A few months ago I had the pleasure of visiting a friend in India and in addition to the expected fabric buying frenzy, this trip was a feast for the eyes.
If you’re like me, one of the clichés that comes to your mind when you hear “India” is a multitude of colorful fabrics. It is a cliché for a very good reason : Sarees and Shalwar kameez of all colors brighten up the streets of polluted major cities and small villages alike.
Hand block printed fabric
During a trip to Jaipur, a city renowned for its hand-printed fabrics, I had the chance to see craftsmen in action. Here are some pictures :
You can see, at the top of the picture, the tray that contains the golden paint.
The artisan dips his block in the tray and press it onto the fabric in order to print the pattern.
After a first pass with the golden paint and a stamp block, they do a second one over it with another block and a different color to complete the pattern.
Printed fabrics hung out to dry in open air. The white fabric is not paint but the result of a previous dyeing with the “tie and dye” technique.
Buying fabric in India
During my trip to India, I went on a fabric shopping spree. From the outdoor markets to the chic district shops, I bought fabric everywhere ! And came back with 70 meters (over 76 yards) of cotton, crepe, georgette, silk and wool. Yes, I had planned an additional empty suitcase for the return trip from the beginning. 😉
I didn’t buy any saree. I would have never worn them and cutting in these beautiful 6 meters pieces would have made my heart hurt. I hardly bought fabric by the yard either… And now you’re wondering how I managed to bring back 70 meters of Indian fabrics, right?
Well, in India fabric is very commonly (mainly actually) sold in precut bundles to sew Salwar Kameez ensembles.
some of the Indian fabrics I brought back
This bundles are called “suits”, they include three coordinating fabrics to make a long Indian tunic (kameez), pants (salwar) and a scarf (dupatta). The edges of the scarf are usually finished unless you purchased your “suit” at the market, in which case you may need to finish the edges.
A Salwar Kameez bundle is about 4.5 to 5 meters (5 to 5.5 yards) of fabric (excluding the dupatta).
Indian fabric “suit” from Nalli silk sarees
Buying fabric at Indian markets
At markets, and almost everywhere in India, be prepared to bargain. As a tourist, you’ll most probably be announced a price 2-3 times higher than the regular price. I was in company of Indian friends so I mostly paid regular prices (150 to 250 rupees for a suit bundle).
I was in India in December and on markets I have seen almost only synthetic fabrics, from average to poor quality. I’ve been told that in summer I would have been able to find some pretty cottons.
Indian market in Delhi (no it’s not fabric ^^)
Buying fabric at high end shops
In the high end shops (Nalli Silk Sarees, Kilol …) prices are displayed. There are high-quality fabrics (I still drool thinking about the beautiful silks) and prices can get very, very high. You will not find “suit” bundles for less than 500 rupees and expect in most cases a average price of 800 to 2000 rupees per “suit”. And much much more expensive (5000-10000 rupees) if you want very high quality fabric. As a reference, the the wool suits that I bought (very fine quality) were around 2000-2500 rupees.
Red and black Indian fabric from a Nalli Silk Sarees shop
Indian fabric from a Kilol shop
So here I am now with my beautiful fabrics. And over a year later I still haven’t made a big dent in my “Indian” stash (that sounds weird !). Just a tiny one ! I need more time to sew… In fact I need more time for everything and I think I’m not the only one !