From the Streets of India to Your Loom

Traditional Indian saris are the kinds of garments that capture the imagination. While they’re fairly simple in theory—just long rectangles of fabric—they’re often woven out of brightly colored fine silks in intricate designs, and one sari can be styled in dozens of ways for different effects. Best of all for weavers, old saris make excellent yarn.

When saris get stained or worn out, they are often traded for cooking utensils sold, and recycled into new accessories and clothing, and more and more of these recycled saris are finding their way into the hands of weavers. Take the gorgeous recycled sari silk yarns offered by Treenway Silks. The first time I saw these yarns I fell head over heels in love with them. They’re bright, beautiful, and made from scrumptious silk—what’s not to love?

India silk

Jewel Bag by Whitney Dorband from Easy Weaving with Little Looms 2018.

The recycled sari silk makes a delightful weft yarn. Handspun in India from sari silk fibers, the yarn’s jewel tones twist onto one another throughout to create stunning color combinations, and little bits of the fiber stick out to give the yarn a one-of-a-kind texture. In her Jewel Bag project for the 2018 issue of Easy Weaving with Little Looms, weaver Whitney Dorband paired this yarn with bright blue Jorie II silk from Treenway. The resulting clutch is gorgeous. The Jorie II is a thin enough warp to let the sari silk yarn shine through, so you can really see the beautiful color changes and the unique texture of the handspun silk.

A bit of macramé at the end gives the purse a bit of extra flair, although simply weaving a longer piece of fabric and using that as the flap would be lovely as well. The macramé might make the bag appear delicate, but it’s actually quite sturdy and will hold up to plenty of use. Add a strap—I think a kumihimo braid using the Jorie II would look fabulous—and you’ve got yourself a perfect little bag for daily use. Not a fan of blue? Treenway offers a dyeing service with over 100 different colors, so you can choose the perfect color for your project.

India silk

Beverly Weaver’s Hit and Miss Runner from the January/February 2014 issue of Handwoven uses Treenway Silks’s recycled sari ribbon as weft.

Treenway also carries a fabulous sari silk ribbon yarn that is made of strips of saris sewn together. Each put-up is a unique rainbow of sari silks. Treated like a rag yarn, the sari silk ribbon makes for some spectacular weaving. In the January/February 2014 Handwoven, Beverly Weaver used it to create her show-stopping “Hit and Miss Runner,” and I imagine it would make beautiful placemats, pillow covers, or fabric for a vest or jacket.

My favorite part about Treenway Silks’s line of recycled sari silk yarns, though, is that they all come from a women’s co-op in India. Along with keeping old saris out of landfills, the purchase of these yarns (and fibers and strips) provides employment and fair wages. How great is that?

So there you have it: saris are completely magical garments. They start out life as 9 or so yards of fabric that can be wrapped and draped in dozens of ways and then, when they’re worn out, they’re recycled into yarn that can be turned into something new and equally wonderful.

Happy Weaving,

This post is sponsored by Treenway Silks.

Featured Image: Close-up of Whitney Dorband’s Jewel Bag from Easy Weaving with Little Looms 2018.

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  1. Kantu M at 10:21 pm May 16, 2018

    I read your article From The Streets of India with interest. Being Indian, and having lived in India, not only in the cities but also rurally, I was astounded about your “landfill “ comment. India has only recently gone tech and “mordernised “ . Don’t believe everything you hear advertised. There are still some rural areas where saris, western suits, all kinds of clothing are bartered for cooking utensils. I remember the ladies coming to apartment buildings, going to each apartment, and bartering clothes for utensils. My mother and all our family and everyone we knew did it. The clothes were taken back to villages and resold to be worn as new clothes. In the beginning it used to stainless steel. And then it came down to aluminum utensils. In fact, I still have some my mother gave me. If the clothes are not sold, the become covers for mattresses and comforters and quilts. The conversion to comforters and quilts for decor, wall hangings, etc is a cottage industry. And is mostly conducted by nomadic people. Even sold on the stores and streets of Delhi, Mumbai. Anything that can be repaired is repaired. Be it radios,phones, computers, cars or machines. If not the individual parts are reused. Used books and magazines are resold. That’s how I started my library. Landfills are for those who don’t repair and reuse and recycle.

    • Tamara Schmiege at 9:02 am May 17, 2018

      Dear Kantu, Thank you for your thoughtful comment. We have edited this post based on your feedback. Thank you for sending this!

    • Christina G at 9:04 am May 17, 2018

      Thank you so much for this information and your stories–you are absolutely right that I had no idea and believed what I’d read elsewhere. I’ve updated the text to show that the sari yarns are just one part of the tradition of recycling in India. Thank you again for educating me and helping us to make this blog better!

  2. Kantu M at 11:49 am May 18, 2018

    Tamara and Christine,

    Thank you so much for listening. I really do appreciate it. So many don’t listen. I am now inspired to start cutting up my silk saris to use as weft in my weaving!

    On another aspect, I do love this site. There is so much useful information. And I have learned A LOT!

    Thank you.

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