Some say the best way to spend a Sunday afternoon is by taking a nap after a satisfying meal (I agree!). But I spent yesterday afternoon much more fruitfully at a workshop at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Mumbai—Know your Sarees (I prefer saris).
Conducted by Bela Shanghavi, it was an intense and engrossing discussion-cum-interaction on understanding saris better—how they are made, the technology used, the skills of the weaver and what to look for when buying one. Bela had brought along several saris as examples which helped me understand her points a lot better.
Starting from the basics (the warp and the weft), Bela began her explanation of saris with a brief on the various stages in the making of a typical Indian sari- yarn, pre-loom, on loom and post-loom. Then she delved into each stage, explaining what kind of saris and fabrics were made through work done during that stage. For instance, at the yarn stage, certain design elements like colours and textures can be introduced.
Some interesting things I learnt at the workshop:
- Brocades like jamewars, Banarsis, pacholi, kanjeevaram and Balucharis are created in the “on loom” stage.
- The weavers require a high degree of precision to make saris that have a “corner” and a border.
- Printing, tinting, dyeing, embroidery, bandhini, hand painting happens in the post-loom stage.
- While each region has its own type of sari-making technique, boundaries are now getting blurred.
- A region or state’s culture and natural landscape has defined its fabrics, saris (and therefore fashion sensibilities). For instance, Rajasthan with its desert landscape is rich in coloured fabrics and garments. But in Bengal, the colours of choice are typically a simple white and red.
- You can mix various textile technologies for a fabulously modern sari!
- Even local mannerisms, etiquette and culture reflects in the textile language of the region. For instance, Gujarati fabrics have “plump” paisleys (they talk loud and to the point), while Kashmirs paisleys are delicate and complex (they communicate their point in a roundabout manner).
- Saris and fabrics can be therapeutic! Our ancient Indian customs of wearing clothes with certain natural dyes and fabrics has a very scientific basis to it. For instance, the natural indigo dye repels bacteria and certain diseases, while vermilion boosts blood circulation.
- The fabrics you see the royals wearing in Mughal paintings are not brocades but “ashawar”, which differs from brocade in the fall and feel.
- Sari making is akin to the idea of the pixels on a computer screen, and Indian artisans and weavers understood this concept Indians as early as the third century!
- With shifting boundaries you can now get a Paithani sari made in Benares (really!), and a Kanjeevaram with north Indian motifs.
Other than this, I learnt about the concept of “repeats” in a sari, the beauty and cultural significance of the Patola sari and how to identify certain types of saris such as jamewars.
Bela’s discussion was interspersed with several historical and geographical references which have shaped our sari tradition today. I’m already curious to know more about Indian fabrics, textiles and hope to explore our culture deeper.
I came back enlightened this Sunday afternoon, with some useful and interesting insights into Indian fashion! Now how many can say that about a Sunday? 🙂