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The allure of the Indian Saree

Sari and general textile terminology

anchal - the endpiece of the sari. Also called a pallu or palav. It is usually more densely ornamented than the field in matching or contrasting color.

bhutta - areas of threadwork ornament suspended on a plain ground, usually put in a regular order and often times becoming more dense towards the endpiece.

block print - stamping the material with ink. The blocks are generally hand carved from wood and printed on the cloth in repeating patterns.

blouse piece - traditionally the sari is worn with a matching or contrasting blouse called a choli. Many sarees come with an extra length of cloth used to stitch the skin tight cropped top.

bengali drape - a beautiful traditional way of wrapping a sari in West Bengal. There are only two large pleats in front and the fabric is folded in half and thrown over the shoulder twice for a beautiful and rich look, perfect for a transparent jamdani

border - the sari usually has borders along the top and bottom lengths of the cloth. The borders are a main design element when wearing the sari and come in an astounding variety of patterns and motifs.

check - one of the simplest and most elegant ways of patterning plain weave cloth. Simple checks are formed with a second color thread at regular intervals on the ground. Micro checks give the fabric a shot woven glow, with only a few threads between the check spacing. Complex checks can be formed by combing warp and weft color repeats for amazing variety.

chikankari - the simple running stitch embroidery made famous in Lucknow. The cloth is usually white or some pastel color with white embroidery. The base fabric is a light weight organdy type.

china silk - lightweight, durable and drapey material imported to India from China. Used as a base cloth for many inexpensive printed and dyed sarees.

choli - the tight, cropped top worn under the sari. The choli can be stitched from matching or contrasting cloth, sometimes attached to the sari for this purpose.

contrast pallu - the endpiece ornament is woven on a ground of contrasting color to the field. A very common and dramatic look.

das phulia - means "ten flowers" - a typical design found on Orissa ikat and bomkai sarees.

dhoti - a 4 to 5 meter length of cloth, usually white or cream with a narrow border. The dhoti is worn by men all over India in several draping styles. The North Indian dhoti is longer and is worn in the kaccha style, the south Indian dhoti is 4 meters and is worn folded in half and then wrapped kind of like a bath towel around the waist.

doria - a kind of open weave cloth that has a subtle check effect formed by regular inter spacing of finer and thicker threads

elephant - one of the most beloved and revered creatures in Indian ornamental tradition. The elephant symbolizes wealth and good luck, embodied in the much worshiped Lord Ganesh, remover of obstacles.

end piece - also called anchal and pallu. the ornamental end of the sari, normally worn thrown over the shoulder in the modern Nivi style.

ganga jamuna - the two sacred rivers of India. This means a sari with a top and bottom border in different colors.

gauze - a very lightweight and soft weave that is almost transparent.

gharchola - means "from the home" - a typically patterned sari style from Rajasthan with large zari checks and bandhni tie dye work in the open areas of the checks.

gulabi - rose - used as a term for a round floral motif and for the pretty rose pink color favored by Indian women on their sarees.

handloom - the arduous and authentic work of the weaving craftspeople. A hand loomed sari takes days to complete and each thread is meticulously and patiently laid against the next in the process. At sometimes 60 to 100 threads per inch - imagine how long that would take!

ikat - also called bandhna in Orissa. The threads are first dyed in patterns and then strung up on loom so that the patterns emerge as the cloth is woven. Double ikat has both warp and weft patterned threads.

jacquard - a highly ornamented cloth with warp and weft face ornament. Jacquard is named after the original inventor of a punch card system of weaving allowing the production of very complex patterns on simple looms.

jamdani - a very lightweight Bengali woven cloth that features thicker threadwork ornament that is applied to the cloth with needles as the cloth progresses on the loom.

kaccha - means between the legs. A way of draping a sari or dhoti with a series of pleats in the front. The center pleat is then drawn back through the legs and tucked into the waist, creating a kind of pants. Maharastrian kaccha drape is made with a 9 yard sari to give the extra length necessary for this drape. You can learn to wrap a kaccha sari using only a 6 yard sari in the how to wear a sari section.

kalamkari - a style of drawing with dyes on cloth. Tiny funnel type tools are used for this and every sari or textile is one of a kind and hand drawn.

kalga - usually a paisley shaped motif found on the pallu of the sari. it is also a general term to mean a large motif of threadwork or printed ornament.

kantha - the running stitch embroidery of West Bengal. A wide range and variety of ornament is now being produced in this style. The work is usually done by village women as a secondary source of income for their families.

kashmiri - a style of ornament that typifies the Moghul era of India. Paisleys, running vines on plain grounds, elaborate architectural ornament, arches and figures give the cloth a regal appearance.

khaddi - means handloom in many Indian languages. The principal of self sufficiency fought for by Mahatma Gandhi during India's fight for Independence. The term exists today as a sense of political and cultural responsibility to preserve the handloom traditions of India.

kornad - a very wide bordered, usually plain style sari typical of Tamil Nadu village style.

kumbha - a favorite ornament in sari borders, the kumbha or vessel represents the universe and is often drawn with zig zagging lines.

lungi - a two meter length of cloth worn by working men all over india. The lungi is more often than not mill printed in rich colors and patterns.

mango - a common motif in sari borders. Often made as a tight repeating motif with fine leaves on either side.

mehndi - henna green, a rich dark green somewhere between olive and brown!

muha - another word for endpiece. Do muha is a term for sarees that have two pallus.

mundu - means towel in some south Indian languages. The mundu is worn by the women of Kerala either as a matching two piece sari set, or as a regular hand loomed towel thrown over the shoulder and worn with a lungi.

muslin - a stable and simple plain weave fabric that is woven from slightly irregular fibers, producing a soft and supple cloth that is absorbent and comfortable in the heat.

ordhani - a veil or sheet. The women of Rajasthan wear these lightweight veils over calico printed drawstring skirts and cholies in a riot of color combinations. organdy - a lightweight plain weave cloth that is smooth and transparent.

paithani - a kind of specialized weave of North India featuring interlocking weft threads in the ornament. Paithani sarees are typically very rich with large fields of zari threads and windows of colored ornament in geometrically simple designs.

pallu - another word for endpiece or anchal. The ornamental end piece of the sari.

peacock - a beautiful and popular motif found on sarees from all over India.

pinkosu - the delightful Tamil style of draping a sari where the pleats are in back and drape out over the waist of the sari.

pleats - when draping the sari, most of the fabric length is taken up in a series of pleats and then tucked in the waist closing or petticoat. The pleats allow for easier walking and give the garment its elegant gait.

powerloom - a handloom on steroids. These weaves have the look of handlooms but are often times of cheaper quality and lack the subtle elegance of the real handloomed cloth.

puja - means prayer. Puja sarees are the typical regional pieces that are given for ceremonial occasions and used to drape deities in the temple.

raja - king

rani - queen

rekhu - an area of zigzags or stripes to bridge the transition from field to border of a sari. A temple motif is a common rekhu and blends the border line into the field in a harmonious way.

resist dying - using blocks to print cloth with wax before immersing in the dye.

rudraksha - the sacred beads often worn by Holy People and Deities. It is a very beautiful bead with a natural ornamental pattern, often depicted in repeat patterns of circles with diagonal stripes on sari borders.

self - self patterning is using matching or just a shade light or darker threads to make an ornament that is monotone. It is a very rich and understated look, found on many designer silk sarees.

sungudi - means sun and is a typical resist dyed print of Tamil Nadu. Madurai is famous for it's sungudi sarees, stable and bombproof cotton cloth printed in tiny repeat motifs and with simple striped pallus with fine lines of imitation zari.

tant - means handloom in Bengali.

threadcount - the number of picks or threads per linear inch.

threadwork - ornament created by the weaving of different colored threads. Threadwork is used to denote ornament on sarees that is not made from zari.

tie dye - an ancient technique of tying cloth in patterns before dipping it in a dye bath. Rajasthan and Gujarat are famous for their brilliant tie dyes called Bandhni sarees.

tribal - styles of sarees and ornament that are traditionally carried down in the village of their origin. Tribal ornament is rough, geometric and bold.

veshti - the lower drape of south India. Can mean the same as dhoti.

warp - the lengthwise fibers of the cloth.

weft - the widthwise fibers of the cloth.

zari - gold plated silver wire wrapped around a polyester core. The expensive part of the sari. Many old sarees are burned to extract the gold from the ashes.

The allure of the Indian Saree

You can browse an overview of sari styles available in the sarishop. All sarees in the sarishop are organized by regional weave or dye/print style. Read more about sarees: Why handlooms are special.

If you are interested further reading about sarees and learning general textile terminology please visit the Glossary of sari terms and the Bibliography.

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