Donna and Joe have finished their assignment in India. Occasionally they still travel somewhere.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Sari Tale

I was reading over old posts and comments, and realized I'd never told my sari tale from the wedding. I usually have jitters before going to a party, wedding, etc., but I've never before worried about literally assembling my outfit on site, or been afraid that if I did something wrong, it might fall off!

We had been told that, if possible, it was appropriate to wear traditional Indian clothing for such a special occasion as a wedding. This seemed like a good idea, and we did our best as "newbies".

I had gotten a sari that I absolutely loved, so I bought a pre-made flared petticoat to wear under it. Then I took the sari to the tailor to have the blouse made for it. This is a sort of midriff top that closes with hooks and eyes in the front, as only the back is seen. The tailor and I agreed on a design based on a number of pictures in the tailor's design book. I had been told that a deep U cut in the back is fashionable, but that you should have a tie or crossed bands to hold it in place when you add the weight of the folds of the sari on your shoulder. The tailor took the sketch he had drawn and tied it inside a knot in one end of the sari, and added it to his pile. I took it in 2 weeks before the wedding, so I wouldn't be stressing out at the last minute if it needed more alterations, like so many clothes I have had made. It's a good thing that I hadn't cut off the end of the sari that I thought was the blouse material. This sari had both an intricately woven silvery-gold on royal blue design on the pallu, and an embroidered floral design on the part that drapes across the front of your body. I would have cut off the pallu!

Unfortunately, the sari wasn't done on the day promised, and I couldn't get back to the tailor for several days after the next day they said it would be done. They had forgotten the plan to have extra crossed straps on the back. So they sewed some silver metallic cording on to tie before I left the shop. One of my friends thought this was fine, while another thought it looked kind of tacky. Hmmmm.

When I tried it on, it was awful. No way could I ever appear ANYWHERE in it the way it was. I have had several women tell me that tailors have a tendency to make the armholes too small--perhaps figuring that it's a lot easier to cut more off than add it on. Well, not having toothpicks for arms, I had to take apart this very fitted & lined garment, and rebuild it. Thank God I didn't have to mess with the fit on the bust, as these are like building a bra. I have to find a tailor that has a try-on room on premises!

After a trip to the sewing shop for some trim, I started to work. My life being what it is, numerous things came up, and here I was, the day we were to leave for the wedding, still finishing the blouse. At one point, my driver came to ask for advice about the terrace, where the gardener HE had drafted was doing some planting. I was in the middle of trying it all on, with Jaya coaching. So I dropped the yards of fabric, threw a t-shirt over the blouse and petticoat, and ran upstairs. Many minutes later I finally got them settled and dragged myself away from the dirt and the plants, and realizing that I had more important issues at hand! I practiced with Jaya some more, but it was hard to remember all the steps, so after she went home I wrote a cheat sheet to take along.

Here is MY version of how to put on a sari, as best I can explain how I was told to do it:

1. Put on the blouse and the petticoat. The drawstring on the petticoat is kept tied in a knot, and you have to learn a new way to make a tight knot without untying it. Be sure to suck in your breath to get it very snug, as EVERYTHING depends on this not falling down!!

2. Tie a little knot in the upper corner at the plain end of the sari. Tuck it into the waistband of the petticoat in front of your right hipbone.

3. Wrap the 7 yards of fabric around your body once to the left, tucking it into the waistband as you go. You have to try to get the fabric to hang the right distance from the floor all the way around.

4. Being sure to keep track of the top edge of the sari, (which looks just like the bottom edge!) bring the rest of the sari material around your body to the left again, under your left arm, then your right, and across your chest. Somewhere in here you have to take the pallu and fold it into folds about 4-7" wide and put that over your left shoulder from front to back, so the design of the pallu hangs down your back and ends somewhere between your waist and your knee. You feel like you are trying to constrain a monster threatening to engulf you. Now comes the hard part.

5. You have gobs and gobs of extra fabric to deal with. Pull the extra forward, and without dropping it, fold it into pleats about 5 or 6" wide and exactly the same, in front of your body, under the fabric draped across your chest! There are several ways of doing this, but you have to end with the pleats opening on the left edge, with that edge lined up with the center of your body.

6. Make sure the pleats hang straight down neatly and the right length when you tuck them in. This is where you really need someone to help you eyeball it and straighten them at ground level. Now you take at least one "honkin' big" safety pin and pin the pleats to the petticoat under the drape. I should have added another pin lower down, to help hold the pleats, as new sarees don't hold their pleats as well unless they are creased well, & pinned, and tend to billow out when you walk, and not fall back into place obligingly. I learned this later.

7. Pin the drape at your shoulder, from the inside, slightly behind the shoulder seam. I formed too many little pleats at the wedding. At the shoulder you should really just see the front of one 5-6" pleat of the fabric.

If you think all this is hard to understand, you should try to do it!

We didn't need to leave for the train until about 10 p.m.. In the evening, with Joe reading the cheat sheet, I attempted it again several times. Joe took a picture of me in total concentration.

He says my Dad makes the same face when he is concentrating.

Now after trying it twice with dubious results,I was really reaching panic mode, and finally called my friend Simran to come and advise. She came to the rescue, and I felt a little better until she said, "Where are you going to get changed? Are you going to have a hotel room?"

We didn't think we would, because we weren't staying overnight. But with a night train I couldn't very well sleep in my sari and then get up and go to the wedding, and she told me I certainly wouldn't have room to dress on the train, and it wouldn't be clean enough to have all that material on the floor.

Then she asked if there would be other women there to help me. That's when Joe told me that there would be no other women going from Bangalore. After much brainstorming, it was decided that there must be a room at the wedding where all the women would be changing. All I had to do was go there and the women would be happy to rush to my rescue, and see that I was properly attired! But just in case, Simran showed Joe how to adjust the pleats in the front of my sari for me.

Simran left, and I went back to hand stitching the silver trim to the crossed straps I had added to the back of the blouse. I am fighting hard to control my panic, but periodically I would erupt into greater-than-usual anxiety outbursts, ranging from: "This is a really BAD idea!", to
"Maybe I should just stay home and you should go alone!", to
"You have it easy! You don't have to assemble your clothes when you get there!"

I finished the alterations at 10 p.m.. I put the sari in my back pack, and off we went. It was like opening night from my costuming days, minus the Nutrageous fixes and Slimfast.

When we got into the town where the wedding was to be held, we discovered that Muthu had made arrangements for us to have a nice air-conditioned room to change in. No where near the wedding hall. Not knowing if this was the best-case scenario or the worst, we plunged in. Joe read me the steps, helped adjust the pleats, uttered reassuring words, and told me I was beautiful.

I think I'll keep him.

The results you saw on the wedding blog. We had a great time. The sari didn't fall off. People seemed to appreciate our efforts, and forgive our ineptitude.

This Sunday is Easter. Guess who's wearing her sari.

(After I practice!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, indeed, you should wear your sari on Easter Sunday, now that you know how! Maybe forget the Easter bonnet this year ..

Wonder what will take the place of Easter lilies and hyacinths in India?

It's just great reading about your adventures. Thanks for taking the time to write. What fun that you can write once, and all your fans can read your news!

Happy Easter .. Merry