‘There should be a culture and story behind the weaving and dyeing of sarees,” Seema Shah

Seema in a beautiful Jamdani

I have known Seema for years now. When I first met her, I noticed the beautiful Katha Silk Saree that she was wearing. “Wow, such unique work. Where wear did you pick this saree from?” Seema loves wearing traditional sarees and whenever I meet her, I admire the saree she’s wearing – the colour, the weave, the texture. Being a saree lover myself, I decided to talk to Seema about her saree collection and more.

Tell us about your love affair with saree?

I would say that it started with wearing sarees occasionally during my college days. Those were of course borrowed from mom. Got married soon after college and simultaneously started working for Fab India. This series of events and gradual transformation from wearing sarees occasionally to regularly at work started my love affair with sarees. As a manager with Fabindia, I would wear a different saree every day.  There was a time when customers and other people would visit Fabindia store just to check out the saree I was wearing. My colleagues and other people would do the same whenever I visited head office.

I worked with Ritukumar and Good Earth as well and the love for continued as all these brands support craft.  My journey to different brands brought more knowledge and the passion continues. 

I love traditional sarees with different weaves and different dyes. There should be a cultural story behind the weaving and dyeing of sarees. As these sarees are completely handwoven you may find the weave or the dye uneven at times. But that’s the beauty of these sarees. That’s what makes them unique!

What are the different types of traditional sarees you have?

In a Sharnachari

You name a saree, and I would not disappoint you. I have sarees from all regions and some of them were specially woven for me by weavers which came in the market later after weavers were satisfied that I loved those sarees. In fact, I also keep distributing sarees to my friends and loved ones. So, my collection keeps depleting and replenishing.

 Being a Bengali, I have a good collection of Jamdani and Katha sarees. In addition, I have banarasi, kalamkari, Maheshwari, Chanderi, Ajrakh, Bandini, Bhagalpuri, Tussar and others which I have picked from weavers. Also Banarsi is one weave I love,. 

Being connected to Gujarat through marriage I also have some sarees, Patola, which I inherited from my mother-in-law and they are very close to my heart. My mother has passed on her beautiful Baluchari to me. 

Tell us more about beautiful Ajrakh sarees

Ajrakh is a treasure. It is rich, it is old. Historians have associated it with Harappan civilization which means over 3000 years old treasure. The art of Ajrakh is till today practiced in the areas of Kutch and Sindh. It is double sided block printing. Ajrakh fabric or sarees are made in traditional ways using natural dyes. Artisans use natural dyes to obtain various colours like iron for black, pomegranate for red while making Ajrakh. Indigo is a primary and a conspicuous colour in Ajrakh sarees and fabric.

It takes days to make an Ajrakh saree. It is said that after one layer of printing is done the saree is kept aside for that day to dry – ‘aj rakh’ or keep it today. Next day a fresh set of blocks are printed on the dried blocks and this continues for 17 days. Polishing the saree and finishing it takes a few more days. When you think about the time and effort an artisan puts in making one saree you know they are priceless. Yet what annoys me is people complaining about the price of these beautiful sarees and opting for machine printed fabrics.

 Experiences that you have encountered while buying sarees

Once I went to a weaver in a village close to Jodhpur to buy block printed sarees. It was his workshop, and the blocks were lying around. I asked him if he had metal blocks. His eyes lit up in joy, “Madam aap ko pata hai,” he said smiling. He then took me to a room which was full of metal blocks of different shapes and sizes. ‘Nobody makes these blocks now’ he said, ‘most people don’t even know that originally metal blocks were used for block printing.’

The block prints that we see now are usually done using wooden blocks and they are not as fine and sharp as those printed with metal blocks.

What about chiffon and georgette saree? What do you think about cocktail sarees?

I am more a traditional saree person, though I feel great that women have started wearing sarees for cocktails and dinners. But why can’t we wear a chanderi instead of chiffon? Chanderi or organza sarees are light and transparent and come in lovely shades. Just team them up with a sexy blouse and wear a long earing.

What about maintaining sarees?

To increase the longevity of sarees you need to take them out of the wardrobe occasionally and leave them in the sun for a while. Change the folds of the saree and put them back in the wardrobe after they have cooled. Put neem leaves between the folds, that will keep the pests at bay.

Ladies in saree. Seema in a Kalamkari

Any last word for saree lovers

To all women, whenever you wear a saree, you become one of the most beautiful women in the world. That’s the magic of saree. Sarees can be worn on all occasions.  It is one of the most graceful attire that accentuates the beauty of Indian women. Try wearing sarees more often to work, believe me, it doesn’t take long to drape it. It is just a matter of getting used to wearing it. Once you get you used to wearing sarees you can be comfortable in them for the entire day. And remember, when you buy and wear traditional sarees you are supporting a poor weaver in some remote village. 

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