Sharing Treasures & Stories

One of the hallmarks of PieceWork is providing a forum for our readers to share their textile treasures and stories with others. The November/December issue provides a perfect example. Here’s an excerpt:

My Grandmother’s Silk Wedding Saree

One rarely thinks of cataloging one’s personal textile collection. The history of what is handed down over generations is usually committed to memory. And in my case, I always thought, “Mummy will be there to fill in the gaps.” However, after losing my mother, Mrs. K. S. Jayalakshmy, I have been reviewing my memory to pick out information. One result of that memory search is this article about my maternal grandmother’s wedding saree.

Chitra Balasubramaniam’s grandmother’s wedding saree. Woven. Silk, gold (zari) threads. Banaras, India. Circa 1930. All photos by Chitra Balasubramaniam.

Chitra Balasubramaniam’s grandmother’s wedding saree. Woven. Silk, gold (zari) threads. Banaras, India. Circa 1930.
All photos by Chitra Balasubramaniam.

The saree, purchased for my grandmother’s wedding, is a classic Banarasi saree (Banaras pattu in Tamil), woven in Banaras (also called Varanasi), which is about 1,315 miles (2,116 km) by road from Delhi. My grandmother lived in Chittur, a village near Kerala’s Palakkad District in southwest India, nearly 1,386 miles (2,230 km) from Banaras.

The center for silk saree weaving in the south of India is Kanchipuram, about 348 miles (560 km) northwest of Kerala. In the villages of Kerala in my grandmother’s day, it was the custom to order wedding sarees from Banaras. (Decades later, on the other hand, for my mother’s wedding from the same village, the sarees came from Kanchipuram.) Regardless of a saree’s origin, weddings were grand affairs, lasting six or more days.

My grandmother’s saree, 9 yards (8.2 m) in length, the traditional measurement, is a gorgeous purple handspun indigenous silk woven with gold (zari) threads. Traditional konia, areas of paisley patterning, the hallmark of the Banaras saree, adorn the corners. The weaving would have been done on the traditional jala loom, the predecessor to punch-card jacquard looms.

Her saree had an elaborate pallav (decorated end), but it had been neatly cut off. My mother had used a small piece of the pallav to make a tiny skirt or ghaghra for me when I was young.

I wish I had paid better attention to my mother’s stories about Grandmother’s saree, especially to the details—dates, people, places, and more. I am grateful, however, for this opportunity to present it.
—Chitra Balasubramaniam

Read Chitra’s entire article and find out what happened to her skirt in the November/December issue.

This issue is all about silk; Chitra’s article is just one of seven articles on this magnificent fiber. And there are seven projects included—each using various forms of silk. This issue really is a silk lover’s dream.

—Jeane Hutchins


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