Newsletter 23 - December 01 - January 02

1. news
2. why become a member?
3. an IDC member designs exclusive saris
4. about the fishtail sari
5. letter from an IDC “uncivilized anarchist”
6. a personal note from Chantal

1. NEWS:

*** Sorry for the late newsletter, which is again a “double issue”, since the next will only come in February. But it makes very interesting reading! Happy holiday season and New Year!

*** On January 18th, Unilever has organized a lecture about saris to for its staff in Wirral (UK).

*** The exhibition “The Indian Sari: Draping Bodies, Revealing Lives” will be on show in Guadeloupe (French Caribbean) at the end of January, early February.

*** If you know or participate in an event, web site, etc. connected with draping, please let us know. This “news” feature is yours!


This shouldn’t be a question for this newsletter, since you are supposed to be an IDC member to receive it. Yet, interestingly, there are quite a few of you readers who subscribed directly through our yahoo egroup without becoming a member using our web site form.
( )
Of course, all are welcome to our newsletter, whether you are an IDC member or not. All those who subscribe directly through yahoo are fully entitled to do so. All those who want to forward or print the newsletter are also free to do so, if they include a full reference to IDC (the more publicity, the better!).
But I would like to point out why those of you who get this newsletter and are not IDC members should think of joining us.
Basic membership is absolutely free and your details (address, Email) are kept for our own internal use only (for instance to know in which countries our members are) and not passed to anyone else.
By becoming a member, you put a little more weight to our aims, you give one voice to why draped clothes should be studied, saved from oblivion, or created. The more members we have, the more representative we are, the more interesting for outside institutions. Even though we are only about 300 at present (a tiny drop!), it is a start. The more we will be, the easier it will be to (eventually) get grants and impress institutions. So, please, if you are not already a member, think of becoming one.
If there are several members in your family or group, and all are benefiting from your membership, please tell us.
Thank you!


IDC member Meera Mehta designs exclusive saris in Mumbai. Here is what she wrote to us:

“I am a designer and a weaver. I have worked actively in the last 8-9 years and have managed to revive the paithani sari to its original grandeur. I have saris for sale and almost all are one of type, each is a designer piece. I use silk and tussar yarn and also genuine gold thread (jari, as we call it in India)

One of my designs was selected for the tailfin of a few British Airways' aircrafts when they had their world images programme. Some of my saris were displayed in the Museum of Asian Art in San Francisco.

If anyone wants to see/buy my saris, they are welcome to contact me in Mumbai. I do not give my designs to a shop but prefer to sell directly.
My work is a one-off type and I have not created a web site of my own. I believe that saris of the type and price that I create, cannot be
sold through mail order. The customer has to see the sari, feel the fabric, drape the sari and see herself in a mirror before making a decision to buy the sari.”

To contact her: <>

By Beth, aka Lakshmi Amman

Encouraged by the fact that it seems so many SCAdians are on this list, I decided that it was finally time for me to get about writing something for the IDC. For those that are interested, the SCA is a medieval research and re-creation group that attempts to study and imitate the societies in Europe between the Fall of Rome and the Renaissance. Although we have many debates among ourselves about what is truly "medieval", it can generally be said that most of us focus on Europe between 600 and 1600 A.D. Many others expand their horizons to earlier times or other places. I've chosen to study Southern India, during the 16th century. I particularly chose the costume of a devadasi, or temple dancer, as I was also studying modern Bharata Natyam (a classical Indian dance of the South) and wanted to develop a picture of what the life of a Southern Indian temple dancer might be like around the time period of 1550.

To begin my research, I began with Chantal's lovely and practical book, "Saris: An Illustrated Guide..." and investigated what sari draping she had referenced as being appropriate for the type of costume I was looking for. She mentioned a drape called the fishtail sari which seemed particularly apropos. It consists of a draping method that results in two long, pant-like legs, with the most decorative part of the sari (the pallav) hanging down in a creased, fan-like shape between the legs. This fan-shaped bit of fabric comprises the "fishtail" for which this sari is named. This form of wrapping piqued my interest because the modern Bharata Natyam dance costumes, which are stitched, greatly resemble this structure in the lower half of the garment.

I then took the image of this drape with me to a number of art books detailing Indian miniature painting, pre-Mogul era Indian scrolls and Indian sculpture. Throughout these books, I found that the art works which were designed by native Indians often featured the female nobility and other court members wearing garments very similar to the fishtail drape. Among the upper class women wearing this drape, a number of them are described as either occupational dancers, or courtesans performing dances. Similarly, in temple sculpture, women wearing gauzy saris quite similar to the fishtail generally appear in dancing postures. For the most part, the women wearing fishtail draped saris are also bare breasted. Many are wearing a sheer shawl draped over their head and shoulders, but it is generally too thin to provide anything close to the European ideal of modesty, much less anything like structural support. It *is* possible to find examples of women wearing what appears to be a choli, but I have not yet been able to find a woman wearing both a choli and fishtail saris, although I've seen choli tops in contemporary pictures to the fishtail sari pictures.

Having completed my research, along with some investigation on textile manufacture, I created a set of 6 yard saris to begin my exploration into fishtail sari wearing. As a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA), a large part of what I do, is dress and behave in the manner of a "persona" from the time period and location of my choosing. As I had chosen to pretend to be a devadasi (a dancer associated with a particular temple), I dressed in the fishtail sari wrap. I selected thin silks (8mm habatoi) and light cottons for my fishtail sari, and even thinner silks (gauzes of 2-4mm weight) to act as the sheer shawl over my head and shoulders. Because I live in 20th century America, I chose to create some choli tops for myself, since exposing my breasts in public is certainly not a wise or legal fashion choice.

Armed with my new Indian devadasi-wear, I've spent over a year and a half wearing this clothing, including two camping trips of 2 solid weeks. Although I did not wear the fishtail saris every day, I do wear it most of the time. Over the course of that time, I learned a number of useful tips and tricks to wearing this wrapping that I thought might be useful for other draping enthusiasts and dancers. I will list them below:

- This list assumes that one has already obtained a copy of Chantal's guide to draping. She has done a wonderful job of explaining and illustrating the process of putting on this drape. These are simply addendums from someone who has worn this drape enough to have some specific ideas on how to make life easier.

- When first tying on the sari, decide how much of the pallav you would like to have hanging down at the end, by holding it at the approximate length you would like and seeing how far it falls from your waist to the floor. Keep in mind these things:
- the longer it is, the prettier it is, but the more likely it is that you may trip on it while walking, or bending over.
- If the fabric is stiff, you want enough weight hanging down, that the fishtail lies flat, too little of a fishtail, and it might stick out from you waist. Not so pretty.
- I generally estimate a length that goes from my waist to about 3 inches above my ankle.

- Mark this spot with your finger. Then fold from your finger to the far end of the fabric to find the middle of the long end. Put this middle behind you, at the center of your back, so that the back of the fabric is facing your backside.Proceed as in Chantal's directions, tying the fabric in front of you. The reason to do this to make sure that your pant legs are about equal. If I guessed without measuring, I found that I always had one leg much bigger than the other.

- When pleating the two ends to wrap them around your leg and tuck them into the waistband, I generally use the distance between my thumb and index finger, as fully extended as possible. I find that if I do this with my right hand, I can grab the pleats as I make them between my thumb and ring finger, and my index and middle fingers, while I guide and straighten the fabric with my left hand. Pleating quickly and easily is essential if you're going to be wearing this a lot, otherwise dressing each morning gets very tiresome.

- This is a wrap that generally requires a lot of fussing. It can be very flattering to many figures, since it is easily adjustable. That, however, means that you need to take a bit of time to figure out how the drape will fit around your individual curves. For example, I have very bumpy lower leg muscles, this means that the drape feels very tight around my legs. I fix this by lifting and shaking each pant leg until it spreads a little and makes itself larger. Other folks (who may be shorter than my 5'11" self) may find that the legs hang too low and get caught under their heel. This means that they need to tuck more material into the waistband until the leg is raised enough not to inhibit movement. Keep experimenting through the day, the sari will "settle" into something comfortable if you keep fussing with it.

- The above note is doubly true for saris with a metal brocade pattern. Metal brocades are wonderful for this drape, as they can be ironed into a stiff fan shape that is quite crisp and striking. ( I have no information on whether ironing of pleats was done historically or not ) The down side is, because they are so crisp, they have to mould themselves into the sari shape. For the first two hours in a new or newly pressed metal brocade sari, I feel "puffy". All the fabric that I stuffed into my waist line to make the pleats is trying to revert to it's original flat shape, and as a consequence is making my front stick out in a rather unattractive manner. Have no fear, it will even itself out, after about an hour of flattening it out, it will have conformed to your body, and until it is pressed again, it will behave.

- Walking - This is not a sports-sari. If you want a sari in which you can run, and crawl, and move without thought, try one of the tribal saris. They are more challenging to historically document, but they are worn by people who have a lot of physical things to do in a day. In a fishtail sari, take careful steps. With practice, you can move along at a reasonably quick stroll. Just about the right speed for window shopping. The gait for "running late to a meeting" is right out. If you absolutely must walk fast, pick up the fishtail, sling it over your shoulder or tuck the free end into your waistband, put up the pant legs like you were picking up a long skirt, and run along.

- Crawling - nope. That fishtail is just waiting for you to put a knee on it, and pull it out.

- Dancing - This is where the fishtail actually comes in handy. If you happen to dance any of the Indian dances where the main position is squatting, knees spread (aramundi), then this is the drape for you. The aesthetic of the dance goes well with the spread drape, and the pant legs provide just the right give to let you squat, stamp, stand, strut, and leap the way that Indian dance mandates. However, do make sure that you do a dress rehearsal in your fishtail the day of your performance. Do all the most ambitious moves and tuck the sari to conform to your movements as necessary.

- Middle Eastern Dancing - I happen to greatly enjoy Middle Eastern dance as well, and often do not change into more traditional dance clothing before going off to dance. The waist level sari drape, and the bust level choli do form a pretty set of lines for Middle Eastern dance, letting the audience see a full view of your stomach, and a clear indication of what your hips are doing. The fishtail is not shown off to it's best effect, because Middle Eastern dance does not involve the same "aramundi" position. A well-tucked and tied fishtail sari will stay in place during the quickest of hip movements, just be sure to check on it in between musical pieces.

- Other activities - My conclusion from camping is that devadasis probably had to do very little work for themselves while they were wearing this outfit. The drape hanging in front of you is an impediment to many activities, such as dishwashing, spinning, stoking a fire, cooking, and carrying heavy things. Securing the fishtail by tucking it behind my back into the waistline generally worked for most activities, but if it took a while, it was generally a better plan to change into something more practical.

- The toilette - Perhaps it may seem vulgar, but if you are wearing a garment for 8-10 hours, it's important to know how to use the facilities. This is definitely a garment that works far better for Indian toilettes (which are used in a squatting position) than for modern toilettes (which are used sitting). Nonetheless, it is possible to make use of modern facilities. The trick here is getting you and the toilette seat to meet without any fabric in the way. The trick here is to first find the area where the two tucked in pant legs meet, in the center of your back. Horizontally separate the two sides of the garment, pulling slightly with a pant leg in each hand. Be careful not to pull so hard you have removed the tucking from waist band. Now lift the inner drape that forms the waist band behind you. The bottom end should be near where your legs meet. Pull it up, and you have made your way through the layers of fabric. Use the facilities, and stand up. Replace all of your layers by jumping up and down a little and shaking your hips to get everything to fall back into place. I find that the popular American wedding dance "The Funky Chicken" works well for this operation. If you did it all carefully, no additional tucking should be required.

- Picking a sari - Technically, any sari will work with a bit of practice. If you are a historical reenactor, I suggest researching the textiles used in your time and place. India has a plethora of different weaving and textile decoration techniques that are readily discernable to an educated eye. As for practicality, here's a few notes:
- Sheer fabrics - don't be afraid of sheer fabrics. You are mostly covered by two layers in all the critical places. Always do a test run before going out in public, but generally is two layers of the fabric prove to be solid, you should be all set.
- Weight of fabrics - a good rule of thumb - the heavier the fabric, the more difficulty you will have tucking it the first time, but the crisper it will look when finally pleated. The lighter the fabric, the easier to tie on, but the less conforming it is to your shape.
- Cotton v. silk - those are the two most popular fabrics, cotton is generally easier to wear than silk. It's less slippery, so it sticks to itself and stays in place when you wear it. Silk is really pretty, and often more opulent looking. It also offers a wide variety of textures and may be easier to obtain. I find it's worth the effort of learning how to wear it.

So those are my few notes. I find wearing the fishtail wrap to be very enjoyable, and get quite a lot of compliments on it. Good luck draping!

If you have any questions or ideas, feel free to Email me at

Beth, aka Lakshmi Amman

Email from Ben Willmarth

After hastily sending for membership, I looked at some of your pictures of a trip to India, and was pleased to see that Peter not only adopted the native dress (veshti), but was barefoot in several pictures (many did not show feet). I am curious to know how much he goes barefoot. I am also a member of an international barefooters' list, The Society
for Barefoot Living.
It has about 800 members around the world (including over thirty in the UK) who discuss various aspects of barefooting (recreational, health, social, legal). As we are sometimes denied entrance to establishments (especially in this "Land of The Free", where the [NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE!] signs are posted by narrow minded proprietors), bare feet seem to be as much of a clothing issue as anything else, although many proprietors try to avoid calling it a
dress code issue (which might sometimes constitute illegal discrimination) by citing non-existent health or safety 'regulations'.
My personal reason for going barefoot as much as possible is health. Feet area most important, yet a much abused part of the body. The foot problems suffered by my father and older brother in law were, I believe, greatly exacerbated by wearing shoes (I've come to refer to them as "foot coffins" - - your feet die, then slowly pull you in with them), and quite a few members of the list who are over 40 seem to agree. (I'm 75.) I also believe barefooting in cold weather strengthens the immune system. (Of course one must gradually acclimatize to both temperatures and roughness of surfaces.)
Sorry to bother you with lengthy post, but I'm encouraged to see someone who sees value in something beside "high tech" in this Technologically Advanced, Socially Retarded dominant culture which seems to be trying to turn the world into a huge shopping mall selling junk that we are supposed to be brainwashed into thinking is essential to our happiness.

As draped garments are lacking in pockets to carry the junk we are being trained to think we need (and I am one of the worst for carrying an extensive 'life support system'), perhaps you would develop information on accessories to draped clothing. The sporran is, of course, one of the older ones - - I've replaced it with the popular 'belly pouch', which can be whatever size I think Ineed, and has wider access. I'm thinking of trying to design a vest short enough to be worn comfortably with the belted plaid. I find most vests too long, and the bottom flares out over the material about the waist. As I learn more about other garments, I may switch or add them to a wardrobe which I hope to keep very small and simple. I'd like to learn more about turbans. I've seen some pictured that seem to consist of a simple long scarf wrapped about the head with an end hanging over the shoulder, to be used as a mask in a sand storm (or a bank robbery? ;^)

Best regards from an uncivilized anarchist,
Ben, Whidbey Isl., WA, Barefoot, head to toe.

(Reply note: Peter had to be barefoot in Hindu temples, some of which cover extensive grounds and even a whole mountain. Many drapes do have “pockets”, either slacks in the drape or “roll” at the point of closing.)


The newsletter is late... Sorry! I will not be able to prepare a newsletter for January. So this is again a “double-issue”. I also could do with more contributions: the next deadline in the 27th of January. Please tell us about your experience of draped clothes.

I wish you all a happy holiday season and a great year 2002. I hope that we will grow and that awareness about draped clothes will expand!
Thank you for your help and support.

Best wishes!

Please do not hesitate to send any question, suggestion, criticism.
If you have some links to suggest, please let us know!
If you wish to write something for the newsletter, please do so and Email it to <>.

Institute of Draped Clothes


IDC - Bridge House
78 Hammersmith Bridge Road
London W6 9DB
Great Britain

Home page - our goals - our structure - membership - Email
Press release - download documents - Web Library - Become a sponsor!