Monday, August 29, 2011

Wondered what's (home)sewing is like in India? Read this guest post from Lakshmi of Adithi's Amma Sews

Dear readers, I am back from my vacation in beautiful Maine, and am very glad to offer you this guest post from the winner of the Crescent Skirt Giveaway, Lakshmi of Adithi's Amma Sews. Lakshmi, who lives in the South Indian State of Tamil Nadu, shares here her thoughts on traditional Indian garments and home sewing in India,

I thought it was an interesting post as it provides an insight into the world of sewing many of us hardly know anything about. On the one hand, Lakshmi is so privileged to have a hands-on access to oh-so-fabulous traditional Indian sewing and embroidery. On the other hand, she has to deal with challenges of not having access to some basic sewing tools, notions and materials while living next to several significant Indian textile hubs - isn't it ironic?

So, read on, I hope you enjoy it and if you are interested in some of the techniques or traditional garments she mentions, visit her blog for hands-on tutorials. 

Dear Readers of Frabjous Couture, I am Lakshmi, aka Adithi's Amma from Adithi's Amma Sews. I am a stay-at-home mom of a 4.5 yr old little princess, an aspiring freelance fashion designer, and a dream of having my own custom clothing line in near future.

Before moving onto further details, I would first like to thank Marina for having me over here and sharing this post with her readers! When Marina and I discussed the subject of my guest post, she suggested I write about home sewing in India ... and, maybe, give a brief intro on traditional Indian outfits, such as well-known Indian silk sarees, Silk skirt & top known as Pattu Paavdai in South India or Ghaghra in North India. If you want to learn how to make a Saree blouse, Pattu Paavadai  or other traditional Indian outfits like Angarkha ( a wrap once worn by royalty and back in vogue  now!), check out tutorials on my blog! 

Back to home sewing in India. My mother's grandmom used to sew all her children's, as well as grandchildren's, outfits by hand! India has a fascinating history of needle arts, various forms of embroidery have their roots here, or have been adopted and well nurtured here!
This outfit for my darling daughter has detailed Aaari and Zardosi work done on it!
Fabric is silk, of course!
Zari embroidery has its roots here in India and is extensively used even today in most of the traditional garments such as Saree, Silk Kurta, Ghaghra, Lehenga (Skirts) worn on festivals or at weddings. India is a vast country with many different needle art forms spread across the country. 
Frabjous Couture: India has long been known for its gold thread, zari ...Currently, real zari is made from flat silver wire that is electroplated with gold. Zari made from these precious metals is used for ceremonial sarees, richly embroidered apparel, furnishings, etc. Imitation zari, on the other hand, is made from copper wire. A third variety, plastic zari, is made from a chemically-coloured metallic yarn. More than 20 colours of zari are now produced, and there are varieties such as zari on glass, zari on wood etc. Source
I am South Indian and have lived all my life in South India,  and Zari work on local Sarees is really mind boggling - ask anyone who has seen a Silk Saree, they would vouch for it! Kancheevaram (City of 1000 temples, just 47 miles from where I live) is famous for its hand-woven silk sarees! We get many of them in Chennai (the capital of the southern Indian state Tamil Nadu), and the main shopping area is always crowded!

There are more embroidery types in India, such as Zardosi, Chikankari from Lucknow, Phulkari from Punjab, there's also Aari, Patchwork, Kundan - the list is endless.

Sequin and bead embroidery on my RTW Saree! 
Take a look at some of my silk wedding sarees ! Indian weddings mean Rich Traditional Garments!

This is the simplest silk saree I own (imagine!)

 Here is a snapshot of a brocade Saree blouse I made for myself! You can find a detailed Saree Blouse Drafting and Sewing Tutorial on Adithis Amma Sews.

Apart from Sarees, Salwar Kameez, which originated in the Northern India, is now worn throughout the country as it has a traditional yet contemporary look to it and is very comfortable to wear and move around! Salwar refers to the pants and kameez refers to the top
Patiala Salwar and Kurta I made for my sister
Simple Churidhaar (slim pants with gathers at ankle) and Kameez made for self
Anarkali is another style of kameez or top with an empire waist bodice with flared skirt. A tutorial on how to draft one using basic Shift Dress block is available HERE!

Fabrics used for traditional Indian clothing are amazing!

Starting with the Khadhi fabric, which had been made immortal by the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi! 

The term khādī (Devanagari: खादी, Nastaliq: کھادی) or khaddar (Devanagari: खद्दर, Nastaliq: کھدّر) means cotton. khādī is Indian handspun and hand-woven cloth.  It is a versatile fabric, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. 
Khadi is not just a cloth, it is a whole movement started by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The Khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India's economy. Mahatma Gandhi began promoting the spinning of khādī for rural self-employment and self-reliance (instead of using cloth manufactured industrially in Britain) in 1920s India thus making khadi an integral part and icon of the Swadeshi movement. The flag of India is only allowed to be made from this material, although in practice many flag manufacturers, especially those outside of India, ignore this rule. (Source: Wikipedia)
Indians used to wear a lot of cotton and cotton blends, because of the climate, of course. In the north, summers are very hot and winters - very cold; and in Chennai, where I live, summer and summery winters is all we get! So, synthetics are a big no-no! However, with air-conditioning everywhere,  more people  buy synthetics, but the love for pure simple cotton is still here! 

Apart from cotton, another fabric that has traditional roots in the country is silk! After all, it is the second largest producer of silk in the world (after China)! For more information on Silks in India Visit 

Silk Garments are worn by young and old in India. My daughter loves her Pattu Paavadais (traditional silk skirt and top), and my MIL loves her silk sarees! Men also wear silk - in the form of Dhotis (traditional garment in South India, which is wrapped around the waist and the legs) and Kurtas.

Even my daughter's Barbie doll has a silk saree-style gown:

Ghaghra Choli and Lehenga Cholis are a skirt and a top worn along with a shawl called 'Dupatta', and are quite popular as wedding outfits, not just for the bride! I made this one for my sister:

and this one for myself:

The Challenges

All this may give you an impression that Indian home sewers are spoiled! But this is not the case.

Knit fabric is the best example. India is one of the major manufacturers and exporters of knit fabrics, it is hard to get them locally, as they are mostly available for wholesale! When I see those awesome printed cotton knits on online fabric stores from the US or Europe, I drool over them and wish I could get them here, from where they may have actually come from! Tirupur, a textile hub and  an important trade center in India, is famous for its knit garment industry, yet there is no option for a retail buyer to purchase knit fabrics produced there, what an irony! In India, as far as I know, we do not have the luxury of buying fabrics online. But we do enjoy going to the market and searching for that specific color, texture, feel of fabric we have in mind! I spend hours shopping for fabric; my stash is always brimming, and storage space is always cramped!

Buying sewing machine and supplies is not that difficult, as we have sewing machine dealers all over the country, but the variety available to home sewers is limited. For example, we do not have access to sergers here in India. I had to buy an industrial 5-thread overlocker because nothing else was available!

Talking of notions, there are numerous craft stores, one for almost every residential area or at least in main market areas. However, they stock mostly used notions, and less specilized notions that an avid sewer can't live without, such as, say, invisible zippers, for example. I have to go to a wholesale market area and beg a wholesaler to sell me 10 to 12 zippers! However, lace and trims are found in plenty, and so are bead-worked accessories! 

As for commercial patterns, I can't find them here in India! I can buy them online, of course, but shipping costs are high! In 50s and 60s, and partly in 70s, there were a lot of craft magazines, mainly about needlework and sewing, which included free patterns. Look at this 1975 magazine I got from my aunt (who taught me sewing!)

Where have they all vanished, i was wondering! Then I realized that even amidst my family and friends from the current generation, there is hardly anyone who sews. Most of them prefer ready-made garments available a plenty in nearby stores, or having their clothes made by a neighborhood tailor! 

Tailors are in great demand in our country, and there is a serious shortage of skilled tailors! Gone are the days when you bought fabrics months before festivals like Deepavali and rushed to give them to your favourtie tailor before his order list gets filled up! I wish they make a come back! One reason is that my body shape does not fit a ready-to-wear average size (i am very petite and slim!), and second reason, which stands good even today, are  that design, color and fabric choices, or their combination, are just not the right kind of mix I am looking for! 

For my darling daughter, it has always been home-sewn wardrobe. The few RTW outfits she owns were all gifts from relatives! Here are couple of garments I have sewn for her:

Dhoti Pant / Cowl Pant - a tutorial on how to sew this can be seen here

Thank you, Marina, for having me here, and to all your readers for having the patience to read through such a long post!


  1. Wonderful information! Thank you for this post - particularly timely for me, since I just made a dress from a vintage silk saree (blogged here: ). I've been curious about the gold thread in my fabric; now I'm even more curious! I wonder how I would go about figuring out what the content of the thread is - any ideas?

    Very best of luck to you in your dream Lakshmi - your garments are beautiful!

    And welcome home Marina :)

  2. Very informative post from your guest blogger. What a beautiful little young lady. Best of luck Lakshmi!

  3. What a wonderful and very interesting account of what it is like to be a home sewist in India. I very much enjoyed reading this post and looking at the wonderful pictures of the beautiful clothing that Lakshmi has made. Many thanks.

  4. Wonderful post and terrific insight into sewing in India. It's one of my favourite countries - the colour, the people and the culture is spectacular. It's great to "meet" a sewer from there.

  5. Thanks Maria, for having this guest post over here. i have informed my readers about the same. Looking forward to receiving your guest post soon to be featured on Adithis Amma Sews

    Thanks Sew Indigo, Eugenia, Rosie,Jily Be for the compliments. Hope to see you all over @ Adithis Amma Sews

    I have a month long celebration of skirts in September called Sew Skirt September, where starting from basic skirt draft, we shall delve deeper into making of skirts, different styles, what suits whom and so on and so forth, please do join in!

    Adithi's Amma AKA Lakshmi from Adithis Amma Sews

  6. Thanks Marina and Lakshmi, I enjoyed reading the article and the notes and I have a clearer image of the things I'm surrounded with now!I love the embroidery pics and I had lots of fun myself cutting and stitching small metal chains!

  7. Thanks for the guest post. I am an American living in India and a sewer as well. During my yearly trip home I stock up US on Patterns-patterns-patterns, knits, and even denim. When I go to my favorite hole in the wall notions shop, people ask me "where my boutique" is, because the idea of a home sewer is very odd to them.
    I can't wait to check out and sew my own saree blouse!! thanks! :)

  8. Thanks for the post. It was very interesting and informative. Loved the pictures of the beautiful detailing in the fabric and of course your little girl is adorable!

  9. What a fantastic post! It took me ages to read it but it was worth it!

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  11. I sympathize with you entirely ! As an avid sewist in India , I spend a lot of time looking at commercial sewing pattern sites and flickr groups for ideas , but alas, I can only try to reproduce some of the beautiful outfits using my imagination and whatever sewing skills I have. Sewing patterns cannot be bought in India , for some reason. Nor can most modern sewing machine models, although Bernina has dealers now in India for the past 10 years but seem to be charging excessively high prices, even higher than the equivalent dollar price. You are right in observing that hardly anyone seems to sew at home. But on the bright side , there are any number of talented professional tailors and their services are comparatively cheap. It is indeed sometimes frustrating not to be able to buy nice buttons, laces and ribbons , or even specialty items tike metal zips for jeans for particular project, let alone 'fancy ' stuff like fusible appliqué webbing or rotary cutters. I even had trouble finding even weave fabric or Aida as it is known in western countries for a cross-stitch project. Seems no-one even cross-stitches anymore. There, now I've grumbled to my heart's content !

  12. Thanks for the post. It was very interesting and informative.

  13. Hi All..
    I live in Mumbai and just bought myself a husqvarna and trying to find sewing supplies online. Sewing supplies are in plenty usually in the old market areas of any city. And especially for deepa I found I ordered a few things and they fedex ed the same within couple of days.

    As for patterns i cant find them either .. i think there was a sudden dip in hobbyists due to the amount of change we have gone through economically and otherwise.

    Now i do see quiet a few bernina and husqvarna owners ..
    Good luck !!

  14. Best prices for sewing machine.. no look back..

  15. I am searching much similar Collections sarees ,  I thank you for the detailed information about this.


  16. Loved reading the article. Being from India can relate to all that is told here.

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  20. Nice blog! You have awesome and trendy salwar suits for kids Thanks for the great post

  21. Nice post...I look forward to reading more, and getting a more active part in the talks here, whilst picking up some knowledge as well..

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