The Sari

Craft, Handloom, Art

The Sari

Craft Revival Trust


An un-stitched length of woven cotton and/or silk, draped around the body, traditionally as the dominant garment of Indian women. (plural: saris, sarees)

The unstitched draped sari is worn, with few exceptions, across the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. Amazingly, each geographical and cultural area has, not only specific traditions of weaving the sari as well as motifs and designs, but also a particular manner in which the sari is draped. The fall of the sari and the manner in which the pallu or end-piece is draped varies dramatically from area to area. Perhaps it is the versatility of this unstitched textile that has allowed women to continue to wear it through centuries, adapting it to their requirements, needs, and traditions.

The origins of the sari are obscure; however, ‘we know that Indians were wearing lengths of un-sewn cloth draped around their bodies long before tailored clothes arrived. One of the earliest depictions of a sari-like drape covering the entire body dates back to about 100 BC. A north Indian terracotta (Shunga period c. 200-50 BC) depicts a woman wearing a sari wound tightly around her body…’ (Lynton & Singh, 1995: p. 10).

Saris frequently derive their name from the area/region where the tradition of weaving that particular kind of sari originated.

  • Dimensions: A length of cloth measuring 4 to 8 metres X 120 cm OR 13 to 26 feet X 4 feet
  • Structure: The sari, though an un-stitched piece of cloth, is structurally defined into three areas:
    1. FIELD (body)
    2. Longitudinal BORDERS (paad/ paar/ kinara)
    3. ENDPIECE (pallu / pallav /anchal)


  • Buti/butti: Small, usually floral motif, created as a repeat against a plain ground. Large,

  • Complementary Threads/Elements: Threads, usually of a contrasting colour, woven into a textile to create a pattern. Unlike supplementary threads, they are an integral part of the weave and their removal damages and weakens the fabric.

  • Discontinuous weft: A weft thread that does not extend the full length of the textile. Usually of a contrasting colour to the ground threads (if supplementary) or to surrounding weft threads (if tapestry-woven).

  • Figured Fabric: A textile in which the patterning is woven into the cloth, rather than painted, printed, dyed, or embroidered. (Nowadays, jacquard looms are used to create figured fabrics; earlier they were made with traditional drawlooms.)

  • Ikat: A weaving process where warp or weft threads are resist-dyed before weaving to a programmed pattern.

  • Double Ikat: A weaving process where warp and weft threads are resist-dyed before weaving to a programmed patterns.

  • Interlocked weft: Technique that causes two or three ‘interlocked’ weft threads woven in the same shed. Technically, the sari field weft is shuttled across the entire span of the of the warp threads; it then catches the border weft thread, pulling it into place. The resulting look is that of a tapestry – discontinuous weave with interlocked wefts – but the process is different (and less time-consuming).

  • Jacquard: A punch-card pattern-selecting device for handlooms and powerlooms. It was refined and patented by M. Jacquard in 1804.) Enhances speed and ease of use as compared to the traditional drawboys, which it replaced.

  • Jamdani: Fine, transparent cotton muslin, with discontinuous supplementary-weft motifs woven in heavier cotton threads.

  • Minakari: Inlay or enamelling. (IN context of textiles/saris: Supplementary coloured silks woven onto a golden ground)

  • Muslin: Fine, sheer, often transparent cotton fabric, usually with high thread counts, from about 150-300.

  • Resist Dyeing: Any form of dyeing where the dyestuff is prevented from adhering to selected areas of the thread or woven textile. (Common resist-dyeing techniques: Ikat, Batik, Tie-dye)

  • Supplementary warp or weft: Supplementary threads are those added to a textile that already has one set of warp and weft threads. If supplementary threads are removed from a woven textile, the remaining fabric will still be complete.

  • Shuttle: A boat-shaped device containing a supply of weft thread on a spool. It travels through the shed from one side of the loom to the other, propelled either by a weaver’s hand or a mechanical fly-arm.

  • Silk: Natural fibre produced by silkworms.

  • Tapestry Weaving: Weaves in which the warp is continuous but the weft threads forming the design are not. Instead they either interlock around with other weft threads or wrap around a warp thread.

  • Tili/Tilli: Straw; Sliver of bamboo used as a needle to weave in supplementary-weft patterns (of jamdani muslins)

  • Warp: Set of parallel threads mounted on a loom’s frame, kept in supply on a warp beam. (The length of the warp determines the overall length of the woven cloth coming off the loom.)

  • Weft: A set of threads that run at right angles to the warp, inter-working with them to create various kinds of weaves (plain, twill, etc.)

  • Zari: Gold-wrapped thread, usually a core cotton or silk thread, around which is wound fine, flattened gilded silver wire.

(Sourced from Lynton & Singh, 1995: p. 190-198.)

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