My adventure into sari wearing came a little sooner than I expected. The ladies at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Velore, Tamil Nadu, India were going to put on the program for church service March 8, 2008 to celebrate International Women’s Day.
On March 1, I was given a little over six meters of beautiful azure blue satin cloth and told to have a sari made by next week since all the ladies were going to be wearing these blue saris for church.
I have one week to get this garment made and find someone to help me put it on. The sari is the universal female attire for India.
Each region of this large country wraps the sari just a little differently but the most popular and widely used style is the Nivi.
The sari consists of a choli and eighteen feet or more length of fabric. The choli or blouse is a short sleeve, skin tight, midriff baring affair with a hook closure in the front.
The skirt fabric, from 12-27 feet, often has an elaborately printed border which is carefully draped to expose and show off the design. Fortunately, my sari is all one color with no border to worry about.
Monday morning, I enlist the help of Preeta my cook. Her face lights up when she sees the fabric and hears my request.
Immediately she starts draping the fabric around my body. Soon I am swathed in blue with about six inches of white leg exposed.
Preeta shakes her head. This will not do, the sari is either too short or I am too tall. I’m discouraged; maybe this won’t work after all. I decide to forge ahead anyway.
“Preeta, we are going to the tailor to get this thing made,” I tell her. I know of a tailor in town not too far away but the only speak Tamil so I will need Preeta along to help translate.
Preeta and I make our way to the bus stand where for two rupees (five cents) apiece we take a short ride into town to Sonia Tailors.
Climbing the narrow stairway up three flights and ducking under lining fabric that is drying on rope strung across the hall, we enter into the tiny cubicle that is the tailor shop.
Two ladies working on Singer sewing machines smile as we enter. The owner is cutting fabric to make a choli on his wooden work table. Preeta explains in Tamil that I need a sari made by Friday.
The tailor examines the cloth, takes out his tape to measure the fabric and with a few snips of his giant shears cuts off the required amount for a choli.
Taking my measurements, he assures Preeta that he can have this made by Thursday late afternoon.
Friday morning Preeta arrives with the finished sari. We are both excited to see how it will look. I go to put on the choli and know that it is well fitting when I can barely breathe or fasten the hooks.
A slip with a drawstring waist is usually worn under the sari since you need some kind of waistband to tuck in the pleats and excess material as you wrap it around your body.
I come downstairs in my tight choli ready for Preeta’s magic. This satin material is slippery, and it takes a few tries to get the pleats straight and the pallu long enough.
The pallu is the part of the sari that is draped over the left shoulder and hangs down the back. Finally, she is satisfied.
I look in the mirror and am instantly transformed into an Indian princess. Well, I won’t go quite that far but I do look very authentic.
Preeta just beams; she is so happy that I am going to be wearing this for church. Of course, now I need to find someone that can put it on me for Sabbath morning.
I make a phone call to Dr. Minnie who teaches Bio Chemistry to the medical students and also lives on this campus. “I’d love to dress you Sabbath morning,” she says.
The next morning, I arrive at her house early to give her plenty of time to drape the sari. I also bring several large safety pins.
It takes Minnie nearly twenty minutes to finish the operation to her satisfaction. I feel so elegant.
The nurses, medical students and ladies at the church were so excited at seeing me in the sari and I really felt like part of the group singing with the other blue sari-clad ladies for Women’s Day.
By Julie McGhee