A story for every sari

An evening of ooohs and aahs and many an aha moment — a trail of Tamil Nadu’s sari- weaving traditions left women of Bengaluru of the #100sareepact spellbound

Updated - September 16, 2015 07:10 pm IST

Published - September 16, 2015 04:23 pm IST - Bengaluru

KNOW WHAT YOU WEAR--  Don’t drape on just wear your sari, but, learn about it too -- Photo: Murali Kumar K.

KNOW WHAT YOU WEAR-- Don’t drape on just wear your sari, but, learn about it too -- Photo: Murali Kumar K.

Bring together women who love their saris and are on a warpath to achieve a target of wearing 100 saris by this year-end.

Put them in a sari store. Show them gorgeous saris, tell interesting stories about how the saris are made and who made them. Ask the women to share their own stories.

It’s a formula for a fantastic and fun evening brimming over with enthusiasm, admiration, much bonhomie, and woman bonding. And a desire to possess even more saris!

Co-optex, the Tamil Nadu Handloom Weaver’s Co-operative Society and The #100sareepact came together recently for an evening of show and tell, where Co-optex showcased some of their recently revived weaving traditions that had otherwise almost become extinct.

For those of you who haven’t (yet) heard of The #100sareepact, it was started by two Bengalureans -- Anju Maudgal Kadam and Ally Matthan, who decided to bring out their precious saris lying in their cupboards, unworn and unseen.

“We will wear our saris a 100 times before the end of 2015,” is the pact they made and asked other women to make a pact with themselves. The idea is to share a story about the sari, a memory and a photograph of it.

Chennai’s Sreemathy Mohan, a textile enthusiast, and Bengaluru’s Kausalya Satyakumar, textile expert and researcher, pitched in with their interesting factoids from their own experience and learning. Co-optex M.D. T.N. Venkatesh, and R.Vaasu - deputy general manager (silk & exports) dug into the cooperative’s vast documentation archives to share information. Bengaluru, and the rest of Karnataka is the second largest buyer of their saris, after Chennai, stressed Venkatesh.

They currently have a discount of 30 per cent, which will be on till Deepavali — it’s a discount usually given to Government school teachers of TN, who form 80 per cent of Co-optex’s clientele!

Sreemathy summed up the bottom-line for the initiative when she said, “You should be aware of what you are wearing. Sometimes we don’t even know about the weaves of our own State.” Vaasu, himself, from a weaver family, gradually took the group through the intricacies of the tongue-twisting varieties of saris, their characteristics, where they are woven, and how many of these weaves are under threat of dying out because weavers are moving away from their looms.

“The Koorainadu sari, a traditional wedding sari (the koorai pattu paduvai), with its small check patterns, has only six weavers left who still weave it,” said Vaasu. The Chettinad cotton saris, made in the Karaikudi area, and traditionally called the Kandangi saris also has barely about three weaver societies surviving out of the 50 original groups, he rued.

Venkatesh also spoke of how weavers of the Kanchi cotton too had moved on to selling old newspapers for a living.

The Society has given special incentive and higher wages to these weavers to come back into the fold and continue their tradition.

Which also explains why you pay what you do, when you buy a treasured sari that has been painstakingly woven for days together on a hand-loom. Co-optex has also taken to adding a card to each of their saris, carrying a photograph and information on the weaver who made the sari, so that you know who made yours!

Together the group traced the interesting stories and history behind the Madurai Sungudi sari that uses the resist dye technique.

Earlier each pattern was hand-tied, then, Saurashtra weavers created pin boards to lay fabric and knot them on, hastening the process. Now it is wax-resist dyed.

The foreign connect was not to be missed — whether it was Sreemathy recounting how Europeans came to India for the cotton and how the city of Madras got its name from the checks it made, to the “bleeding checks” that became a fashionable rage when dyes went wrong! Venkatesh pitched in with a current day story of how a Spanish company today buys Kurinjipadi lungis, ships them to Germany where they are made into shirts, dresses, and even laptop bags before being sold by a retailer in Spain!

The evening was wound up with a touching tribute to weavers — Venkatesh whipped out a “book”, each of whose pages was made of fabric woven in the Tamil Nadu of the 1950s.

The Government of India had decided then to impose a cess on handlooms. The weavers of the then Madras State decided to represent against the cess to Jawaharlal Nehru. Their petition was printed on this fabric book. Nehru was so moved, he asked for a copy to be made; he kept one and the other remains with Co-optex.

Nuggets from the sari soiree

In your sari, the thread that runs along the length — from your hip to the ankle is the warp — and the weft is the horizontal thread

Till 1880 only vegetable dyes were used in India

Kora silk is silk that is not de-gummed

All zari used in saris comes from Surat. Zari weaving machines originally came from France. Later Surat took over its their manufacture too.

Weavers from Saurashtra came down south to Madurai and started the Sungudi/Chungadi sari. There were typically 20,000 knots in one six-yard sari!

Visiri madippu – or the fan-like folding pattern is characteristic of the Thirubhuvanam silk sari. The sari is supposed to open up like a Japanese hand fan and make a characteristic noise when whipped out properly.

The Anakaputhur cotton sari is woven by weavers who were predominantly involved in lungi weaving; the checks pattern influence on the sari patterns is un-missable.

The Kodalikaruppur sari, with elaborate floral patterned pallu - has been re-created in silk using patterns derived from temple architecture — traditionally worn by the princess of Thanjavur.

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