The beauty of the un-stitched 

Amrita Prasad
Friday, 11 August 2017

The personal pleasure of draping the unstitched, fluid garment over and around the body, adjusting it with little tucks and pulls to suit one’s own particular form, is sensuous. It creates a picture of flowing grace that conceals as much as it reveals
— Rta Kapur Chishti

Noted saree draper and textile scholar Rta Kapur Chishti is conducting a saree draping workshop at The Fashion Narrative in the city.

Saree defines a culture, a tradition and the sentiments of the nation called India. The regional and artistic diversity of India doesn’t only result in creation of a variety of sarees — from Kanjeevaram to Chanderis, Baluchari, Banarasi, Taant, Paithani and so on — but also offers a myriad ways to drape it.

Rta Kapur Chishti, renowned saree draper, textile scholar, co-author and editor of Saris of India: Tradition and Beyond, who lives, breathes and eats sarees, has been instrumental in popularising the Indian handloom sarees and the various styles in which one can sport them.

In fact in her book, she has illustrated 108 styles of saree draping from across the country. Chishti, who feels that saree is the most practical piece of garment, is conducting a saree draping workshop at The Fashion Narrative organised by Rudraksha — a three-day event which will culminate today. Celebrating the sentiment of Independence Week, Rasika Wakalkar, owner of Rudraksh-Renee Enterprises, has organised the event.

Says Chishti, “The saree is not only known by different names (lugda, dhoti, pata, seere, sadlo, sapad) in various parts of the country, it is also conceived differently in form and structure, in usage and custom. It is a stretch of fabric long or short, wide or narrow, according to the way in which it is worn.

There is, in fact, no ‘one type of saree’. Despite the variations of the drape featured in the book, there is a personal variant always possible. This distinguishes the saree as the most unique and versatile of garments.”

Chishti’s label Taanbaan offers an exclusive variety of indigenous organic cottons and low twist silks using hand spun yarns on the desi/traditional charkha/spinning wheel.

She is founder of the ‘Sari School’ which produces sarees and organises workshops and private classes for those who wish to learn the wonders of this unstitched garment and make it more relevant to their lives today.

Chishti, along with Border & Fall, a Bengaluru-based organisation, is launching a YouTube channel next month showing 84 different types of saree drapings. “It has been shot by an American filmmaker. The attempt is to be part of a world dialogue — to make saree global,” she informs.

Her vast knowledge of the textile is a result of her extensive travel to different parts of the country. “By travelling, working with weavers and travelling to different places, closely seeing different cultures and traditions taught be how women transform sarees according to their body type and need.

By staying in different villages every night over a period of three months across the country, I learnt that the saree is versatile and the garment gives you the constant freedom and scope to recreate it in a new form each time. You must have the desire and ability to learn from people,” she informs. She adds that unlike a saree which is free-flowing and most conducive to the Indian climate, a pair of jeans lacks such versatility and flexibility.

Most urban women prefer Western cuts and silhouettes over a saree for their daily wear, given that their profession requires ease and comfort. In that case, can saree become a daily wear? Answers Chishti, who considers that rural women equally require comfort while performing their chores, “In constant play with the body, in stillness and in movement, allowing for adjustments at all times — be it the vigour of working in the fields or squatting on the kitchen floor — the saree transforms itself according to need and function. In the manner of her carrying it, the wearer reveals her nature and demeanour. The bold and the shy, the silent but inquisitive, the athletic yet graceful, all manner of women hold their sarees with characteristic ease, almost as if it were their second skin and not a textile extraneous to them.”

Chishti feels that although saree is a fast disappearing garment for everyday wear, it will survive as a special occasion wear. “Yet, they once rode horses in sarees, swam in rivers and ponds with their sarees tucked between their legs; these women existed from Shajapur in Madhya Pradesh to Kothapalli in Andhra Pradesh. If the principles of these wearing styles were put into practice, many more could possibly evolve for contemporary needs. Interestingly, the saree is asserting a growing presence in the boardrooms of multinational corporate organisations, in the law chambers and courts and among the new power professionals who are conscious of their identity and wish to draw strength from it,” she says, commenting on why sarees still manage to rule hearts of contemporary women.

Chishti who draws inspiration from rural, urban and tribal women’s style of wearing the six and nine yards, believes that each style has to be distinct. With her magical hands, a saree becomes a structured gown or transforms into a pant-like piece and quickly becomes a skirt. The idea is to make saree comfortable and practical. “It is a symbol of womanhood and no amount of copying the West will change this. It is astonishing to see women wearing dresses and gowns to weddings and call them functional. My effort has been to tell people that we should try and excel at what we are good at — saree making and draping is the most Indian thing,” she concludes.
(With inputs from Jyoti Nalawade)

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