Checks go out of the box

Sri Palam Silks' Angarika Collection with checks on the pallu  

It’s time to unfold the chequered past because the check has gone haute. Festive seasons are not just about new patterns entering the dress circle; they also see the resurgence of traditional prints, weaves and embellishments. So let’s square in on the good-old Madras checks popularly called  palum pazhamum kattam that has once again established itself as the queen of the trend game.

“Looks like it’s really hard to checkmate this design,” laughs Jeyasree Ravi, proprietor, Sri Palam Silks. And its contemporary variations are exciting new-age buyers, she feels. “The refreshing tweaks to such classic patterns have actually made youngsters discover the beauty of the sari, which now tops their favourite formal attire list,” says Jeyasree, who owes it to her father the ‘silk czar’ Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti for the kattam craze.

Kuppuswami Chetti was known to come up with a new collection every festive season. He introduced the classic  palum pazhamum kattam saris, inspired by the Sivaji Ganesan and Saroja Devi super-hit by the same name, which was a festival release too. So was his Then Nilavu buuta, a take-off on the Gemini Ganesan and Vyjayanthimala-starrer  Then Nilavu.  

Over the years, the out-of-the-box approach has given way to plaid with novel geometric dimensions that are being used imaginatively on the pallu, border, pleats or on the body for a designer touch to the sari.

Says Sabita Radhakrishna, textile expert and a strong votary for the saree’s timeless appeal, “Checks are coming back but woven in a non-korvai method and are more muted. Also the lines criss-crossing are thinner and the filled-in colours not necessarily traditional.  When I used to design, I would urge weavers to make patli pallu saris and have subtle checks or stripes only in the pallu and pleats with overweaves in the weft, but I never succeeded. They were reluctant to set up looms for these new designs in case the market didn’t accept them. So I began making patli pallu blouses and saris that looked like  pavada davanis. It is amazing to see them all making a comeback. If we foresee a future for the sari, we have to let new designers have their say.”

“And the designers are going the whole six yards to embrace new trends,” says Nalini Sriram, revivalist of traditional weaves, costume-maker for films and co-owner of Shilpi boutique. “Though style sensibilities are changing, people, especially the young, are rediscovering the exquisiteness of our design heritage and there is a growing fascination for it around the world. In the process, many conventional patterns have got a contemporary spin. And checks figures among them.”

She explains how new lighter textures and simpler weaves have demystified the kattam. “The checks we created on Uppada were particularly fascinating. Also our range of saris with chequered borders in Benarasi silk was an incredibly successful design experiment. From a boring choice to a sensuous drape, the sari has emerged as a garment in which one can make a statement.”

While tracking the resurgence of kattam, check out how celebrities like Vidya Balan have done their bit to popularise it. The actor has often been spotted draped in chequered saris what with her favourite designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee incorporating checks into his oeuvre. From its staple palate of red, yellow and green… the palum pazhamum kattam has taken on multiple colours including neon greens and blues for those who prefer eye-grabbing shades and pastels for those who like to play it down.

James of Rasi Silks says the variations these days in checks are unbelievable. The innovative shapes, sizes and combination of colours have found many takers, making saris with checks even part of the bridal trousseau. Among the store’s festive line-up, Manasvi saris with small reed-thin checks, vibrant colours and multi-coloured plain borders are much sought after.

“Whether it’s about a laid-back look with subdued checks or getting glam with the bold ones, kattams are popular — both on and off the runway,” adds Jeyasree, who is delighted with the response to her Angarika collection that had saris with pallus in plaid. “It’s a versatile pattern that lends itself wonderfully to experimentations.”

And, there is no line of control here!

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 4:05:58 AM |

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