K for Kota Doria

As the warm summer breeze blows into the western plains of India, I am feeling relieved to move from the thick, silky and rich Kanjeevaram to the soft, light as breeze, sheer and ‘square-y’ Kota Doria.

Way back, maybe 30-35 years back in time, my mother wore sarees only at home. And most of them were the lovely, happy-coloured, soft Kota Dorias. Whether she held up the pallu to shield me from the sun while walking me back from school, or whether she played peek-a-boo with little children, again with her pallu, I could not help noticing and marveling at the tiny little squares in the saree. What were those squares and why were they needed, I often wondered.

A soft, light, breezy, square-y floral Kota Doria

A soft, light, breezy, square-y floral Kota Doria

One day, during a Math lesson – yeah she was and still is an amazing teacher of the subject – we were learning multiplication tables of two. Just like that she brought up the end of her pallu of her Kota saree – and using the tiny squares in pallu, she revealed to me the magic of patterns made by even and odd numbers. My basic Math lessons on a Kota! Hmmm…should I have appeared for IIT?

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

Light they maybe, but they have a lovely fall

The Kota Doria is Indian-climate friendly and sexy at the same time. The sheer fabric, the all-over checks adding a dash of that something that I don’t wish to destroy by an inaccurate description, the Kota Dorai is a dreamy number. Whether a plain cream (its natural shade), pastel shades or filled with floral prints, the Kota saree is also amazing to wear. Even though it is extremely light, it gives a great fall and is easy to wear.

A resplendent Kota silk suitable for a trousseau. Image courtesy and copyright www.jaypore.com

A resplendent Kota silk suitable for a trousseau. Image courtesy and copyright http://www.jaypore.com

Try a silk Kota Doria for glamour. Or a cotton-silk Kota for a formal day at work. And a highly embellished silk Kota, usually with ‘gota work’ or ‘mukaish’ work for a celebratory occasion. A Kota Doria can also carry off other embellishments like ‘chikankari’ work.  The one thing about a Kota I must mention here is about its strength. A cotton Kota can handle quite a bit of thread weight, so can a silk Kota. But the latter comes apart easily. Hence a heavy investment of embroidery on a silk Kota should be avoided.

Phulkari on Kota Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Phulkari on Kota
Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Chikankari on Kota Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

Chikankari on Kota
Image courtesy and copyright Hands of India (www.handsofindia.com)

You may find it interesting to know that the Kota saree originated in Mysore. Though I cannot say this for sure, but these sarees were first made in Mysore way back in late 17th century. They were called ‘Masuria Kota’ (‘Masuria’ = ‘from Mysore’) and were woven with silk and one cotton thread. The credit of bringing this saree to Rajasthan is with Rao Kishore Singh a general with the Mughal army. And they have pretty much become the identity of Rajasthan. And rightly so since the fabric of this saree would have been ‘god-sent’ for the warm climate of that region.

Today Kota Dorias are made mainly in Kaithoon, a town near Kota in Rajasthan. They are also made in Muhammadabad, Mau in UP.

An unusual bright colored Kota

An unusual bright colored Kota

Sometimes we lose sense of the beauty around us just because it is ubiquitous and perhaps the Kota Doria suffers from that. It is common to see machine-made Kota sarees with simple to bizarre prints in the market, but what-to-do? Such is life. Luckily, unlike some other sarees, the tradition of hand-woven Kota Doria continues, thanks to the patronage of discerning buyers.

Would it be a good idea to have a Kota Doria fan-club and call it ‘Da Kota Fanning’? Ha ha just kidding. Until the next PJ…..

Sources: Mainly Wikipedia

All images here are the copyright of Punam Medh unless mentioned otherwise. These may not be used for any purpose whatsoever.

 

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E for Embroidery Part II

Without much ado, I will continue with part two of E for Embroidery where I bring to you the famous Pattiwork of Aligarh, Phulkari from Punjab, Kutch embroidery from the Kutch, the rapidly declining Kamdani art, and Zardosi – the grand silver and gold work. A feast awaits your eyes!

Aligarh Pattiwork

Pattiwork or applique hails from Northern states specifically Uttar Pradesh. It is also called ‘phool patti ka kaam’ or Ailgarh work. It is a delicate and painstaking form of embellishment done by hand. Here take a look.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Fabrics that carry this wok well are Cottons, Kotas and Organdis – unmatched summer wear. This work involves first creating geometric forms of flowers and leaves from the very delicate Mul cloth by folding it from the sides. The little ‘pieces’ this formed are sown onto the saree fabric in patterns like the ‘bel’ or creeper or standalone motifs. The patterns may be very intricate or plain. 

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Like many other saree weaves and designs that have been presented in this blog – be it the Kashida embroidery or the Benarasi saree, pattiwork also is closely tied to the advent of Mughal rule in India.

Applique work on a dupatta. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Applique work on a dupatta. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

There is comprehensive information about its history here.

Phulkari

Phulkari or ‘phool ka kaam’ is a distinct, remarkable embroidery from Punajb. Take a look.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with applique work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

It is only in the last couple of years that Phulkari has made inroads into saree boutiques in large urban cities. Earlier seen in only a few parts of the country, this signature embellishment from Punjab is becoming a part of the global fashion. If that sounded like a typical Fashion TV commentary, the fault is entirely mine. It is just that when I read this post in another blog it made my task easy and difficult. Easy because everything you wanted to know about the history, stitch type, motif and production process of Phulkari was right here. Difficult because I have nothing more of my own to add – hence the Fashion TV type of a line.

Here are some more images.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Phulkari work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Kutchi Work

Originated in theKutch region of Gujarat in around 19th century, Kutch embroidery or ‘kacchchhi’ embroidery is a rugged, robust and colourful embroidery. It is popular and easy to identify this form.

Saree with kutch embroidery work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Saree with kutch embroidery work. Picture courtesy and copyright of Hands of India.

Kutch work is done on think cotton fabrics and using thick colourful threads. It’s distinctive ruggedness has a unique appeal. The variety used on sarees is fine, but you will often find thicker sticthes used in shawls, bags, purses and even on ‘mojdis’.

Kamdani

This is a saree that inspires songs like ‘badan pe sitare lapete huey’ sung by Rafi and picturized on Shammi Kapoor. Kamdani or ‘badla work’ gives a feel of sparkling twinkling stars.

When I first read about Kamdani, I reacted casually thinking sure, I know what that is. I had seen many ‘badla’ dotted sarees. Cool deal I thought. And then I saw this link. Wow!

Kamdani owes its sparkle to gold and silver dots made from flattened wires. These dots, also called ‘fardi’ are a characteristic of Kamdani work. Sometimes the wires itself are used for making patterns and motifs on muslins or fine silks. Kamdani work needs very thin needles, which makes this a very high skill work. This is probably one of the reasons it is very difficult to find artisans doing this sort of a work. A number that was thrown up in all my Google search was 46. That’s the number of artisans remaining today who can do this work.

Zardosi

The real ‘bharat kaam’ of India – the Zardosi. This is a rich type of an embroidery done on thick luxurious fabrics like Velvet and Satin using gold and silver threads. Birds, animals and abstracts like paisleys are most commonly found motifs in Zardosi.

Gold and and silver zardosi work on crepe silk

Gold and and silver zardosi work on crepe silk

Sometimes parts of a motif, like say petals of a flower, are padded to give the motif an embossed look. Sometimes the wires used for embroidery are not straight, they are twisted. This creates an entirely different type of ‘tiny springy’ look.

IMG_4993 (640x427)

This work is once again, quite painstaking and hence expensive when it is done by hand. Whether done on sarees or on other articles, bags, and ‘mojdis’, this work fetches a premium.

I conclude this post with a vote of thanks for the amazing people at Hands of India who have been supporting my saree venture for no reason other than the passion they have for sarees.

E for Embroidery goes into part three next week with Chikankari and a few more. Before I wrap up, I wish to share this link with you – do look at it. It’s a visual treat. It lists all the possible embroideries and their stitches.

All pictures in this post are the copyright of Punam Medh unless stated otherwise. No picture maybe reproduced in any form whatsoever.

Sources:

http://phool-patti.blogspot.in/2009/07/brief-history-of-phool-patti-ka-kaam.html

http://www.kaneesha.com/Phool-Patti-Work

http://www.indianheritage.biz/Phulkari.html

E for Embroidery Part I

I must have been around 10 years old when I saw this scene in a movie.

It is a Holi celebration. Men and women wearing colourful clothes are dancing gracefully in sync with the background music.  Lataji’s supreme voice anoints the scene with a Burmanda composition – ‘piya  sang khelo holi, phagun aayo re’. Lending face and grace to this beautiful song with a dance to match is Waheedaji.  The depiction of fun, gaiety and happiness is picture perfect. And then Waheedaji’s husband, played by Dharmendra, who has been away for a long time returns to surprise her. Right there, in the middle of the song, he sneaks up behind her and sprays coloured water all over her with a ‘pichkari’. Waheedaji stops her song and dance. A fraction of an expression of happiness on seeing her husband is followed by undisguised anger. She says to him “I am your wife and you have full rights over me. But my sarees are my own and you have no right to mess them up like this.” At this terrible insult, Dharmendra turns around and leaves. He walks out of her life, never to return again. Not until the interval at least.

In the 1973 film Phagun, the villain that tore apart the couple was a saree. This is how I interpreted this movie when I watched it at a young impressionable age. I am quite sure that it must have left a deep, indelible, wrong sort of a mark on my psyche. Because I think that if someone messed with my sarees, I would never let him go. I would first …. best left unsaid. J

Wish you all a happy Holi and store all your gorgeous sarees away on Holi day please.

Even though we have reached as far as E, I am conscious of the earlier alphabets I have left behind. And these are A for Arni (Tamilnadu), A for Ashavali (Ahmedabad) and B for Balarampuri (Kerala). I will definitely bring these and more to you once I have authentic photographs. And who knows, there are those sarees nestling between A and E that I still don’t know about.

In E for Embroidery – Part I the skill quotient goes up several notches high. First there’s a concept and design of a saree that is then painstakingly woven. Then it is further embellished with microscopic stitches. Although India has a rich tradition of embroideries as I discovered in  a book called ‘Traditional Embroideries of India’ by Shailaja Naik, in this post I will write about only those which I know well. And that is a comparatively small list.

A rich Kantha embroidery on silk

A rich Kantha embroidery on silk

Kasuti Embroidery

What Chikankari is to Lucknow, Kasuti is to Karnataka. I discovered this embroidery when my parents were doing an assignment in Dharwad, Karnataka. The lady who did our housework brought in a village woman who made these sarees on order. She took six months to make this saree for us. This is a favorite.

A 'Gopuram' motif using Kasuti embroidery

A ‘Gopuram’ motif using Kasuti embroidery

Kasuti is a combination of two words ‘kai’ meaning hand and ‘suti’ meaning cotton. Kasuti is a type of embellishment done extensively on Ilkal and cotton Mangalgiri sarees. Created mainly by women folk in the villages near Dharwad and Bijapur in Karnataka, the stitch looks similar to the cross stitch, but it is quite different.

The striking feature about Kasuti work is its neatness and pattern – so neat that it looks the same front and back. Further more, the stitch has the same start and end point. Fabulous! Can you spot the difference?

An Kasuti elephant motif. It is difficult to tell the difference between front and back.

An Kasuti elephant motif. It is difficult to tell the difference between front and back.

Front_back_2

An abstract geometric Kasuti motif. Clean work done in both front and back.

Another typical Kasuti motif. Observe the start and end point of the stitch.

Another typical Kasuti motif. Observe the start and end point of the stitch.

A traditional Kasuti saree has a border and different traditional motifs like parrot, gopuram, lamps, palanquin and geometric abstracts and spread across the body. The pallu is filled with different types of motifs with no pattern or theme as such. This feature actually makes a quaint and interesting saree.

A pallu of a traditional Kasuti is a mix of motifs.

The pallu of a traditional Kasuti is a mix of motifs.

The most interesting Kasuti saree is the Chandrakali saree done on plain black silk. How wonderful for those who love black like I do. This saree at one time used to be a mandatory part of a bride’s trousseaus! Kasutis also look best on pale neutral shades to bring out the brightly coloured embroidery.

Kasuti embroidery is now machine-made and can be made to order from shops in cities.

Kantha Stitch

The word ‘kontha’ in Sanksrit means rags. The stitch called Kantha today came about when Buddhist monks used to stitch together rags from old clothes to cover themselves. This idea was carried forward in households where women folk stitched old cloth pieces in their spare time to mend them. The thread used for stitching was also taken from old cloth. A beautiful art form emerged from a humble practice unlike many others that were commissioned by royalty. And here’s your rags to riches story!

A splendid single colour Kantha stitch done on pure silk.

A splendid single colour Kantha stitch done on pure silk.

Popular motifs in Kantha are village scenes, animals, birds and daily objects. Abstract patterns like the mandala are also popular.

Warli village motifs done using Kantha.

Warli village motifs done using Kantha.

Kantha is done using different types of stitches like running, darning, satin and loop stitch. These are used exclusively on a saree or in combination.

An outlined Kantha motif.

An outlined Kantha motif.

For example a stem stitch maybe used to outline a motif. The most popular Kantha sarees are those done with colourful threads on beige Tussar silk. Softer fabrics like Mulberry silk and Matka silks  can also take the weight of a heavy Kantha embroidery.

Kashmiri Kashida

Something beautiful from a land so beautiful – the Kashmiri Kashida is a melting pot of art influences from local art, Mughal and Persian art.

Kashmiri Kashida work (machine-made)

Kashmiri Kashida work on georgette (machine-made)

Once again, the stitches used are similar in Kantha – stem, chain, satin and occasionally herringbone. The motifs are similar too – birds, flowers and animals. But see how different it looks.

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A hand-made Kashida motif on black chiffon

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A closeup of the motif above reveals the stitches.

A typical Kashida border and jaal pallu

A typical Kashida border and floral jaal pallu

The saree is at best 6 or 9 yards. But its history covers the length, breadth and depth of this country.

E for Embroidery continues next week with Kutchi, Kamdani , Phulkari, Pattiwork and Chikankari. Until then…

All photographs in this post are copyright Punam Medh and are not available for use anywhere else.

Sources:

http://www.iisd-ngo.org/attachments/File/Hat_-making_process.pdf

http://www.rbcsgroup.com/OT/April-2004/kashida.htm

http://www.art-of-threads.com/indian-embroidery/kantha-embroidery

http://thecolorcaravan.blogspot.in/2013/05/kantha-embroidery.html

B for Benarasi

I find it hard to believe today that I almost said a no to a Benarasi saree for my wedding. In those days, almost everyone wore a Benarasi for their wedding reception. No, not me, I had said digging my heels in. I wanted to be different. A Benarasi saree shopping excursion was, however, reluctantly planned.

I went. I saw. I dropped jaw. I was sold. And I bought.

The salesman in the shop who had immediately sensed my aloofness took it very personally. He started showing me sarees, unfurling each drape around me with flourish. Like a fisherman who casts his net in the hope of a good catch.  Have a look sister, he had said.

Brocade. Jamdani. Tishu (Tissue). Tanchoi. Jangla. Jangla? But wait, where’s the Benarasi?

My first serious saree lesson happened at that shop. Benarasi is a generic name for sarees from Benaras. Duh! Brocade, Jamdani, Tissue, Tanchoi, Jangla and others, I was informed, are the names of sarees made in Benaras. Each type defined by the quality and weight of the silk yarn, the gold yarn and the overall design of the saree. What I was looking for was the heavy, festive and celebratory Benarasi silk brocade.  Technically, therefore, the title of this post should be ‘B for Benarasi Brocade’.

After pulling myself out of the barrage of sarees and information about them, I surrendered to a ‘gulabi’ Benarasi brocade. And no babes, couture jargon was not around then. Pink was called ‘gulabi’ and not fuchsia. And that’s how I got my first and only Benarasi brocade. 23 years on, it is still the most resplendent garment in my wardrobe.

A Pink Benarasi Silk Brocade

A Pink Benarasi Silk Brocade

Satiny Lustre of a Benarasi

Satiny Lustre of a Benarasi

A Benarasi brocade is made using Mulberry silk that gives it a characteristic satiny look and lustre. Mulberry silk is the one of the finest, most expensive silks, made from the leaves of the Mulberry tree. Other than China, India is one of the largest producers of this silk with most of it cultivated in Bangalore. It is thus called Bangalore silk. In Uttar Pradesh, this silk is called ‘Kataan’.

Although the term ‘Kataan’ is now synonymous with Benares silk, and a quick Google search will confirm this, I have some different dots to join here. To me ‘Kataan’ sounds too much like a corruption of the word ‘Cotton’. Besides this, the word ‘katiyaan’ – to weave – is the verb of the noun ‘Kataan’. My unstudied hunch therefore is that ‘Katan’ simply means yarn. Not that it takes anything away from the protagonist of this story, but it is interesting isn’t it?

Brocades made from Mulberry Silk are usually expensive costing tens of thousands of rupees. Those made from China silk are less expensive, but just as beautiful. One way to check for Mulberry Silk is to crush it in your fist to see if it creases. Mulberry silk, or any pure silk fibre for that matter, does not crease easily and quickly.

Today, brocades are ubiquitous, and it is difficult to say whether they are hand-woven or machine-made. But the Benrasi brocade, has something distinctive about it. Apart from the use of high quality silk, Benarasi brocades seldom deviate from the use of traditional motifs like ‘keri’, rose, star or the ‘minatashi’ – a star-shaped floret. Even a contemporary designs use traditional motifs very in a clever way.

Typical Benarasi Motif and Border

Distinctive Motifs and Borders of a Benarasi Brocade

A thriving, well-organized weaver community in Benares creates and markets a host of different sarees within India and out of it. The community has well-defined hierarchies based on weavers’ skills and experience. There is significant degree of standardization and recording of tacit and process knowledge of weaving. Traditional motifs, border patterns, color combinations coexist with innovative, modern motifs to cater to a younger generation. The innovation has resulted in newer colours, fabrics that are easy to manage, less expensive; without letting go of the distinctive Benarasi touch.

One of the most interesting things I learned about the weaver community in Benares is the involvement of designers in early stages of the weaving process. Designers may be experienced master weavers or professionals employed in cooperatives that manage the weaving units. Sometimes design is outsourced from well-known designers. A good Benarasi brocade hence reflects design thought. Even though opulent, the sarees reflect a high degree of aesthetics in their choice of colours, the consistency of motifs  on the border and the body of the saree. Then there is the gold thread used in the weave, which adds glamour without making the saree gaudy.

Well-balanced, for aesthetics and ease of wear

Well-balanced, for aesthetics and ease of wear

And it does not end with the looks of the saree. I never cease to be amazed at how easily this thick and heavy saree drapes. It practically drapes itself around you. That’s probably because of the way the elements are used to ensure their weight is well distributed through-out the saree.

While writing this post, I came across an interesting document – a research paper actually – filled with amazing facts about sarees, Benarasi sarees, the weaver community and how they work, the thriving export and markets this saree has created in the West. If this post has piqued your curiosity, I strongly recommend you read this paper.

Of the many interesting things this paper has to share, here is something that fascinated me the most.  The heavily gilded Benarasi brocade, is one of India’s oldest examples of unmatched art. It finds a mention in Vedic scriptures and Ramayana. Silk was considered pure and hence used for worship. Since Benares was at that time, India’s religious capital, there was probably a huge demand for silk which resulted in large number of silk weaving units set up around it. When the Mughals arrived in India, they added their own aesthetics to the design of the brocade and what we see today is really a memorable confluence of Hindu and Mughal aesthetics. 

A Memorable Confluence of Aesthetics

A Memorable Confluence of Aesthetics

To summarize the beauty of the Benarasi saree, I quote a piece of information from the same document. The Benarasi brocade is also called ‘Kinkhwab’ – ‘kin’ means gold and ‘khwab’ means dream – a ‘golden dream’. I agree.

The saree saga continues next week with the alphabet B ruling the space. Can you guess the next saree with a B?

Sources: http://varanasi.nic.in/culture/saree.html

Photographs: Creative courtesy of Akshay Pathare and his team – Anjory, Girish @ Corner Pixel. Photograph copyrights rest with Punam Medh.