Newsletter 28 - Septembre-Novembre 2002

1. news
2. questions about an ancient sari
3. dancing in a sari
4. drapes with imagination
5. saris in Kuala Lumpur
6. new web links
7. wedding saris
8. a personal note from Chantal

1. NEWS:

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

Beth, aka Lakshmi Amman, who already contributed on the fishtail sari (please refer to newsletter 23) sent another sari picture looking for an explanation.
As it happens, I (Chantal) took my own picture of the same painting which shows interesting saris represented on the ceiling of the Virabhadra temple in Lepakshi (then in the empire of Vijayanagar), dating from the 16th century.

I have long wondered about these saris and they are definitely of the "fishtail" variety. What is interesting is the use of what seems very long and thin pallavs. They go around the shoulders but are clearly not there to hide the breasts. They might show a transition from the elaborate belts, made of twisted cloth, that were used in previous centuries, and which were loosely wrapped around the body in a similar way to these pallavs. It might also be that the fashion for very long saris (up to 12 yards...) had already started, though evidence of such extensive cloth only dates from the 19th century.
Hiding breasts in South India begins only around 1820. It didn't really make it to far away villages in Southern Tamil Nadu and Kerala until the middle of the 20th century, so those drapes are rather consistent with what was fashionable in the 16th century. The cloth was then made of thin muslin with woven or printed borders (the same temple has pillars decorated with sari border motifs). The end which was falling in front of the legs (the "fishtail") was held by a thicker piece of cloth made with gold thread and maybe fringes (notice the yellow ends over the feet), which gave its distinctive fishtail shape to the sari.
This thicker end of the sari, which is still present as the pallav in many modern saris, appears to have been used only for the "fishtail" and not for the end draped over the shoulders (the modern pallav).
If anyone wanted to recreate this sari, I would do it with a 9-yard cloth - or longer -, and wrap the most decorated end (the pallav) so that it makes the fishtail, rather than use it for the upper part of the drape.
- Make the closing in "dhoti style" leaving approximately 3 yards on one side and about 5 yards on the other (you need about 1 yard for the closing itself). The decorated pallav should be on the shorter side.
- Take first the longer side, wrap it around one leg, tuck it neatly pleated in the closing over the abdomen, then wrap it, still pleated, around the torso once or twice, as shown in the pictures.
- Wrap the shorter side around the other leg, tuck it pleated in the closing over the abdomen (over the other pleats), leaving approximately 1 yard to fall over the legs and make the fishtail.
Obviously this will only work with a very thin cotton or silk sari, with some extra gold thread or thick cloth added to the end of the fishtail.


Most people think that draped clothes are impractical, hard to walk with - let alone dancing! Yet a lot of IDC members wear saris for dancing, and we would like to produce a document, available in print or as an Acrobat PDF document (so that it includes pictures) about dancing with saris. If you are interested in contributing, please get in touch with Chantal: <> .
Already, if you have patience, a Quicktime plugin in your browser, and a good internet connection, you can see Chantal doing Irish set dancing at her wedding, wearing a sari:
Beware: It's kind of long to download if you don't have a fast internet connection AND you need a Quicktime plugin (if you don't have it, it's likely that your browser will help you download it).

We also were sent a great picture from Karen Andes (LEFT). It is really a striking example of happy dancing in a sari. Thank you Karen!

By Ritika Ramtri Kumar

To be able to see shape within a fabric and then draw it out is the art of draping. Given a choice I would never stitch a garment and destroy its natural fall. Early students of Indian costumes like Forbes Watson have established that though the art of sewing has been practised in India for centuries, there have been garments which require no stitching. These garments have never really been done away with. Take, for instance the dhoti, the scarf, the uttariya, the turban, the lungi, the sari and the stanapatta, they are all still widely prevalent.

Draping is an art and usually every designer employs it to explain a design to the master cutter. In fact, the base of a truly creative design lies in its first shape - the drape. A good drape has several elements like knots, tucks and pleats in tandem with each other. A successful drape relies heavily on what you are trying to conjure up. Of course, the presentation has to be neat, clean and uncluttered. One can transform an ordinary piece of cloth into both Western and Indian ensembles. One can create a gown, conjure up a jacket, tie a sarong, create a ghaghra choli or even fashion exciting headgear.

The fall of a fabric is important. Starched fabrics, crisp cottons and khadi do not drape well, but fluid fabrics like chiffon and crepe are ideal. Soft cotton and silk can also be used to make a dreamy ensemble. The beauty of draping is that you can experiment, as you like without the fear of wasting cloth. One can create a bustier as well to match the drape. Saris, especially, drape beautifully. One can get figure-hugging and shapely silhouettes or something even as wacky as a chiffon dhoti draped over hot pants. The Amrapali drape of the Dravidian era a favourite silhouette in India and, can have a twist as well. Overlapping also adds interest to a drape.
Drapes offer immense possibilities if you know how to wrap the fabric the right way. So, the next time you have to go for a big do and don't have the time to get something stitched, you could probably opt for a drape instead.

Here is how:
* Wear your shoes before you start draping the ensemble.
* Ensure that the knots are clean and neat. If the knots are not perfect, chances are that the ensemble will not turn out the way you want it to.
* Choose from single, double and ruffled knots.
* Pleats, twists and tucks also form an integral part of an ensemble.
* If you are using printed fabric be careful to co-ordinate it with the final shape you want.
* Experiment as much as you want, but ensure that the pleats, tucks and twists are firmly secured. You wouldn't want the drape to open up, would you?
* You can create cowls on the lower waist and pleats on the shoulder or vice-versa.
* Shaded fabrics also look most exciting once they are draped.
* While chiffon and crepes drape beautifully you can even use contemporary fabrics like lycra, crinkle chiffon and georgette.
* Choose your drape keeping your body in mind. If you don't have a midriff to flaunt, make sure you don't expose it. Be realistic while draping.

Back from a trip to Kuala Lumpur (KL) in Malaysia, Karen Sanders wrote these comments about the saris she saw:

Fashion differences in sarees between KL and India (Mumbai): Sarees are worn shorter, with more ankle exposed. (The salesman at the saree store said it's because the women are taller!) The 'standard' petticoat has a 2" ruffle around the bottom, probably for walking room, and was 2" shorter than the ones I bought in Mumbai. Petticoats with ruffles and lace were available in Mumbai, but the one sold to me as typical to me was A-line, no ruffle. The saree stores sell a 3" rayon tassel, either a solid color or metallic, used with hemming the pallav. The pallav gets a rolled hem, and the fringe is applied. The other end of the sari is commonly finished with a narrow hem. Although falls are used, the people I dealt with implied "Why bother?"

Sarees are not commonly worn, even in the Little India section of town. Most of the sales people in shops weren't wearing sarees. I wore a saree a couple days, and it was remarkable that I was in a saree as much as being an Anglo in a saree. The sales guy from the textile shop was escorting me around Little India to eat lunch and meet his friends. Men would comment to him (in Tamil), and he passed along their compliments "The saree, it is nice." I walked into the airport in a saree,
and heard the word "Indian" behind me.

Cholis are worn a little longer to cover the ribs in KL. The seamstress used interfacing in the bottom section of the front, under the breasts, which I didn't see in India. The seamstress had a fashion book of different sleeve styles and necklines. I asked her for a paper pattern of what she had sewn, but she said she didn't do the patterns - the tailor did. (And I don't think she was making a polite excuse). Very interesting division of labor. One blouse piece from the saree didn't have enough fabric, so she pieced in some matching fabric.

The salesman in this particular saree store was familiar with various drapes. He mentioned specifically the Gujarati style, meaning draped to the front instead of the back. He took me to a seamstress, around the corner, between two shops, up a flight of stairs I would never have found. On two different days I wore a saree and came in at lunchtime for her to help me adjust it. So, I learned to wear the modern sari, as she draped it, complete with fancy pleats and pins. Even the cotton sarees she pinned the upper border to the shoulder to make a nice horizontal line, and then she pleated the pallav and pinned it down to keep the pleats neat. She tended to put the pallav to hang just below the waist. It was more important to have the pleats right in front than have the pallav longer. What I also learned was how tight to wrap the saree. It's not stretched tight, but it is very smooth, with no slack.

These cotton sarees she was draping on me were 5-1/2 yards, but I am a big woman (38 E on top, 40" hips). She would have sewn on a 1/2-yard extension on each saree if she could have. Getting a saree blouse sewn (when the fabric was with the saree) was about 3 times as expensive as buying a pre-made blouse with no embroidery, or twice as much as a pre-made blouse with embroidery.

Oh, did I buy any sarees? Originally I wanted cheaper cotton sarees to wear around the house and on weekends, for practice. I got some of those. But the salesman made me deals I could afford on 2 black silk sarees, and a cream colored saree that perfectly matched my complexion. Found a blue silk saree with handpainted flowers. And a plain white cotton saree with narrow borders, two simple stripes in the middle of the pallav. And one to wear to my son's wedding in 2 years.

KL has a large cave nearby with Hindu temples inside and outside. There are 272 steps to climb to reach the temples inside the cave. The light streams onto the temple through an opening in the roof of the cave, at certain times of the day. Lots of women in sarees, mostly middle aged and older. People at the temple commented on my saree "very beautiful". They asked "Are you Hindu?" One group even asked to take my picture! In one restaurant in Little India, they asked "What part of India are you from?"

I think if men had as many invented rules for wearing button-up shirts as Indian women have rules for wearing sarees, the button-up shirt would start disappearing. If the shirt had to be always pressed, the cut of the collar matching the jacket and tie just a certain way, never roll up your sleeves, or open up the collar button - who would ever wear a shirt!? I think women have put limitations in their mind about wearing sarees "properly". And if they can't wear them properly they will not wear them at all. And so the saree becomes less common, or becomes a ritual garment like the Japanese wedding kimono. At least in India, the Bollywood and TV stars are wearing sarees, and companies specialize in providing the designs the stars wear. Maybe Bollywood and Air India will keep the saree alive! All the sarees sold at the cave in Kuala Lumpur were pre-sewn, the lady said. Zip and go. No fun at all.

Guess I have somehow crossed the line into some comfort zone about wearing sarees. Or else I am too brazen and stupid to know the difference. I have gotten hot and sweaty so much the saree was sopping wet. I wore a saree in places where people knew what a
saree was, and that was OK. The seamstress thought it was a little funny, but she was respectful that I was trying to get it right. And she could tell from the sarees I chose that they had been selected to wear and look good. They weren't chosen for making pillows. I guess I have done enough wearing and watching to realize what are "my' problems and which things are inherent in the garments themselves. Sometimes those pleats just don't behave. Well, it's better than going naked.


With every newsletter we signal interesting links that YOU (IDC members) point out. We do count on all of you to send us the URLs of interesting web sites you may come across. Thank you!

Here are this month's suggestions:

*Faith Elwing recommends Melanie Kohli who runs a small web site for Indian products. She has saree tutorial video, "How to Wear a Sari" which shows step by step processes for wearing two different styles of sari. Please feel free to contact her <> or check out the video on the web site:
She also sells saris.

* Beth has some interesting pages for textile fanatics on her web site:
Those 2 pages are especially interesting:

A very interesting site that asks the question: why are Western men stuck with trousers? Why not kilts? Why not have a choice (like women do...)?
If you dream of exotic islands... an excellent site on how to wear pareos with photos.
More pareo draping, with drawings.


A little note of apology: in the last newsletter I said that the sari that I (Chantal) wore at my wedding was the Lodhi style. Well, I was wrong! It is in fact the sari of Chhattisgarh, (p. 105 in Saris: An Illustrated Guide to the Indian Art of Draping). See it ABOVE, it should be opposite to §5, "saris in KL" - although it is unrelated with the subject (I just spread out the pictures through the text... It also fits neatly between dancing with a sari and wedding saris...). Well, Karen comments that saris are worn shorter in KL, I had tied mine above the ankles for obvious reasons.


LEFT is a picture of another IDC member, Karen Nooruddin, who was kind enough to share her wedding picture with us to show the very interesting style she wore on that occasion.


Summer has been quiet but with some good developments. With Bollyhood becoming fashionable (with "The Guru" and "Bombay Dreams" among others), let"s hope that there will some interest in traditional sari drapes...
The new newsletter frequency leaves us more time to write, judging by all the contributions I received! Thank you for all those who contributed, sent links or pictures. Keep on writing!

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 <>.

Newsletter publication dates and deadlines for contributions:
- 1st of June (June-August): deadline for contributions: 15th of May
- 1st of September (September-November): deadline for contributions: 15th of August
- 1st of December (December-February): deadline for contributions: 15th of November
- 1st of March (March-May): deadline for contributions: 15th of February

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