of material, it crumples much faster than other preparations of cotton. In order to improve the look, khâdî is often starched to have a stiffer shape. It is widely accepted in fashion circles these days.

History: Mahatma Gandhi began promoting the spinning of khâdî for rural self-employment in 1920s India. He also wanted to spread the message of not using foreign clothes. The freedom struggle revolved around the use of khâdî fabrics and the dumping of foreign-made clothes.

Revival of Khadi: But India's freedom fabric got stuck in a time warp and fell into bad days - as Indians embraced Lycra and polyester, khadi became something only politicians wore. A couple of years ago, a handful of fashion designers decided it was time to reinvent the spinning wheel and revive the magic of khadi. It was time for khadi couture.

Khadi fashion shows were held in five-star hotels, khadi boutiques were opened, and India's top designers were called in to make it hip. "Khadi can easily become what linen is to the world today," says Rohit Bal, 41, one of India's most talked-about designers, who sells his khadi line in his store, Balance, in New Delhi. "No other fabric in the world can boast of being spun and woven solely by human hands. It falls well and becomes second skin after two washes. It breathes, it has a self-texture. It represents the soul of India, but we can also have fun with khadi."
Now the Indian government is promoting the buzz, as more than 800,000 weavers in the countryside work on khadi, a cottage industry run with generous subsidies.

Khadi is back in fashion and here to stay!

by Chandana Banerjee
Sensuous and beautiful, durable and strong, this golden yellow silk of Assam is used in saris and traditional Assamese attire, ‘mekhla chaddar’. Assam’s golden silk is from a caterpillar, Antheraea assama that feeds on the leaves of Som and Soalu trees.

Silkworms and silk: Silkworm eggs (popularly known as seeds) are laid out on the Som and Soalu leaves to hatch out into caterpillars about 2mm long. They grow rapidly, eat voraciously and end up about 30 mm long after four to five weeks. During this time, they change skins four times.
After the final skin change straw frames are provided in which silkworms make its cocoon. Cocoon making takes further eight days. Man interferes this life cycle at the cocoon stage to obtain the silk, a continuous filament of commercial importance, used in weaving silk, the dream fabric.

These silk worms yield a beautiful golden thread that is much sought after for its colour and sheen. It takes the silkworm another three to four days to transform into a pupa and another 15 days for the moth to emerge, but this is not allowed to take place for all.

Muga silk is named after Assamese word "Muga" which indicates the amber (brown) colour of cocoon. It is popular for its natural golden colour, glossy fine texture and durability. Muga silk is hardy in character. It endures for years and improves with each washing.

Design and Color: Trees, creepers, leaves, flowers, peacocks, birds and animals in stylized forms, as well as traditional tribal motifs are woven or embroidered onto the muga silk fabric. The rich, golden fabric is resplendent in traditional colors like red, green and black and newer entrees such as yellow, blue, beige, silver, copper pink and brown. Wedding saris are adorned with gold and silver thread work. The looms are narrow; so, the borders are woven separately and then stitched on, which is another facet special to the Assamese Muga sari.

Legend: Muga was worn only by Ahom kings and noble families of Assam for six hundred years. It was unknown to the outer world until 1662 when Jean Joseph Tavernier, a French explorer, traveled through Assam.

Cost: A good Assamese Muga silk saree could cost anywhere between Rs 8,000-Rs 20,000 or above.

by Chandana Banerjee

Pashmina from Kashmir

Wrap yourself in one of those butter-soft Pashmina shawls and you’ll be as snug as a bug in a rug.

What Pashmina is all about: Famous for its luxurious softness and luster, this fabric is made from ‘pashm’, that is the wool in Tibetan. This cashmere is the soft underbelly fur of Capra hircus, mountain goats which live in the foothills of the Himalayas and on the high Tibetan Plateau. Every summer, herders pluck the under fur from the goats and after cleaning and spinning, a fine cashmere yarn is produced. The ‘Pashmina’ shawl of Kashmir popularly known as the ‘ring shawl’ is so exquisite and fine that it can be passed through a mans signet ring.

History: About 200 years ago, Europeans discovered the woolen shawls of Kashmir; but the Kashmiris, were not about to give away the secrets of Pashmina. They knew no one in the world possessed their skill in working with these delicate fibers, but they also knew they couldn't resist for long the demands for their prized Pashmina.

Even when the Western world was able to obtain the real Pashmina, they didn't possess the skill to clean and process it. The best machines were no match for the nimble, experienced fingers of Kashmiri women who patiently pick out every course hair and then hand spin it into yarn which is almost transparent.

by Chandana Banerjee

Kota Doria – The breezy and beautiful fabric from Rajasthan

Rajasthan is well known for the fine Kota Doria Muslin saris. Transparent and light, kota saris are ideal for hot summers. Kota Doria, as the name suggests, is woven in the villages on the outskirts of the Kota city in Rajasthan.

The special weave: It is a type of cotton cloth that becomes special because of its weave. Cotton yarn of different thickness along with silk is used in the weaving. The silk gives the necessary transparency, while cotton provides strength to the fabric. The lack of uniformity in the thickness of the fibers creates geometric patterns in between, which are locally called as ‘khats.’
This is the most open weave fabric woven in India. The weave is a result of sufficient spacing between super fine warp and weft threads with slightly thick thread at regular counts to produce a very subtle check pattern. Also, the thicker threads make the cloth strong and more durable. The thin fibers maintain its softness, delicacy and give it a translucent and gossamer look.

Design and color: The traditional Kota Doria is white, but once dyed, these textiles come in bright hues like pomegranate red, purple, Bordeaux red, turquoise, lapis, turmeric yellow and saffron. Single color dying, a mixture of shades and bandhani are the most common patterns available in the reams of fabric. Kota Doria saris embellished with zari work is worn for festivals and weddings.

History: Kota Doria is also known as Masuria Malmal. Maruria means Mysore, the place where the weaving of this particular cloth originated. Kota saris were first made when weavers were brought to Kota (between 1707 and 1720) from Mysore by Maharao Bhim Singh. The art of weaving cotton in the open khat or check structure has been passed down generations. The whole process of weaving is done in an age old manner - right from the setting of the patterns, to graph making, dyeing of the yarn and setting of the loom. Down South, this fabric is still known as Kota Masurias.