Indian Textile Adventure #1: Buying a Sari

Me modeling my first sari with the styling help of the seamstresses who made my sari blouse.

I just got back from a month-long trip to India.  It was my second trip.  I am fascinated by this country with its hundreds of languages and cultures, its crazy dichotomies of wealth and poverty, and its over-powering smells, tastes and sounds.  Other travellers have described India as "a feast for the senses", and I think almost any traveller who has visited India would agree.  

Beyond this feast for the senses, India is a treasure chest for any fan of fiber.  (And really not just textile lovers: it is a fascinating place for any crafter or DIYer - since just about everything there is hand made or cobbled together with what's available.) Whether you knit, crochet or sew (especially if you sew), there are amazing things to see and buy at excellent prices.  

The most obvious textile purchase is a sari: 9 yards of sumptuous fabric.  I bought a few saris in India with the intention of wearing them there, then using the fabric for sewing projects when I returned. 

The most traditional place to purchase a sari is in a small, privately-owned sari shop. The saris are sorted by regional style and fiber content. These were my salesmen at the front of the store where the finest saris were kept.  Many saris are hand-loomed, and one of the most interesting things for a westerner like me is seeing that almost no two saris are exactly alike!  Sari shopping is a very service-oriented process - you don't just browse through the stock alone, you rely on the salesman to fetch the saris he thinks you will like and he unfurls them for you to inspect.

A more recent development are these large stores where you can browse the racks of saris yourself.  These types of stores are not very common - I only saw one on my most recent trip there and I saw 100s of the little stores. This photo shows the less expensive saris in the store. Notice how many salespeople are available to assist you!

Upstairs in the sari emporium are the finer party saris.

Some saris come with an additional yard of fabric so that you have enough to make a sari blouse. In case the sari does not come with blouse fabric, then you need to shop for blouse fabric in a color that coordinates with the sari fabric. Many blouse fabrics have an edging design that can be used at the sleeves and lower hem of the blouse.  Most of the mid-range fabrics I was looking at cost less than $1/yard!

The array of fabrics is mind-boggling and I had to practice a lot of self-control to stop myself from shopping for saris for more than one afternoon.  One day I will schedule a textile shopping trip to India and give myself a week, an appropriate budget, and the right luggage allowance for carrying it all back. But not this time.

Here I am getting fitted for my sari blouse.  She took about 10 different measurements and without a pattern she whipped up four sari blouses for me within four hours!  It cost about $1 for her to make each blouse.