Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Hand Block Printing- The Story of a Saree's Makeover

(Have old sarees and dupattas lying neglected in the closet for a long time? Renovate them with the beautiful craft of hand block printing. Here's the story of a saree's makeover, through its own eyes:)

I will always remember when my beloved owner, Rati, first held me in her hands....I was bought almost fresh off the weaver's loom by her mother- only one of many other sarees that were packed in the bridal box to be sent with Rati, then a new and beautiful bride.

She took me out some weeks later, to wear to a party. Oh, the compliments she got for her beautiful saree i.e. me, and how pretty she was looking...I would have blushed, if I could! It was truly a special day for me... I kept coming out every few months, for some special occasion or the other. I think I was one of her favorite sarees, especially because her husband loved her in that colour. Sigh....those were the days...

After she wore me a few times, someone gifted her another saree in the same color, much more heavy, much more expensive. It was laid beside me in the closet and I remember envying its beauty and finery. The real blow came when Rati stopped wearing me altogether! Occasions came and went...many times the new saree was pulled out to wear and kept back inside the closet, neatly folded. But nothing changed for me. I waited, and waited, and waited....

Months became years became decades. I was now moved to a suitcase full of old sarees. Rati did not want to wear us, but could not bear to part with us either... there were so many memories associated. I had lost all hope of ever being noticed or worn again, and lay there in a half slumber..

Then one day the suitcase opened and my owner, much older now but still beautiful, took me out and cradled me in her hands again. She smiled that lovely smile of hers as she smoothed out my fabric, probably remembering her mother. Her daughter said, "Mamma, get this one hand block printed. If you like it, we'll do the rest too.". 

So I was packed in a poly bag and when I was pulled out again, it was in a small, dingy workshop. A thin, sharp looking man was discussing with Rati and her daughter on how to make me look new again. After so many years, I cannot describe how much I loved the attention! 

He took out a catalog of intricate patterns, which he and the ladies argued about for a long time, before choosing a few motifs. They decided that as I was aquamarine with an olive green and gold border, olive green and blue would work beautifully on me. I liked that idea too, though I could not imagine how they were going to put those complicated looking patterns on me.

Soon a man came with wooden blocks, which were carved in the same pattern as the ones chosen by my owner. He took a block, dipped it in green, and started stamping me with the block. To make sure the motifs were evenly spaced, he used a small stick for measurement. I watched the look of amazement on Rati's face, who seemed to be as new to me as the craft. She said to her daughter "It's already looking so different..." Next he took a different block, dipped it in blue, and started stamping me again.

After a while, my makeover was complete. Rati was ecstatic "It's beautiful! What a transformation!" I would have cried, if i could! She thanked the shop owner again and again, promising him she would be back soon, with more old sarees. 

Back home, she took me out of the poly pack again and admired me for a long time, telling her daughter how beautiful and new I looked. To my pleasant surprise, she put me back in her closet and not the suitcase this time.

Soon enough, I was pulled out to be worn at a wedding reception. Oh, the lovely sense of deja vu when the compliments flowed, all over again! "How lovely! Where did you buy it? Oh, you got it block-printed? Where? How? You must tell me, I am going there with my old sarees this weekend..." 

I must say, I have never been happier :) I pray that all old sarees get the same makeover, so that they can feel useful again...after all, we were born to be worn!

Note: The writer of this blog post runs an online store for ethnic wear called We take customized orders for hand block printing. So if you want to renovate an old saree or dupatta or have any other block printing requirement, please get in touch with us on

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Big Deal about Dealing with Artisans in India

Recently someone from a competing website called me and asked out of curiosity how it is that our sales prices were so low :) She wanted to know if we were sourcing directly from artisans, or whether our profit margins were very low. I informed her that while our constant attempt was indeed to source direct from artisans and cut out middle men, it was a daunting task. Many factors contribute to it:

- Language issues: India is a diverse country with many different languages. And for a person like me well versed only in Hindi and English, it becomes a struggle to speak with any artisan, especially on the phone. I recently tried to contact an artisan who was making beautiful unique kantha work designs on silk stoles and dupattas. I tried, in many different ways, to convey to him that i loved his work and wanted to buy his stock. After many unsuccessful attempts he managed to make me understad that his nephew, who spoke Hindi, would call me. But that call never came.

-Literacy issues: One of the biggest deterrents to growth in our country. Many artisans are illiterate and thus have no way of communicating on sms or email. Come to think of it if they could do that, they could directly list their products on so many marketplaces!

-Technology issues: Artisans are mostly located in remote villages where smart phones have not made inroads yet, or even if they have, enablers like whatsapp have not. So the artisan has no way of showing me the products he has, so that i can place an order. There is an artisan in a remote village in Andhra, who is a national award winner in the art of Tholu Bommalata- the art of painting on leather. But sadly, he is never able to show his designs to me so i can place an order. I read somewhere that an African marketplace called Soko has actually got into developing an easy to use smart phone application, using which artisans in the remotest villages of Africa are uploading their products on the marketplace. What's more, they are empowering the artisans by not only providing them phones, but also training them on using the application as well!

-Work ethic: At times I have been lucky enough to find artisans well equipped in all of the above. But sadly, their work ethic and adherence to timelines is well, very very different from ours. I came in touch with a lady who makes beautiful, very unique designs in phulkari dupattas and sarees. I placed an order of 50 dupattas with her. But the deadline came and went, nothing happened. The lady was of course, not able to comprehend my sense of urgency at all because time flows at a different speed, where she comes from. Eventually when my follow-ups became too frequent and insistent for her she said to me 'I will not deliver your order. Do what you want.' And that was the end of that.

Thankfully, I had not paid her an advance, so the only thing that was dented apart from my pride was my resolve to get the artisan in the picture.

But only dented- I have not given up hope yet :) Recently we came across a self help group in Central India which not only makes amazing khadi products, but the workers are also educated, responsive and technically enabled. It remains to be seen how they will deliver on my order, but fingers, toes all crossed :)

So till then the answer to queries like the one that lady put to me will be 'Work-in-Progress' :) We will try to get into solving various aspects of this problem, in subsequent posts. Do share your thoughts!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Maheshwari Salwar Suits: Gift of Central India to Modern Women

Maheshwari derives its name from Maheshwar, is a city situated in Madhya Pradesh. The word Maheshwar in Hindi means Great God, an epithet of Lord Shiva. Its well know from its weaving of the Maheshwari fabric since the 5th century. Queen Ahilyabai got weavers from Surat and introduced the MaheshwariSarees. The entire city of Maheshwar is involved in the weaving of this beautiful and admired Saree. With stripes at the pallu, is plain or have geometric motifs and is woven in silk and cotton. Light in weight, it has some amount of grace that has made it the favourite of every women. The weaving centre is located in one of Maheshwar's historic buildings

MaheshwariSarees have always been a favourite among women of all age groups. This sophisticated piece of fabric was weaved to depict royalty and elegance. The motifs are inspired by the local architecture. The unique feature of this Saree is its reversible border, which lets one wear it both ways. We know a lot about the Maheshwari Sarees, but little do we know of its origin. However, the new trend in maheshwar is to manufacture salwar suit pieces in both cotton and cotton silk. Maheshwari cotton silk has always been famous for its unique style of weaving. Now along with the famous hand block printing of this heritage town maheshwari salwar suits are creating a splash in the indian fashion scene
TheMaheshwari salwar suit dress material are exclusive for their unique designs on silk and cotton fabrics, the fine use of zari and brilliant use of stripes, checks and exquisite floral borders. Distinctive features of the Maheshwari salwar kameez are its light weight, shiny lustre and a fine display of colours, with brilliant motifs, an attractive chunni border to match. The dupatta is particularly noted for the colourful stripes in varied colours such as green, pink, magenta, mauve, violet etc. which lend the fabric a mesmerizing look. The body of the salwar is covered with all over buttis and the kameez is a plain color paint
The popular designs used in these salwar suits, which were inspired from the designs on the fort walls are the ‘Chatai’ pattern that is the ‘Mat’ pattern, the ‘Chameli ka phool’ pattern that is the ‘Chameli flower’ pattern, the ‘Eent’ pattern that is the ‘Brick’ pattern as well as the ‘Heera’ pattern that is the ‘Diamond’ pattern. These designs are found on Maheshwari dupattas, sarees and dress material even today. 
The cotton silk Fabric of maheshwar is unique. With fine cotton yarns in its weft and silk in the warp, this fabric islight and airy for the summers, yet has the subtle luster of silk. TheMaheshwari salwar suit dress material or saree  is not made by one person or one community, but the entire town is involved in this craft in some way or another. This craft weaves Hindus and Muslims, men and women together in its sublime fabric. The dyers colour the yarns in rich colours after which a silk warp and cotton bobbins for the weft are prepared. Once the loom is set with the patterns for borders and motifs, the weaving starts. In the weavers’ colonies, every street is filled with the continuous clacking of wooden looms; the craftsmen are busy creating poetry in colour.Through the years, this craft has seen many changes, many highs and lows.Copper coated nylon has replaced the pure gold wires of zari and synthetic dyes have replaced the limited palette of natural colours. Withhigh demands and extreme pressures on time, dyers have to get one warp of silk ready within an hour, leaving little room for revival of slow natural dyeing

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Kantha Stoles- The Beauty of Bengal

Kantha stoles are hand embroidered in kantha style of both east bengal (now Bangladesh) and west bengal in India.Bengal has an old tradition of Kantha embroideryKantha Embroidery enjoys international repute for the fineness of the fabrics woven in Dacca. With exquisite names like Running Water these were woven plain or patterned with thicker threads of white cotton providing opaque patterns on the fine cloth The jamdani again white on white, was woven by a brocading technique. The embroidery of Dacca followed the same process. The pallusand borders of Kantha sarees were finely embroidered with the motifs of the cypress, leaf and stem used by the weaver. Additionally the white on white was the natural colour of wild silk thread to provide richness and a light and shade effect to the work. Silver-gilt wire was sometimes used to enhance the effect.

The Bengal Kantha Embroidery is done on Shawls, sarees, coats, girdles in this way. Stem stitch, running stitch, long and short stitch, chain stitch, laid work of silver gilt wire over a padded foundation of yellow cotton thread all went to augment the woven design of the fabric for Kantha embroidery was done on both plain and patterned materials creating effects of subdued richness and elegance.

The tratition Kantha stitches can be found in modern Kantha Sarees, dupattas and stoles. Chain stitch, back stitch, knot stitch, open work produced by lines of back stitch pulled to produce small holes are all used in the natural colour of the silk.

TheKantha embroidery in Bengal is usually done in simple running and darning stitches worked through all the layers of the material to form a pattern both at the front and the back, is started at the centre usually with a lotus medallion. From this the work proceeds outward covering the whole surface with a variety of designs.
The surface not covered by the embroidery is often quilted with white running stitches made with five or six threads put into the needle to hold the material firmly together. The border is closely embroidered to provide a firm edge to the quilt. When the Kantha is finished it becomes a thick covering and it appears to be one piece of thick material rather than a number of fine ones welded together.
Kantha stoles today come in various types. The first type is handembroidered in silk in motifs of birds, and leaves. The second type is the reversible kantha stole. Made in soft cotton silk fabric these are first block printed to form the patterns and then these patterns are handembroidered. The reversible kantha stoles are extremly soft and can be worn around the neck with a western dress as well in addition to the Indian salwar kameez and kurtas

The same tradition of quilting and embroidery, though in a more folkish form has persisted inKantha Quilts of Bengal. The Kantha used as quilt, shawl, handkerchief, pillow cover, cover for mirror, combs and toilet articles, is made entirely by women and is a marvellous example of the recycling of waste material towards the production of artistic goods. Old, worn out sarees and dhotis are placed one above the other, the best ones on top, the rest providing the filling. The borders have previously been unpicked to yield the thread which would be used for the embroidery. The word Kantha itself means patched cloth.

Nakshi kantha is a very popular form of kantha embroidery.The colourful patterns and designs that are embroidered resulted in the name "Nakshi Kantha", which was derived from the Bengali word "naksha", which refers to artistic patterns.[6] The early kanthas had a white background accented with red, blue and black embroidery; later yellow, green, pink and other colours were also included. The running stitch called "kantha stitch" is the main stitch used for the purpose.[7] Traditionally, kantha was produced for the use of the family. Today, after the revival of the nakshi kantha, they are produced commercially.

Motifs of the nakshi kantha are deeply influenced by religious belief and culture. Even though no specific strict symmetry is followed, a finely embroidered naksi kantha will always have a focal point. Most kanthas will have a lotus as focal point, and around the lotus there are often undulating vines or floral motifs, or a shari border motif. The motifs may include images of flower and leaves, birds and fish, animals, kitchen forms even toilet articles.While most kantas have some initial pattern, no two naksi kantas are same. While traditional motifs are repeated, the individual touch is used in the variety of stitches, colours and shapes

Dupattas:The style quotient of Indian Women

Everyone has equal right to look beautiful. Because your looks, your style gives you confidence which helps in your personality building. Fashion and style is a means of self-expression, actually it enables us to say something important to the world about who we are, or who we'd like to be. As per a famous quote "Style is a way of saying who you are without saying anything".

The way we dress up or carry ourselves actually reveals our inner personality. A respectable appearance is enough to make people know about you. Our dressing effects even to people we don't talk with directly. In short words it’s our identification of our personality and for sure our first expression.

Dupattas are a integral part of indian women's attrire and add a lot of color and style to a dress. They are normally worn with a traditional indian dress called salwarkameez, but also with ghaghra and kehenga. Also called odhani in some parts of India, dupattas truly are a beautiful creation . Multiple types of dupattas include colorful and magnificient handembroidered phulkari dupattas from Punjab, hand embroidered silk and cotton kantha work dupattas from west bengal. Chanderi and maheshwari hand block printed dupattas from MP and silk stoles and dupattas from kanjivaram and mysore in soutch India.

Phulkari dupattas were earlier given as a part of the wedding to the bride groom. However, over a period of time this craft has evolved to create dupattas with lighterhandembroidery which can we worn in a casual occasion. Phulkari dupattas are of multiple types. The first type includes It comprises of motifs of flowers, fruits, vegetables, rivers, sun, moon, birds, animals etc. The popular baghs include Dhoop-chhaon (sun-shade), Dhaniya bagh (coriander), Karela bagh (bitter gourd), Gobhi bagh (cauliflower), Mirchi bagh (chilli), Motia Bagh (jasmine), Panchranga bagh (five-colored), Satranga bagh (rainbow), Leheria bagh (wavy) etc. The second type includes designs are based upon the folklore and motifs from daily life. These comprise of buildings, train on wheels, pots etc. The famous baghs under this category contain Shalimar charbagh and Chaurasia bagh, which are popular gardens. The third type has geometric patterns all over.

The Kantha Embroidery is the most popular form of embroidery practiced by the rural women of bengal . The traditional form of Kantha embroidery was done the soft dhotis and saris. The thread for this craft was drawn out of the borders of the used cloth. However, the artisans have now started making dupattas and stoles with this pristine old craft. The handembroiderd kantha stoles and dupattas have beautiful motifs or trees , birds and animals. Kantha embroidery is famous for its colors and intricate designs. The entire cloth is covered with running stitches and usually has beautiful folk motifs, floral motifs, animal and birds figures and geometrical shapes. Themes from day to day activities are also a common subject for the embroidery. Such stitches on the cloth give it a slight wrinkled wavy effect

Handblock printed dupattas come from various parts of India. The most famous places for weaving and printing such dupattas and stoles and maheshwar and chanderi in Madhya pradesh state of India. Both the places have more than 150 year old tradition of weaving and printing. One of the styles of hand block printing worth mentioning is the earli print. The warli print depicts motifs of tribal men and women involved in dance and celebrations all over the fabric. In hand block printing, the design is first drawn on wood using a sharp needle and then the desired design is carved using the chisel, hammer, file, nails etc. The printing involves laying the cloth/fabric, which is to be printed, on flat tables and impressions are made using the beautifully carved blocks. In case of direct printing, the block is dipped in the colored dye and impressions are made. In case of resist dyeing, impression of an impermeable material (clay, resin, wax etc) is made on the fabric which is then dyed in the desired shade. had got a large collection of many types of dupattas and has truly earned the trust level of its clients. We have came a long journey of struggle to gain the level of trust our customers have on us. Trust is something you earn. We are earning trust by our quality work, dedication and by valuing the satisfaction of the customer.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Indian Bridal Handbags: Brocade Potli Bags, Beadwork Potli Bags and Handmade Bead Batwas

Potli bags have been in use in India from ancient times. They had applications in Ayurveda (the ancient Indian form of medicine) where they were filled with herbs to give massages and find mention in the ancient Indian texts as well. Laxman used them to carry the medicines, articles of day to day use and weapons of lord Rama when he went on an exile for 14 years. In Mahabharata they were used by Pandavas to hide their weapons when they were hiding in the forest.
Today's potli bags have evolved from the ancient times. They now have a gorgeous look along with embellishment of embroidery from Kutch or Banaras, Sequins, Mirrors, Beadwork of Bhopal, Stones, Pearls, Diamonds on various cloths like silk, velvet, satin etc. They are made in various parts of India. Potli bags and batwas of Bhopal are especially famous for their intricate designs. The nawabs of Bhopal patronized the beadword and zardozi artisans and have played a key role in keeping this beautiful craft alive. The streets of the old city of Bhopal hum with the 500-year-old craft of gota, zari and beadwork with which the Muslim ladies of the city make these unique bags, batwas, jewelry pieces and men's headgear. The glittering handcrafted items have a special flamboyant charm, the attention to detail being an intrinsic part of the craftswomen's creativity. The motifs too are typically Islamic art-inspired, a fascinating depiction in beadwork and zardosi of arabesques, intertwining floral and vine motifs and geometric configurations.

Potli bags and batwas are a gorgeous women's accessory for all occasions. There are more colorful ones for marriages and traditional occasions and sober ones for day to day use. Brocade work bags are especially very bright and colorful. They are made of brocade cloth and have golden/silver bead work on it. They typically close with a zip and also have a magnetic button to make them fold in. Bangle shaped handles enhance their beauty even more. Beautiful evening accessories, they can be worn like a bangle on the wrist and are a great gift for any occasion, from birthdays to weddings.
Many bollywood actresses are fond of these bags. Rekha is so fond of her golden potli bag that she has been photographed with it multiple times. Kirron kher, the current MP from Chandigarh has been seen with them matching with her glamorous sarees. Nandita das was seen with a perfectly matching potli purse, made from the same golden cloth as her kurta! If you have not tried a potli ever, you are missing the magic of India.

Handmade Beauty: Chanderi Sarees from MP

Chanderi saree is among the best known items of the state of Madhya Pradesh in the middle of India. Chanderi Textiles has been in existence ever since Moghul periods and even got mentioned in the Govt. gazetteer and various other history books printed on Chanderi. Chanderi town is situated between the mountains of Vindhyachal in the Ashok Nagar city, North of Madhya Pradesh ( MP ). The advancement of Chanderi started in 1890's after the weavers switched from handspun yarn that was a tad coarse and hard to print as compared to mill made yarn. In early 90's, the noble family of Gwalior, brought the chanderi saree under their patronage and then during that era the famed golden thread motif started existing in the main body of the cotton fabric muslin saree for the first time.
Eventually, the silk yarn and then gradually dobby and jacquard use originated The preferences of Indian females was evolving was in the 90's and to keep up with the changing times, the chanderi artisans moved to weave yet another variety of fabric which blended a silk warp with a cotton weft. Several beautifully stunning motifs include 'Nalferma, 'Dandidar, 'Chatai', 'Jangla', Mehndi wale haath' etc. With around 3,500 looms in working condition, 18,000 people are directly or indirectly dependent on the enterprise for their living. This field has matured over the years and has attained eminence in all respects as a consequence of a blend of long-established and modern practices besides the deft skills of weavers honed by institutional assistance by government and other agencies. The Chanderi fabric is known for its texture, light weight along with a glossy look and feel that puts it apart from factory made textiles.
Historically, the fabric was weaved using hand spun yarn, which accounted for a soft texture. The artisans spent several hours in spinning the yarn to ensure that it grade, designs colors and motifs are in line with the desires of the exclusive and royal clients Chanderi was always woven with handspun cotton warps and wefts. It was in fact spun as fine as 300 counts, and perhaps was as treasured amongst cotton fabrics as the famed muslins of Dhaka. However, the Industrial transformation sounded the1st death knell for this exquisite textile. The British brought in inexpensive 120 to 200 count cotton from Manchester, which considerably eroded the market for the more pricey Chanderi cloth. In the 1930s, Chanderi set off to work on Japanese silk. They started substituting this in the warps in natural cotton series, after that devised a silk-by-silk variety whereby their profits were considerably more. For that reason, in these times, it is not easy to get a natural cotton-by-cotton Chanderi saree in retail stores. Since the beginning of the Chanderi fabric material and Sires, the buttes on the Fabric are hand-woven on Handloom. Absolutely no machines are used in manufacturing and it is Gold coated, Silver coated and Copper coated. At present tested Zara Butte are also widespread and in usage. The tested Zara is produced with the use of Synthetic yarn. The buttes are created by the use of fine needles. Number of needles made use of depends upon the number of buttes and its size. For each Butte/Butta separate needles are recommended. The weavers associated have gained expertise in this over an extensive period of time. The most well-known and traditional variety of Butte is Asharfi Butte, which is in shape of Asharfi ( woven in pure gold and silver Zara and now a day it is also woven in Tested Zara ). This kind of Butte was in use in past only by the Royal families because it is very expensive as genuine Gold and Silver is used. The Butte which is big is size is popularly called as Butta with all other specifications.
The weavers involved in this process are long standing in trade and are well experienced. The Govt also spends money and conduct workshops to train and educate them about the latest design and its quality control. The thread used at Chanderi is of fine quality and even after long use its thread never comes out and its original shape and appearance is retained forever. It has no comparison anywhere else in the country or for that reasons in whole of the world. To see samples of handwoven chanderi Sarees, visit and