Episode 19. History of the Sari

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The History of the Sari The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

In this episode, we learn about the history of the sari, how draping styles have changed over time and its cultural significance. We also invite 2 guests to share their perspectives: Ceci Chalasani (@thesecretsewist) and Gowri Paary (@bypaary). For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-19-history-of-the-sari/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective


Patterns & Designers mentioned

Ogden Cami Sz 0-18, by True Bias

Ogden Cami Sz 14-30, by True Bias

Nikko Top and Dress, by True Bias

Forget Me Knot Bag Pattern, by Pattern Division

Emmie No. 3113, by Seamwork

Fabric Stores mentioned

Workroom Social, Brooklyn, NY-based, carries various fabrics, sewing patterns, tools and also runs sewing classes and a sewing camp


Timeline of India, Kamat’s Potpourri

Mughal Empire, Wikipedia

British Raj, Wikipedia

How to Wear Saree without Blouse and Petticoat, Priya Panwar via oneHOWTO

History of the Saree: What is a Saree?, Glamrs via YouTube

Parsis, Wikipedia

Parsi Drape, The Sari Series

Story of the Nivi Drape, Tilfi

Nivi Style Saree Draping, Utsavpedia

9 Facts You Might Not Know About the Sari, Google Arts & Culture

History of the Sari, From Ancient India to Fashion Runways – Simple, Versatile Garments Tell the Stories of Women Who Wear Them, South China Morning Post

What These Rare Images of 19th Century India Tell Us About Colonial Rule, CNN Style

The Sari Series, Border&Fall

Things to Know About Khadi Fabric, Needhi Dhoker via Farida Gupta

Khadi, Wikipedia

The Big Day, Netflix

The Facts about Silk Saree, Saree.com

Zari, Wikipedia

@thesecretsewist, Ceci Chalasani’s Instagram account

@bypaary, Gowri Paary’s Instagram account

Photos of Ceci’s saris

In the order as described in the episode.

Silk sari – Ceci’s mother’s engagement sari – a Mysore crepe sari with a plain ruby red body, printed decorative pallu on a black background, and narrow woven gold border. The black pallu shows large tea roses, vines with leaves, and smaller flowers in white and red. The gold border has small rose motifs on a black background.
Silk sari – Belongs to Ceci’s mother – a Banarasi sari with an organza pale jade green body, woven decorative pale gold and green pallu, and woven pale gold border. The transparent green fabric has individually embroidered small pale gold motifs. The pallu has long, narrow mango motifs in pale gold with dark green flowers, rows of pale gold stripes, and gold motifs. The border is a wide stripe of pale gold with gold motifs on the top portion of the stripe with dark green vines and flowers inside the stripe of gold.
Silk sari – Ceci’s mother’s wedding sari – A kanchipuram sari with cobalt blue body and woven decorative raspberry pink pallu. The cobalt blue fabric has individually embroidered small gold motifs. The pallu shows two rows of gold peacocks with decorative borders, a wide stripe of blue and gold motifs with raspberry pink background, and two additional rows of gold peacocks with decorative borders. The hem of the pallu has raspberry pink and green tassels.
Cotton sari – belonged to Ceci’s grandmother – A Prussian blue sari with a crimson and gold border on a pale table. The border is made of crimson and gold stripes with six petaled gold flowers. Perpendicular to the border are two wide stripes in crimson and gold. 

Additional links and resources for Gowri’s interview

Lehenga, Wikipedia

Shalwar Kameez, Wikipedia (also spelled “salwar kameez”)

What is Pattu Pavadai & How it is Called in South Indian States?, The Nesavu

4D Pocket, Doraemon Wiki

Show transcript

Nicole: We’ll see, I don’t know if, like, with COVID restrictions, if we’re just going to quarantine for 14 days. It would just be 14 days sewing with my, with our biggest Ko-fi supporter, my mother-in-law, which would be fine, I actually would be fine with that. But…

Ada: Does she have extra machines?

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fibre and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese-American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare – that’s C-H-U-A-N – and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co-host, Nicole. I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx-American, and I’m a woman, and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @nicoleangelinesews.

Ada: Before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: Yes, I can. So, I feel like all of season two has been me talking about how I’m like, not been really into garment sewing, which is fine, I’ve come to terms with it. But I have been wanting to sew with my hands or just to do something, but I also didn’t want to sew something for the sake of sewing, if that makes sense. Like, to at least know that I would wear it or that it’s going to go somewhere. So, this is actually my biggest project, like, largest scale project I’ve ever worked on, which is for a Halloween party. 

Ada: Cute. 

Nicole: So it’s not, it’s not a costume. It’s bags.

Ada: Okay. Oh, okay, okay.

Nicole: I’m attending my first work Halloween party where people are bringing treats, everything is going to be individually wrapped, because we’re not going to be eating together, because we’ll have masks on. But, I was racking my brain, you know, what do I bring? Cookies, like, candy? You know what, I’m gonna bring bags so that people can take all of their treats home in. And, I was like, it’ll be great. I’ll get rid of a bunch of fabric. And I found I’ve already seen this pattern and Ada, we talked about this.

Ada: Yeah.

Nicole: We were DM-ing each other. But it’s the Forget Me Knot – K-N-O-T – bag by Pattern Division and it’s a free pattern, she does have other patterns for purchase but this one is free. And it’s really easy, it’s a pretty fast sew – I think the first time I made one, cutting fabric to finishing it, was like, 20 minutes? But making 30 is a lot. If you do the math, and it takes me 20 minutes per bag times 30, that’s a lot of hours. It takes two fat quarters per bag, so it’s designed to, you know, you can just lay the fat quarters on top of each other and do one cut. It’s very cute. And I’ve gotten rid of a lot of quilting cotton and it’s quilting cotton that I bought that I wasn’t going to be quilting. But at the beginning of all of this, like, my sewing journey, it was all masks, so like, quilting cotton, oh, there are no masks, I need all the quilting cotton in the world. And then, I also thought like, you could make all sorts of clothes with quilting cotton, which is true, but not really my style. And also, like, I didn’t buy nicer, softer, quilting cottons for that. 

Ada: Ah, got it.

Nicole: I also made some of the bags from abandoned works in progress. It was cool, like, to just pull something out, and so there’s at least two where I had cut them like, maybe May 2020, and I’ll finish this later. And I pulled them out and like, I’m not really going to use these, I’m not going to finish them and enjoy making them. So I just cut them up then there’s pieces for that, and the rest are a lot of scraps. So there’s some, like, scraps from clothes that I still wear regularly that are getting turned into these bags. So where I’m at right now is I’ve got 60 pieces cut out and sewn. So there’s a lot and all I need to do is just sew them together because it’s a reversible bag and then just sew them together and then I will have 30 bags and that’s been a huge undertaking, but really satisfying. And I guess, if it’s two fat quarters per bag, then 30 bags is… Maths.

Ada: 60.

Nicole: 60 yards?

Ada: Oh, oh, oh.

Nicole: No, half of that.

Ada: 60 fat quarters. 2 fat quarters per bag. 30 bags.

Nicole: We’re having a brain moment here. Isn’t it 15 yards? It’s 15 yards, right? 

Ada: Yes?

Nicole: Okay, whatever. It’s a lotta yards. So that was kind of nice to have a project, I just need to sew them together, not gonna be super picky about how they match or anything, so it’ll be just more of the charm of having a little tote bag, like a trick or treat bag for the parties. But I’ve enjoyed the process. For folks who are looking to make bags for the holiday season, instead of using gift wrap. I definitely highly recommend you check out the Forget Me Knot pattern by Pattern Division. What’s going on with you, Ada?

Ada: I am currently hacking-slash-draping, it’s my first draping-ish project. So the hacking starts with an Ogden cami. And I have a wedding to attend as part of the bridal party and I wanted to… It’s a beach wedding, destination weddings, I wanted to have other outfits to wear for the other events and activities the day before the wedding. So I bought this fabulous brown fabric behind me that was from Workroom Social, and it was designed by Kelli Ward of True Bias and it’s 100% rayon, it feels so nice. I bought this with my own money. It’s so nice and soft and drapey and flowy, and it’s everything you want out of a rayon, so highly recommend. I got it in the mail, she sent along an extra half yard because she figured I might be making a dress and she’s a mind reader. I wanted to make something flowy given the drape of it, behind me, and so the front of the stress will be a long Ogden cami, which I think is fitting because Ogden cami is a True Bias pattern. And then the back, I kind of wanted to have some gathers along the back neckline, so I modelled it off of another indie pattern that isn’t quite size-inclusive, so I didn’t want to purchase it. And we shall see how that goes. I’m resisting cutting it so far, though, because I’m a little bit nervous.

Nicole: Yeah, I totally understand. A very Denver dress, dare I say.

Ada: It is a very Denver dress, minus the fact that it’s palm trees and it’ll be cold here by the time this wedding happens.

Nicole: I keep pushing you to make a tank, a turtleneck to wear underneath it so you can wear into winter. 

Ada: I have some Nico tops, also True Bias, turtlenecks that I could wear under it, and I might make a few more because it was… It’s a fit, really quick, easy sew from the two that I’ve made so far.

Nicole: Okay, sounds good to me.

Ada: So, in the very first episode of this season, we talked about a well-known Asian garment, which was the qipao, also known as a cheongsam. We went through the qipao’s lifetime exploring its history, as well as what’s going on with it now. And of course, we covered how the qipao is prone to being culturally appropriated, before we dove into how some of us, in the Collective, incorporate qipao into our sewing practices and other practices in our lives.

Nicole: And today, we’re following a similar format for a different Asian garment, and that’s the sari. The sari is a garment worn in India and the Indian subcontinent, usually by women. Geopolitically, the Indian subcontinent includes Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as the Maldives. And we talked about the sari briefly back in season one, episode six, which was Part Two of our cultural appropriation series. And Ada, you remember that episode, right, you were talking about struggling to put one on for an Indian wedding?

Ada: Yeah, we talked about this. I bought a blouse and a sari off of Etsy and tried to use YouTube tutorials to dress myself in my tiny hotel room right before my friend’s wedding. And I remember saying that, for future Indian weddings that I am invited to, I will probably be opting for non-Indian garments if that’s an option, just because I did not drape it at all correctly. Maybe I will learn something from today’s episode that will make wearing this garment less daunting for me to put on because I would love to be able to use it again. It’s such beautiful fabric.

Nicole: From your experience, we can see that a sari is worn for celebrations and special occasions. But the sari is worn daily depending on the individual. And obviously an everyday sari looks very different from a sari that a bride wears on their wedding day, but we will get to that later in this episode. So let’s talk about what a sari is. It’s a long rectangular piece of cloth, commonly around six yards or five and a half metres long for our listeners across the pond, and this cloth is usually draped over a blouse or a petticoat to complete the outfit. The sari is an unstitched piece of fabric, but usually has a hem, a decorative border and a pallu, which is a loose end of the sari that usually goes over the left shoulder. A blouse that you would wear with a sari isn’t the typically long, loose overgarment, often worn by women, that we see a lot in the Western world. Sari blouses are very different. There are tons of different sari blouse styles out there, but one commonly seen style is a short sleeved, cropped, tight fitting top with a scooped back, made of woven fabric that matches the sari and the petticoat and we’ll dig into the background and the context of the style more in detail later in this episode.

Ada: That sounds like the style of sari blouse that I have, and we will, for sure, dive into more detail. So, listeners, also we should note that the kind of petticoat that you would wear as part of the overall sari outfit isn’t what you’re probably picturing, either. Unlike the layers and layers of stiff tulle worn underneath a skirt to give it, the silhouette, some more volume, the petticoats that we’re referring to in this episode almost look more like a long ankle length skirt that you might wear as a slip under a dress. Again, you can find different silhouettes for petticoats online and in our research for our show, two common ones that kept popping up were the A-line and mermaid petticoats, where the petticoat hugs the hips and thighs and flares out around the knees. And before we continue on about the sari, we did want to make a note about the terms we are using in this episode. For starters, we did mention that the sari is worn in several different regions, which obviously means people from each of these regions use different terms to refer to the sari, and other outfit components. And there are so many different ways to refer to the same thing. To keep it simple and to help you follow along, we’re going to be sticking to the word “sari”, and sometimes some English terms where we can in this episode.

Nicole: Also, transliterating and anglicising Asian words poses a challenge. Even the word “sari” can be written in many different ways. In our show notes on our website, we’ve stuck to the common S-A-R-I spelling, but in our research, other common spellings that came up a lot was S-A-R-E-E. These spelling variations can manifest as a result of misspellings or to make the word easier for English speakers to pronounce. In this episode, we’ll be sticking to common spellings and pronunciations as we’ve seen in our research or following guidance from our researcher for this episode Aarti.

Ada: Right. I’m sure many of our listeners can appreciate that the romanisation or anglicising of many Asian languages is imperfect. For example, I studied Korean in college, I have a minor in East Asian languages and cultures and learning Hangul via the English alphabet was awful. There were just some sounds that wouldn’t be correctly conveyed, like double consonant sounds and certain vowel sounds. And likewise, I grew up learning bopomofo, the phonetic alphabet used in Mandarin, predominantly in Taiwan, right now. And it’s another alphabet onto itself that makes sense because it was designed for the language. But at the time, bopomofo was getting overtaken by Hanyu pinyin, which is used predominantly in mainland China, and largely it’s been surpassed by pinyin now given the dominance of mainland China. And Hanyu Pinyin is the quote-unquote official romanisation style of Mandarin words. And as a native speaker of that language, I can tell you that the English spelling, or the way that an English speaker would interpret a romanised word is weird, like, the “Q” sound is supposed to convey a “ch” sound, but the “CH” is supposed to be a hard “czz” sound [producer’s note: imagine the sound of a bomb fuse that has been lit up, but a very short sound]. So any non-native speaker reading it would struggle and probably get it wrong. And so, I would like to offer my apologies in advance of the rest of this episode for simplifying the sari, and any other terms and names that we’re going to be bringing up. Please know that we are trying, and that we recognise that we are both non-native speakers.

Nicole: So today, we’re going to take you through the history of a sari, or as much as we can, in the limited time we can cover in our podcasts. And I can’t even begin to emphasise how small of a sliver what we can share to you today even just by focusing on ancient India and the topic of colonisation. We will still do our best to give you just enough of an understanding of the sari’s backstory. We encourage you to check out our show notes and to do your own research as we definitely can’t cover everything in this episode. Then we’ll talk about some variations of the sari too. Did you know that there are at least 80 ways to drape a sari?

Ada: I did not. When I tried to drape my own, doing research for this episode, I was like, wow, how come I didn’t know about the 79 other different ways?

Nicole: Right, and I didn’t either of course, and there are so many types of fabric as well as weaving styles that are incorporated into saris and we will be covering that in this episode today. And lastly, we are going to do something a little bit different. We want to hand the mic over to two guests of South Asian descent to share their stories with us. You’ll hear more about the relationship with this garment, whether they incorporate saris into their sewing and garment wearing practices and more. And I’m pretty excited to hear what both of them have to share with us.

Ada: Me too. Thank you to everybody who responded to our call on the Asian Sewist Collective Instagram stories for sari wearers and makers to start as guests on our podcast. We really appreciated the enthusiastic responses that we got and we hope to cover other Asian garments in the future, so keep your eyes peeled for some more calls for guests in season three and beyond. Anyways, let’s get started on the history of the sari because there’s a lot of history. So the sari is thought to go all the way back to the Indus Valley civilisation in 2800 BCE, so about 5000 years ago. Cotton was being cultivated at the time which was then woven into cloth and then naturally dyed with plants like tumeric and indigo. Although it goes way back, it said that the sari wasn’t actually established as a standard Indian garment for women until the Mughal Empire came along. The Mughal Empire was an early modern empire in South Asia, conventionally said to be founded in 1526 by a warrior chieftain who was from a region which is considered to be in Uzbekistan today. The empire was formally dissolved after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, and you can check out our show notes for more information about the empire. But when establishing the empire, the Mughals brought many traditional embroidery styles, embellishments and designs with them, which were then adopted by the skilled sari weavers of India.

Nicole: Following the end of the Mughal Empire and the start of the British Raj, which was the rule of the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947, sari styles evolved even further. The foreign presence brought synthetic dyeing processes to sari making. Another major change was also the way that the sari was worn in an outfit. Before the British Raj, the sari was often worn without a blouse and petticoat. The long rectangle of fabric was essentially wrapped and tucked around the body securely, so that most of the body is covered by it. And to this day, some people in rural areas of India and the subcontinent still wear the sari without a blouse or petticoat, in part due to the fact that it is hot in most of those places, but also because it’s considered socially acceptable for women of all ages. And during the colonial era, many Victorian morals were imposed on Indian society, one of which was dressing moderately. Typically, if you wear a sari without a blouse or petticoat, this leaves you, the wearer, with one of your shoulders left bare. The British considered this way of wearing the sari immodest, so they promoted the wearing of blouses and petticoats as part of the sari outfit, and Indian dressing changed to adapt to these new moral sensibilities. And a trend that was adapted in this case was the Parsi style of draping. This hails from Gujarat, a state in India. Parsi drape was paired with blouses and typical Parsi designs and this combination still persists today. Now, side note, the Parsis are an ethnoreligious group in the Indian subcontinent. An ethnoreligious group is a group of people who are unified by a common religious and ethnic background. The ancestors of modern day Parsis migrated to the region from modern day Iran following the Muslim conquest of Persia in the seventh century. In fact, Parsi means Persian in the Persian language, also known as Farsi, a Western Iranian language. But back to the Parsi drape. We did watch a video of the drape in action while writing this episode, and let’s just say there are far too many folds, pleats and tucks and other movements for me to describe the drape properly in this episode, and there’s no way that I can like, mimic the movements on the video for you. So my friends, I definitely encourage you to check out the video for this drape in our show notes.

Ada: Yeah, if you watch the video, you’ll see how someone who’s really practiced and skilled in sari draping can do it quite gracefully and elegantly and make it look super easy. It’s almost like a choreographed dance at this point. They’re so practiced and good at it. But as we have established, it’s not really that easy to drape a sari. Another historical incident worth bringing up is the creation of the Nivi drape. It’s the most popular way of wearing the sari globally, and most of us will likely have seen this in movies or TV, if not in real life, on people’s bodies or on ourselves. This drape involves wrapping the sari around the lower body and then over the left shoulder. And we’ll dive into the drape in a little more detail when we cover actual sari draping styles. The person credited with creating this drape is Jnanadanandini Devi Tagore, who was a social leader and influencer of her time. She was the sister in law of Rabindranath Tagore, who was a Bengali polymath, that is, an individual with knowledge spanning several areas. And for those curious, he was a poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter.

Nicole: Woof.

Ada: So many things. Woof is right. Also, Bengalis are a group of people who hail from the Bengal region of South Asia, which covers present day Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. Around the time of the Nivi drape’s creation, the Indian independence movement was gaining traction – this movement was to end the role of the British Raj. This marked a change for Indian attire, especially the sari. Political leaders wore the garment – sound familiar, anybody? – to distinguish themselves from the British as well as to give their people and the movement a national identity. Totally reminds me of what Nicole and I discussed during our qipao episode and the powerful women who incorporated it into their wardrobes to make political statements. Jnanadanandini Devi incorporated the blouse and the petticoat when she created a style that would conform to the new sensibilities, and the result was the Nivi drape. So the point of the style was to fit in while also maintaining a distinct Indian identity. She was greatly influenced by and learned the Parsi way of draping the sari, which has the pallu, the loose end of the sari, draped over the right shoulder from back to front. She changed her draping style to go over from the left shoulder, from the front to back instead, because she was right-handed and wanted her right hand free for handshakes. So if you can imagine, the fabric goes over your left, which means that on your left side, there’s extra fabric behind you a little bit, meaning handshakes would have some fabric swaying over there.

Nicole: Oh yeah, I see.

Ada: So she ended up publishing ads in women’s magazines to teach women how to wear their own saris in her style, and it quickly caught on. Genius marketing tactic, if I may say so myself.

Nicole: Well, it now seems like a good time for us to dive into sari styles. India is made up of 36 states and regions and people who reside there speak at least 22 languages, not counting dialects. In fact, it is the seventh largest country by area and the second most populous country in the world. So it should come as no surprise that there are different styles of wearing a sari, and many of them with regional ties and customs based on culture, geography, climate and occupation. We’ve mentioned that before the British Raj, saris were worn very differently, without a blouse and a petticoat. The sari was essentially just worn as a functional garment in ancient India. Tribal women wore it tied up to their knees for easy movement. Fisherwomen in coastal regions on the other hand, wore the sari like a pair of shorts to allow free movement in the water. And we have a CNN Style link containing amazing photos, taken in various locations in India from way back when, in our show notes, and if you check it out, you’ll get a better idea of how a sari can become a pair of shorts. So let’s go back to the Nivi style one more time. With this drape, the sari is wrapped around the waist a few times where it is pleated and tucked into the waistband of the petticoat. The pallu, which we explained earlier is the loose end of the sari fabric, goes across the torso of the wearer, and then is draped elegantly over the wearer’s left shoulder. The matching fitted blouse that is worn with a sari and the petticoat has roots that can be traced back to the Parsi community of India. And it’s also worth noting that wearers do not always use pins to hold their draped sari in place. Our researcher for this episode, Aarti, noted that she has only ever worn a sari with pins, but learned through researching this episode that there are definitely folks who go without. And we’re hoping that our guests on this episode might be able to shed some light on whether this is a regional or familial difference.

Ada: The video that I watched the very first time trying to drape a sari for my friend’s wedding didn’t use any pins. But like Aarti said, and like many of my South Asian friends have said, they’ve only ever worn a sari using pins, so I’m super interested in hearing what our guests have to say on this matter. But back to drapes. The Nivi style, of course, isn’t the only drape out there, we’ve mentioned a few today. In fact, there was a project out there called The Sari Series which was created to comprehensively document India’s sari drapes via short film. And the project identified over 80 different styles, which just still blows my mind to share with you, listeners. Their website is thesariseries.com, “thesariseries” being one word and sari spelled S-A-R-I, so we encourage you to check it out when you can and watch the short videos that will walk you through how to drape each style. They’re posted online with step-by-step drape instructions in text as well, and some information on where in India the style originated from. Now it’s fascinating how a different drape can completely transform the appearance of a sari. Like we said, it’s a long unstitched piece of fabric. And, I guess, none of the sewists here tuning in today would be too surprised that drape can change a garment, given that there are some garment designers who will pin and drape an uncut piece of fabric over a mannequin to gauge the look of a planned garment before they sew anyways.

Nicole: Oh, that is way above my sewing skills. But I do love seeing other people drape and turn just a simple piece of cloth into something magical. The last thing we have to cover today before our guests come on, is sari fabrics. Cotton was the original fabric of early saris and as many of us sewists know, cotton can manifest itself in many ways. Nowadays, cotton is often combined with silk to create a luxurious sari fabric. Otherwise, cotton gets woven into crepe, chiffon or khadi fabric instead. Khadi is a fabric that we haven’t covered on the podcast yet. It is a handwoven natural fibre, usually made with cotton, but sometimes include some silk or wool. That silk or wool is spun into yarn with the cotton on a spinning wheel, before the yarn is woven into fabric. Khadi fabric originated around the time Mahatma Gandhi led the Swadeshi movement. Just to very briefly define that movement, and we’re not going to dive into it because we’re a sewing podcast, but the Swadeshi movement was part of the Indian independence movement and contributed to the development of Indian nationalism. Gandhi called this fabric khadi due to its coarseness, and the fabric has a rugged texture almost akin to a coarser nubbly linen to the untrained eye.

Ada: Now, let’s move on to silk, the most loved and glorious of all sari dates. Silk is used for saris worn for various festivals and occasions, especially weddings. In fact, special saris are usually supposed to be made of silk. Now, listeners, I have a Netflix suggestion for you, if you would like to see some fantastic saris. It’s called “The Big Day”. It is all about weddings in India, and there are so many beautiful saris, mostly made out of silk – it looks like silk at least – on that show, so highly recommend checking that out if you want to just look at some beautiful fabric and beautiful people and some characters. There are some characters on that show. Back to silk though. Silk lends itself to unique colors, fabric and texture variations that no other fabric can reproduce. As a sari starts with a flat fabric, you can imagine how these variations are coveted for special days. And we’d like to remind you again that we did a whole episode on silk fabric back in season one, so check out episode eight if you’d really like to dive into and learn more about silk. Regional differences have also resulted in different varieties of silk used for fairies. Different regions have different techniques to weave silk. In some of them, weave a real metal fibre in, so that gold and silver is actually in the fabrics, when it moves, you’ll see it shimmer. And we’ll dig into that into a second. But another variety is lighter and less dense weaves that are a little more pliable and soft, and those were used in the past to make the earliest type of a royal brocade silk sari.

Nicole: Synthetics are also used to make saris nowadays. Synthetic fibres used for saris are usually chiffon, so a lightweight sheer fabric with a floaty appearance and a rough surface or crepe, which is similar to chiffon except that the surface is usually crinkled or puckered, or georgette, which is like a heavier chiffon thicker, less sheer. There’s also the use of satin, net and jacquard in saris. Jacquard is textured with complex patterns woven into it. Lastly, I want to point out that another way saris can vary is the weaving styles, printing embroidery and or embellishment on the fabric as well. One technique worth mentioning is Zari. Zari thread is traditionally made of fine gold or silver and is woven into fabric, primarily silk, just like we said earlier. It’s the main decorative material that you see in most silk saris. And if you’re curious, of course, we’ve got a link on silk saris in our show notes.

Ada: Thanks for calling that out, Nicole. Now, neither Nicole nor I are South Asian or have roots in a culture that has anything to do with saris, so instead, the Collective thought our listeners would enjoy hearing from a few guests who offered their time to come talk to us about what their sari wearing practices look like.

Nicole: First, we’re welcoming Ceci Chalasani, who goes by @thesecretsewist, one word, on Instagram. Hi Ceci, welcome to our podcast.

Ceci: Hi. So happy to be here.

Nicole: Thank you. We’re happy you’re here too. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ceci: Sure. So I am a half Indian, quarter Portuguese, quarter Irish sewist. I’m based in Phoenix, Arizona, although, really, I’m a California girl at heart and I love my beach time.

Nicole: I am from Chicago, so… And although right now, it’s early October, it’s 80… It’s going to be a high of 82 today? All I’m saying is that I like beach time too. It’s amazing.

Ceci: It’s wonderful when you get to go to the beach.

Nicole: So jealous. In terms of your Indian heritage, can you tell us a little bit more about what region of India or what state of India you are from?

Ceci: My dad is the person in my family who’s from India. So, he immigrated to the United States from the state of Andhra Pradesh, which is in the south-eastern portion of India, part of it is on the coastline and a large portion of it is inland, so you have both ocean and inland cultures there.

Nicole: Does the region where your family is from in any way influence the style of the sari that you don?

Ceci: Absolutely. So Andhra Pradesh actually has a handwoven sari culture, particularly from Mangalagiri, which is one of the most well known, traditional sari-producing areas of India, so they are specialists in handlooms with particular borders.


Ooh. That’s really neat. And for your part, what occasions do you find yourself wearing a sari?

Ceci: I would wear a sari for an elegant occasion such as a wedding, someone’s engagement party, a religious occasion where you would want to be more dressed up, but I don’t wear them in everyday life and not when I go to visit India on a regular basis. It’s always going to be for some sort of occasion.

Nicole: Okay, so what kinds of sari styles, fabrics or other aspects of the garb do you find yourself gravitating towards? And I understand you might have some visual reference for us?

Ceci: Yes, I do. Since I typically wear saris for occasions, I might be reaching for something like a Mysore crepe. This was my mom’s engagement sari. When she got engaged, they sent this over from India. This is a silk crepe, so it drapes very nicely. It has a very elegant, sophisticated look to it, this might be something that I would reach for, you might also reach for something like this, Varanasi silk, this is more of what we would consider an organza, as sewists, so it’s a very thick, stiffer material. This wouldn’t have that same drape of an evening gown that the Mysore crepe would have. But this would have that taffeta elegance about it that we might see in a more formal gown.

Nicole: Wow, both of those are so beautiful.

Ceci: Yeah, this is sort of the sari version of that sort of gown. And then, for very special occasions, you might reach for something like this. So this is also a very elegant weave, this is a Kanchipuram, and this has a very elegant pallu with actual gold plated threads in it.

Nicole: Wow.

Ceci: So the more elegant the occasion, the fancier you get, of course, across all cultures, and sari culture is one of those that very definitely follows that. This was my mother’s wedding sari, and so you have very elegant patterns throughout the body of it, as the occasion that I reach for a sari gets more and more formal, the sari that you pick gets more and more elaborate in the weave.

Nicole: I like shiny things. So just looking at, that is absolutely beautiful. Now, so you mentioned that one was an engagement sari, and another, you know, was your mom’s wedding sari… Are the saris that are in your life, heirlooms? Are those the ones that you choose to wear for yourself? Or have you shopped your own or developed your own taste? What appeals to you the most?

Ceci: There’s definitely a cultural sense of heirlooms. I might reach for something like my mom’s engagement sari for a special occasion or I might take one of my grandmother’s cotton saris for… Maybe it’s an occasion where I want something really cool, but it’s, it can still be casual. There’s definitely this sense of, heirlooms are very important to me. But I also like going out and purchasing my own because there’s something thrilling about finding that really lovely garment for yourself. So just with fabric shopping, it’s the same thing, I love just looking for those really nice weaves.

Nicole: I can definitely relate to the allure of shopping for new fabric, absolutely. I’d love to talk about the technical aspects of wearing, so how do you drape your sari?

Ceci: I always drape using a Nivi drape, so N-I-V-I, that’s how it spelled. And the Nivi drape actually did originate in Andhra Pradesh. It is the traditional drape for the state and the region as a whole. And it’s the drape that you see when you are looking at, say, the Indian women at the hotel that you’re visiting, or the Air India hostesses might be wearinyg a sari as their outfit. So it is the drape that everyone thinks of when they think of sari and it’s very well known throughout the world.

Nicole: Is it your favorite drape?

Ceci: Absolutely. I think it’s really elegant. It has a lot of movement capabilities to it, it’s easy to move your arms, it’s easy to walk in, definitely, with the pleats. It’s easy to go about all of your daily tasks.

Nicole: Something that we came across in our research is that people use different techniques in order to be able to secure the sari, so this question might sound a little weird to listeners. But when you drape your sari, do you utilise pins?

Ceci: Yes, safety pins are really useful for me in order to be able to keep my sari in place throughout the day or throughout the occasion. So, I’ll use safety pins to pin my sari at the waist and then also at the shoulder, which is helpful to make sure that it’s not constantly falling down my arms if I don’t want it to, and that my pleats at the waist can stay in the correct shape.

Nicole: Or have you heard of folks who don’t pin? I guess, that’s because obviously my ignorance of the practice, I was curious that some folks don’t pin. Do you know anything about that particular practice?

Ceci: Yes, there are certain drapes where you don’t need to pin as far as I am aware. So the fisherwomen, because of the drapes that they use, they may not need to use pins at all. And also, it may just not be something that’s available to them. There are certain drapes where you can drape the sari around yourself, it acts as a single garment, you don’t need a blouse or skirt or anything like that, because it completely wraps around the body securely.

Nicole: That makes a lot of sense. Do you have a favorite memory associated with the sari, or any memories or stories from family members that are particularly poignant for you?


Yes, my grandmother, nānnam’ma [producer’s note: నాన్నమ్మ, which means “paternal grandmother” in Telugu] is the term in my dad’s language for her. She always wore these amazing cotton saris for her every day. I have this one that I’m showing for the video, it’s a dark blue with a red and gold border, this is one of the saris that she would wear for everyday use. Cotton is sometimes looked down on in the sewing world, I feel, but over time, cotton saris like this develop the same type of drape as silk crepe, because you’re just using it more and more, and it softens the cotton, and it comes up with this amazing drape to it. I remember just sitting in the kitchen cooking with her or her teaching me how to make flower strings that I could put in my hair. 

Nicole: Aww.

Ceci: And it’s just amazing memories. And I’m so glad that I have the sari of hers so that I can look at it and see my grandmother in my memory.

Nicole: That’s really beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. And one more question for today. Do you incorporate the sari into your sewing practice in any shape or form? And if so, you know, why? And if not, why not? I guess.

Ceci: Well, I love using saris as forms of fabric. So we can have six yards to nine yards of fabric available to us when we’re using a sari for sewing. So you can use the border for a nice little hems on your cuffs or the hems of a skirt or pants or dress the top. And it gives you this form of fabric that really has a lot of history and culture to it. When I buy quilting cotton from the store, I may not have that same connection to it. But a sari, I can know, oh, hey, I visited the weaving collective where this is from and I got to speak to the weavers and see how they were making this fabric. For me, I like to have that little connection to my fabric versus buying something at a fabric store, where I may not see that in the same way.

Nicole: That’s really cool. Can you think of the latest make that you made where you incorporated sari fabric in a non-traditional way?

Ceci: I am going to be using some sari fabric to make a Seamwork Emmie top. So I’m going to have some border on the cuffs and then some border on the hem as well.

Nicole: I can’t wait to check that out. So we should be able to see your makes online right, like when we want to follow up with this Seamwork Emmie?

Ceci: Definitely! You can find me on Instagram at @thesecretsewist.


Perfect. And thank you so much, Ceci, for joining us today and sharing your story about your connection to the sari with us. We greatly appreciate you joining us, and video or screenshots of the beautiful saris that you showed us will be in the show notes and will eventually be on the video when it gets published. So thank you so much for being here. We really appreciate it.

Ceci: Thank you for having me.

Nicole: I have to retroactively add to that interview. We recorded the interview you heard just now back in early October. Then during our October sew-and-chat that’s available to past guests and our Ko-fi supporters, Ceci mentioned that she recently learned that her grandmother had never used pins in her sari wearing practice. She’s not sure, but maybe it’s just something that, you know, older generations didn’t use. And during that same sew-and-chat we also learned from Ceci and our second guest for this episode, whom we’ll introduce in just a second, that a lot of garments worn with a sari, such as the blouse, have large seam allowance, allowances with several lines of stitches on the seam allowance every inch or so. The idea behind this is that you can unpick or add stitches so that you can wear your clothes regardless of how your body changes. The clothing patterns and embroidery are usually busy enough to hide these lines of stitching. Children’s clothing is also, has these large seam allowances because the lines of stitching can be removed as they grow out their clothes, which I think, that is brilliant. And I think about my sister who has two little ones and they are growing at a rapid pace and how wonderful it is to have, be able to have these items and just to have them grow with the kids. It’s super cute. Anyway, over to you, Ada, to introduce our next guest.

Ada: Next up, we’ve got Gowri Paary, who is @bypaary, spelled B-Y-P-A-A-R-Y, on Instagram. Welcome, Gowri.

Gowri: Hi. Nice to be here!

Ada: Thanks for joining us. Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Gowri: Yes, I’m Gowri. I’m originally Malaysian, but I was born and bred in Malaysia, but I’m of South Indian heritage. My grandparents, on my mum’s side, they’re from India, and also my grandparents on my dad’s side, they are from India, the grandparents on my mum’s side, they were born in Malaysia, but we go way back. So we still hold on to lots of our Indian culture, we speak Tamil at home, and eat Indian food and all of that. It’s just that, personally, I’m not very otherwise patriotic towards India, if that makes any sense, because I’ve only been there once. I loved it, though. We still keep our cultural aspects. So, the clothes, the food, the language and all of that stuff. But I’ve been away from Malaysia for the past 10 years. So I moved to Australia, and then now I live in New Zealand. I’ve been between Australia and New Zealand, but finally, this is home. I’ve got two children, one is four and my son is seven. Well, the reason we’ve been ping ponging around Australia, New Zealand, that’s for my husband’s job. And so he’s finally finished that, as you can see, we’re back here now. I have a degree in biotechnology and then I did my master’s in education, I’ve been a teacher for about 10 years, started in secondary, moved on to primary. And now, I… Two weeks ago, bought a kindergarten.

Ada: Congratulations!

Gowri: Thank you! I’ve been managing the kindergarten. And then we just went into lockdown yesterday, again. Interesting, trying to find my footing and everything. And then praying really hard. I’ve got an amazing group of staff and such beautiful children. So the kindie’s only from three to five year olds, a couple of under threes, but no babies, and it’s just thirty children. So it’s a great, great little kindergarten. I know, beautiful. And my daughter goes there too, which is extra interesting. That’s me in a nutshell. And I’ve been sewing since just before my son was born, so about eight years now.

Ada: Yeah, and if you haven’t checked out Gowri’s Instagram, it’s highly fantastic. Children do make a cameo appearance. Pivoting back to the topic of today’s episode, you told us a little bit about your heritage and how both sides of your family come from India, specifically South India, and you speak Tamil at home. So I’m curious, what occasions would you find yourself wearing a sari?

Gowri: Okay. When we were in Malaysia, we wore it for every wedding. And if you’ve ever been to an Indian wedding, it’s not a small affair. My wedding, we had 1500 people. I think I knew 40, and my husband knew 10. But… It’s funny, it’s a family thing, it’s like everyone gets to invite everyone. So there’s no such thing as RSVP for an Indian wedding. You just tell the caterers, I’ve got 1500 people, and they will do their thing. You know, it’s a very colourful, and it’s not just the wedding. You’ve got the engagement party, you’ve got the henna night and you’ve got random get-togethers. Every opportunity to eat and meet. And so, for all of those little parties that lead on to the wedding, we’re in sari for everything. Some of us wear lehengas and things, but in my family we all prefer to wear sari. And for any function, like we have baby showers, the Hindu baby shower ceremony, we’ll wear a sari. Even sometimes going to the temple we would. I’m a bit lazy, so I would just wear the salwar kameez. But my grandmother, so growing up both my grandmothers wore sari every single day, like, everyday, so they were wake up, do their prayers, put on a sari. And it was normal, like, for us to see women in saris, it’s a very common occurrence. My mum, not really. So my mum is Malaysian but she went to India to study, so in India when she was in college, she wore a sari every day. She used to say that she used to play hockey in a sari, I don’t know how she did that. But… I know!

Ada: She must be very athletic.

Gowri: No, I think, maybe, when she was in uni, I don’t know. But like, all her old, you know, black and white photos, they were all in saris and my mum, I think I learned how to appreciate saris because of my mother. She didn’t wear it daily, though. When we were kids it was, she wouldn’t wear it daily, but she would wear it for all these functions. My mom had this beautiful way, just the way she tied her sari, were just impeccable. She was very good at pleating and she got it down pat. 

Ada: Oh my gosh.

Gowri: But I think it’s because she used to wear it, they didn’t have a choice but to wear it everyday.

Ada: Yeah, practice.

Gowri: So it’s practice. Yeah, like anything. She had really good taste in saris, so she always loved cotton saris and she used to… Like, at home, her wardrobe, like, filled with really nice saris, and she’s very good pairing the blouses with it and all sorts of things. I think my sister and I learned how to appreciate saris from her. And the great thing about saris is I could wear my mom’s sari, I can wear my grandmother’s sari, because it’s just six yards of beautiful fabric. It’s just the blouses are different. But I think, safe to say for like every Indian family, the girls would have a navy, a black, a gold blouse. Because it would go with everything!

Ada: That’s actually… I want to say, the majority of the ones I’ve seen are navy, black and gold.

Gowri: It would just go with everything. And then of course, for the fancy ones, we would have the matching blouse and stuff. But if you have these three, you can wear anyone’s sari. You could just go like, I’m gonna borrow your sari. And with my cousins, we all grew up mostly girls, and with my cousins and my aunties, we, we swap saris around all the time. And now, some of my cousins live in New Zealand and we just mail saris over sometimes. It’s like, hey, what do you have? Oh, I’ve already worn that, I need another colour. So it’s quite nice.

Ada: That’s so smart, actually.

Gowri: So that way, you look like you have a lot.

Ada: That’s like the Sisterhood of the Travelling Sari.

Gowri: Travelling Sari, yeah, exactly! Yeah.

Ada: I’m… Can we back up a bit, because you mentioned two pieces of clothing, that not all of our listeners might be familiar with. So, I think you mentioned a lehenga, which I know what that is, but we’d love for you to explain to the audience, and also the salwar kameez. Both of those, maybe it’d be good to give the listeners a refresher.

Gowri: The lehenga is basically the blouse, which is the choli and the skirt, and then you have a shawl, so there’s not a lot of draping. I mean, you still, you can, there are different ways to drape the shawl, you can drape it any way you want, but there’s not as much pleating and it’s less fussy. And then there’s salwar kameez. In Malaysia, we call it the Punjabi suit, because all the Punjabi women wore it. It’s basically like, a long blouse, sometimes we call it a kurti, anything. And the pants, it comes in like, various, you get skinny versions, you get bell bottoms, like, all sorts of different carrot-cut pants, depending on what you like. And it’s beautiful, it’s decorated and you can get simple ones, with embroidery, you can get really intricate ones. Because Malaysia, mostly, the Indian population, it’s mostly South Indian. You have some North Indian, so, a lot of the North Indians wore this, and then, we go like, ooh, that’s really nice. And then that’s it. Those, those are the two others, I guess, people to wear as well. But somehow we always, we are quite a sari crazy family, I would say. We really like wearing the sari. That was part of the fun of the occasion.

Ada: I could see that. You kind of associate the garment with the occasion. 

Gowri: Yeah. 

Ada: And it becomes special.

Gowri: That’s right. And we wear it for like, even Diwali. Some people say… In Malaysia we say Deepavali, some people say Divali. So, you get new clothes, so we would go shopping for saris and things, and we wear that for Diwali as well.

Ada: So, you mentioned that you share a lot of your saris with your cousins in New Zealand right now, and your mom liked cotton ones. I’m curious for you, personally, like, what kind of styles and fabrics and even, like, other aspects of the design do you find yourself personally gravitating towards? Like, what’s in your collection?

Gowri: When it comes to saris, my mother-in-law is from Bangalore in India, but she’s lived in Malaysia for a long, long time, more than 30 years. Passed away now, but she used to live there. Every time she comes back, she’ll buy beautiful, she’s got a really good eye for sari. And she would buy saris. And so, I’ve got quite a few, I love cotton saris because you know, influenced by my mom, but they’re quite stiff and you need to starch them all the time, and I’m very lazy. Just to put it out there. So I like those silk blends. I used to buy a lot of cotton silk blends, and I’m not a huge fan of overly intricate… It’s okay for weddings, I suppose I quite like the simple ones, lighter ones, so I can actually move in them, you know, quite easily, especially with the kids and things. And also, my grandmother passed away last year during COVID, so I couldn’t go back to see her but I think, she knew she was going so the last trip she gave me a whole bunch of her saris. In New Zealand, unfortunately, I don’t wear it as much as I would like to. We don’t even have a temple up here in Whangarei. There’s temples in Auckland, it’s two and a half hours away, we don’t really go. I haven’t really worn it very often here. So my grandmother actually said, just cut it up and sew clothes for the kids, which is very, very common actually. Little girls used to wear pavadai, pavadai is basically pavadai sattai, basically a little top with a long skirt. It’s really cute and those are actually made from saris. And I did make some for my, my daughter. When we lived in Adelaide a few years ago, there was a temple 10 minutes away so the kids used to love dressing up. To make some shirts and… My mum used to save some saris which she didn’t really like and some that she just cut up for stuff, she used to give me a whole bunch. You don’t need much for kids’ clothes, so to make all that and we used to go to the temple, but then I realised to get more wear out of dresses, than she would like, a full blown pavadai sattai. So I started making… It was my grandmother’s idea. She said, oh, why don’t you just make clothes, like, dresses for the kids? I was like, oh, that’s a great idea. I did use a few of her saris. They’re really special to me. And usually the clothes that my kids grow, outgrow, I just give them away. But these ones, I keep, cause it is just a bit special. And it still smells of her cupboard. And then I realised, because it’s six yards, it’s a lot.

Ada: That’s a lot of fabric.

Gowri: It’s a lot of fabric. And the thing with saris is, if you keep them folded and stuff they start tearing at the fold.

Ada: Ohhh, it’s weaker.

Gowri: Because saris, you fold when you don’t use them. They are meant to be used. And I thought initially, it was really hard, I used to get really upset about cutting into them. But then I realised I use them way more now when I make dresses out of them and things. So I’ve made a couple of dresses with, like, my grandmother’s sari fabric for me and my daughter. And I was like, we’re actually using it so much more now. And then I stopped feeling so bad. I feel like I’m giving it a new lease of life. I was a bit apprehensive initially, but then I realised there’s actually a whole… If you follow any, like on Instagram, any of the Indian websites, and they’re always like, oh, it actually looks like a sari dress. And then if you search #saridresses, there’s heaps and heaps of ideas. And I was like, oh, I don’t feel so bad anymore.

Ada: Everybody else is doing it. 

Gowri: I know. I know. And then I realised, so a lot of my mum’s as well. And my mum’s given so many fabrics, and my mother-in-law gave me heaps, but, she’s got so many. And I think they quite like it too, because they haven’t seen the kids in two years. So they kind of like it that they’re wearing something of theirs, so it’s quite nice. And there’s so much fabric that I can make, I love making matching stuff for me and my kids. It’s so cringy but then after, after they, in a few years, they’re not gonna want to match me anymore. So just do it now.

Ada: Yeah, take advantage, take advantage while they’ll do it.

Gowri: Exactly. Yeah.


Or before they will, before your daughter can wear a sari as well.

Gowri: Yeah, so… Also, significance of a sari, like, this is what was told to me. So the wedding sari’s really special and really precious. Mine, it was chosen by my in-laws, but I think nowadays a lot of people get to choose their own wedding saris, and it’s usually like, a Kanchipuram silk or something. What I was told was, your wedding sari’s one of the most important garments, because you use it at your wedding, and then you use it at any family wedding. And then, when your child is born, so when my son was born, and we did a naming ceremony for him, he is laid on the sari. And then apparently, when Hindus, when you die, your sari will be cremated with you.

Ada: That is your, your final outfit.

Gowri: Yeah, so it’s like a, it goes full circle, so that’s why it’s super precious and super, like, significant. And people really treasure their saris and take care of their wedding saris. So I was like, oh, really interesting, too, but a lot of meaning.

Ada: And a lot of use.

Gowri: Yeah.

Ada: If you think about it, that wedding sari hopefully has a very long life, from wedding to… Through family functions, all the way through death.

Gowri: Because they actually bless the story itself, the priest will do a ceremony, so it’s more than just a piece of cloth. But yeah, and it’s interesting sometimes when my mum shows, wears a sari, and I go, that’s really nice. And then, you know, just a little story behind it, she’s like, oh, your father bought it for me for our engagement in India.

Ada: I mean, a friend’s mom came up at her wedding and she was like, she was like, this is my wedding sari. Wow. Like, she brought it, you know, to America and like, she’s had it for so many years. And then she pulled up like, an heirloom pin with it and was telling us a story and I was like, wow, your outfit is cumulatively older than the country we live in.

Gowri: That’s right!

Ada: Anyways, back to the sari, like, practically speaking so when you do… I know you said you don’t get to wear it that often now, but when you do get to wear it, how do you drape your sari? I know there’s like so many, many, many different ways you can drape it and do you have a preferred way? And if so, why?

Gowri: In India, each district has its own, you know, for lack of better word, maybe caste? I don’t know, like, different groups of people? So I’m a huge mix, part Malayali, part… Quarter Malayali, quarter Telugu, no, sorry, Tamil, and then I’m half Telugu, but because my grandparents grew up in Tamil Nadu and not Andhra where Telugu people are from, so we ended up just all speaking Tamil and being more Tamil than, yeah. So, we just wear it, uh, over our left shoulder. So the pallu, which is the mundhanai, we call it in Tamil, which is the pleated part and it goes over the left. But I know some other people do it over the right. And then I think Gujarathis wear it from back to front, but it flows like a fan in the front is really pretty as well. We mostly do this way. And I know some people pleat it and keep it with a pin up here, but I quite like it to drape down a little bit off my shoulder. And it depends, so like, before I had kids, I liked it to be draped. Now I just like everything in place, so I can run up to my children, you know, without them tugging at it, like tearing anything. So I think that’s my preferred way. And also, because that’s how my mom wears it. That’s how most of the women in my family wear it anyway. But there are times where we occasionally go like, oh, let’s try the Gujarati style if, especially if the mundhanai or the pallu is really like, elaborate and beautiful. And you want to show that part of it. Yeah, but then you put it, the Gujarati way, with the front like a fan. So there’s like various different ways of wearing it.

Ada : And do you, now that you kind of keep everything in, do you use pins to keep it in? Do you use tape? What’s going on underneath that we don’t see.

Gowri: I use two pins, sometimes three.

Ada: Two!?

Gowri: Yeah. My grandmother…

Ada: That’s it!?

Gowri: My grandmother use, uses none, I don’t think she uses anything. And we used to use the baby napkin pin, back in the day, that for nappies, baby… 

Ada: Oh yeah, the bigger…

Gowri: The big one with an elephant head for pinning. So we used to use that, especially if the fabric is quite thick, because you have to fold it in and tuck it, you know, you wear a skirt on the inside of, in a skirt, like a petticoat skirt to keep everything there. So when you tuck it in, usually we put one there and then one up here to hold it so it’s not falling off. Sometimes I use three, because I don’t trust myself. Yeah.

Ada: I mean, you don’t want it to fall.

Gowri: Exactly. Which is very embarrassing. It happened once though. I was at a wedding and it unravelled on the inside. Lucky my mom was there, so I was like, ahhh! And then she runs into the bathroom, and like, fixes it for me. That’ll show me to wear just two pins.

Ada: Can I ask a personal question about when you’re wearing it as well? Where do you… Because there are no pockets, right, it’s one piece of fabric. Where do you put your stuff? Where’s your phone? All the kids’ stuff, your keys…

Gowri: That’s why my husband is there…? I’m like, can you keep my phone for me? And it’s funny ’cause I asked my grandmother this growing up, right? ‘Cause she always wore a sari. And then we would go to the night market. In Malaysia, we had pasar malam, which are night markets. It’s like, how does this lady… Where does she keep her money? And she always gets this thing? And she’d be like, and then it would go running away. It’s like uhhh…

Ada: Listeners can’t see, but Gowri just put her hand into the side of the front of her shirt. You’ll have to see the YouTube video.

Gowri: And she would pull out this tiny little purse and then she would pay for everything with it. And then she had even the house key which was just one key in there. And I used to think wow, like, oh, she’s got a pocket inside her. So because the sari blouse is so tight, and then you’re wearing a bra, you can just easily slip anything in there, so they have hankies in there. I don’t know if you guys grew up watching Doraemon? You know, Doraemon, the Japanese cat, and he had, like, a little pouch. And he keeps taking stuff out. Yeah, so my grandmother’s sari blouse was Doraemon’s pocket. Pull stuff out of there, like tissue paper, do you need a tissue? Do you need a hankie? It was ridiculous. But then, like, oh my gosh, she’s got a bigger pocket there. 

Ada: That’s brilliant.

Gowri: Yeah, I know. It’s so good. I’ve seen some Indian women, they have a, kind of ornament. It’s beautiful, it’s like, very intricate and big, and it looks like a keychain and they put their keys on it, and then they just tuck it into their skirt, so it’s always with them. So that’s also a really interesting way of doing it. I guess worse come worst, it’s a handbag. But yeah.

Ada: You know, 1500 people at a wedding, your handbag will look like everybody else’s. Last question from us today. Besides using saris to make clothes for your children and for yourself, are there other ways that you plan on repurposing them in your sewing practice? Or do you have any other ideas to share with some of our listeners?

Gowri: I do, actually, they make really beautiful pillowcases, cushion covers. So if you want to spruce up your living room and just put maybe an accent piece or something, so if you have a little bit of Indian fabric or sari lying around, I think it makes really good deco and even just using the borders for certain things, or even making… How people make the fabric buttons?

Ada: Oh, yeah, the covered buttons.

Gowri: Yeah, yeah, covered buttons. So I’ve never tried them though. I’m pretty sure you can use it because they’re quite pretty, and if you’re using a plain fabric to make something and then you can just use them as accents or something. I’m pretty sure that can be done.

Ada: Amazing. Thank you, Gowri, for joining us today and sharing your stories with us. Again, for listeners, you can find Gowri at @bypaary, B-Y-P-A-A-R-Y, on Instagram. Ceci and Gowri were fantastic. Thank you again for sharing your experiences with us. I’ve definitely learned a lot today. Any thoughts from you, Nicole, before we wrap up?

Nicole: I just have a greater appreciation for the skill that ancestors have in draping these beautiful garments. And, I know that there are some Indian influences in the Filipino culture, and this is very old history, long before the Spanish arrived. And I don’t know a lot about it, and so I’m seeing now some of the influences of Indian culture in other parts of the Philippines. And so number one, I wanna go check out some beautiful colourful saris just to inspire myself and delight my eyes. And then number two, look at the relationship between these ancient saris and whether and how they evolved into something else in predom… Predominantly, the southern parts of the Philippines. So that’s where I’m at right now, but I really enjoyed learning a lot during this episode. And that’s it for today, on the history of the sari, we really hope to continue to bring you more of these Asian garment themed episodes, and, you let us know listeners, what do you think we should focus on next? Do you have a preference? As always, feel free to send us your thoughts and ideas on Instagram, or send us an email. Otherwise, we’ll see you again next week.

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week, we are welcoming Nics Asawasudsakorn onto our show, and she is the founder and CEO of Lovanie, a petite slow fashion brand, and also a sewist herself. If you like our show, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi. Your financial support helps us with overhead expenses and will allow us to give a little back to our all-volunteer team who work so hard to provide you with new content each week. The link to our Ko-fi can be found in the show notes, on our website and on our Instagram account. It’s ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective. And check us out on Instagram @asiansewistcollective, that’s one word, asiansewistcollective. And you can help us out by spreading the word and telling your friends. We would appreciate it if you could rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Nicole: All of the links and resources mentioned in today’s episode will be in the show notes on our website – that’s asiansewistcollective.com. And we’d love to hear from you. Email us with your questions, comments or even voice messages if you want to be featured on future episodes at asiansewistcollective@gmail.com. This episode was brought to you by your co-hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Aarti Ravi, produced by Mariko Abe and edited by Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.