Kerala saris are usually made of cotton by hand weavers.  Called Kasavu saris, they are white or ivory fabric with a colorful border. Kasavu is the name of the simple or elaborate gold brocade border which is uniquely identifiable and simply beautiful. 

 

Kerala ladies in traditional dress.

Kerala ladies in traditional dress.

The national dress of Kerala women is the mundu-veshti. The mundu is wrapped around the waist like a skirt while the veshti is wrapped around the waist and the left shoulder. At a glance, it looks like a sari. The borders of both pieces have the same color(s) and design. A coordinating blouse, as with a sari, is worn underneath and purchased separately. Special mundu-veshti sets are available with wide gold lace borders which are usually worn by a bride for her wedding.

 

The lovely ladies I met at the Spice Shop in Kochi were wearing the traditional Kerala saris on the day that I met them. In the photo to the right, they are Kiran Devi, Sindhya, Daisy, Sheeba and Naufia.
 

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Now that I have told you about the different fabrics for saris, let me give you more information about the many types of silks that make these exquisite garments.

 

Kanchipuram saris

Kanchipuram saris (called Conjeevaram saris in Malayalam) are woven on hand looms in the town of Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu. These are the most popular and considered to be the ultimate in beauty and elegance with the exquisite gold threads that are woven through the borders. When you feel the fabric, you know it is top of the line material. The body and borders traditionally appear in contrasting colors making them distinctive. Since the fabric is very durable, they can be washed at home as well as dry-cleaned. There are two grades of these saris: the expensive ones are very popular for wedding dresses and special occasions and the other priced for daily wear, typically worn by mature women.

 

Various Indian saris

Various Indian saris

 

Banaras saris

Banaras saris are made in the town by the same name. These are also popular because of their exquisite brocade designs with gold threads. These saris cannot be hand washed but must be dry-cleaned. They, along with the Conjeevaram saris, are also considered to be the most expensive.

 

Poncahmpalli saris

Special silk saris from Andhra Pradesh, called Ponchampalli saris, are made from a special tie-dye process to create the colored designs. Exclusive saris with vertical designs for special occasions are very popular. Ponchampalli saris are very attractive and expensive.



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The sari is the national dress for Indian women. It is a more elegant and fashionable item to wear than a salwar kameez or even western clothes. The types and design of the various saris differ from state to state. Saris are usually 6 yards long but 9 yard saris are worn by orthodox Brahmin women and by brides at their weddings. Saris are made in cotton, polyester, rayon and silk.



Cotton saris

Cotton saris are very popular since they are so comfortable to wear in the hot summer. They are made at textile mills in Mumbai (Bombay), Ahmedabad, Delhi and a few mills in South India. They vary in texture depending on the fineness, or thread count, of the threads that are used. These have usually multicolor, printed designs while some are block printed by hand. A cottage industry thrives making them on handlooms.

In Kerala, saris are usually made of cotton by hand weavers.  Called Kasavu saris, they are white or ivory fabric with a colorful border. Kasavu is the name of the gold brocade border which makes these saris uniquely identifiable.


Polyester and rayon saris

Polyester and rayon saris are also available in multicolored printed designs. The city of Surat in the state of Gujarat is the largest centre for making these saris. Their advantages are that they dry quickly, don’t require ironing and are lightweight.


Silk saris


Silk is the most expensive and luxurious material for saris. They are woven on handlooms with silk threads that made via the process of sericulture (silk farming) primarily in the states of Karnataka and Bengal. The primary centers for making silk saris include Kanjeepuram and Dharmavaram in Tamil Nadu, Bangalore in Karnataka, Ponchampalli in Andhra and Varnasi (Banaras) in Uttar Pradesh. Small amounts of silk saris are made in Bengal and Kashmir.

The sari that I am wearing in the photo to the right is made of Kanjeepuram silk. In my next entry I will tell you more about the special silk saris from these regions.

 

 

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I thought it would be a good idea for my wardrobe to fit in when I visited India so I went shopping for a traditional north Indian salwar kameeze. I like them because they are so easy to wear – just a dress with pants and a scarf. I can throw one on and be ready to go anywhere – dressy or casual – but most important, they are comfortable. I purchased two cute salwar kameezes at a shop in Richardson, TX. All of the cute ones were made out of polyester. I hoped they would be comfortable.

 

When an opportunity to wear one arose after we arrived in Chennai, I decided on the dark blue one since it was dressier of the two and we were going to eat dinner out at a nice restaurant. As soon as I put it on, I knew it was going to be a mistake. I couldn’t wear it. The bedroom was air conditioned and had a ceiling fan spinning at max speed. Once I stepped in the living room without any a/c, I started sweating. It was just 95 degrees with high humidity. The dress started sticking to me like an extra layer of skin. I knew I couldn’t survive an evening with polyester melted onto me so I quickly changed clothes.  I ended up wearing a skirt with a knit cotton top. I was able to enjoy dinner and the rest of the evening.

 

Both outfits remained in my suitcase until I returned home. I am now waiting for a cold winter day for them to make their debut.

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The stories from my trip to India continue…


I visited a shop called The Spice Market in Jew Town which is part of Old Kochi which was settled by Jewish traders and sailors 2000 years ago. It is just down the street from the Paradesi Synagogue that was built in 1568. I entered this shop because I was drawn by the attractive display of spices in front of the store and I wanted to find out how the local people buy their spices.  The shop is a women’s co-operative in which all of the products are made and sold by the local women. They make carved wooden spice boxes, saris, jewelry and home decorations, as well as sell packaged spices.


The Spice Market in Jew Town in Old Kochi, India.

The Spice Market in Jew Town in Old Kochi, India.

 

The women I met in the shop were so friendly to me. In the photo to the right, they are Kiran Devi, Sindhya, Daisy, Sheeba and Naufia. They welcomed my taking many photos of the shop as well as taking pictures of them standing by the loom that they use to create beautiful saris in the back room. Notice that all of them are wearing the elegant traditional Kerala style sari. By the time I left the shop I felt we were friends!

Kerala ladies in traditional dress.

Kerala ladies in traditional dress.


One thing that I found that was very interesting was that they sold small jars of different masala or spice blends. They had them for chicken, fish and meat as well as biryani and tandori masala. So popular in the States, I didn’t expect to see them in Kerala. I had assumed that since they had the spices and generations of experience in mixing them that they would not need to use premixed spices. I guess the modern Indian woman is busy too, just like we are in the U.S. I bought one jar of each and will test them out over the next few months and let you know how they taste.


A sample of spices available at the Spice Market in Old Kochi, Kerala.

A sample of spices available at the Spice Market in Old Kochi, Kerala.

 

I really enjoyed meeting the ladies at The Spice Market. I left their shop with several bags filled with goodies. This visit was the highlight of my trip to Kochi! I look forward to returning to see them again.


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I am planning on visiting India later this year to find new recipes and take pictures for my next book. I have many saris that were given to me when I was married years ago. I had my last blouses made when my son was two years old. Since 15 years have passed, I need new ones that fit and were the latest style. I wanted to have them made before I leave so I wouldn’t have to spend the time after I arrive.
 

I visited India Sari Palace in Richardson, Texas that sells a large variety of saris. Manju was very helpful in picking out the appropriate fabric and color for each blouse. I am always amazed that the best match can be identified so quickly. It would take me much more time to analyze the options and make the selection. I think my eye is good enough but I am slow. After taking quick measurements she asked me many questions. What sleeve length? Front neckline shape? Back neckline shape? Length of blouse? I think I picked one of each option so each blouse will be different. Just imagine the options and the number of decisions if you were having more than four blouses made!

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