We designed our first 6-string Sari Bead Necklace back in 2012 as a means of utilizing the beautiful remnants of sari fabric left over from what was cut for our Kantha Sari Scarves and Shawls. Since then, this style has evolved into many iterations of the same idea: a zero waste policy that challenges us to use every last piece of fabric from the vintage saris we source.
Given below are the steps involved in making of these necklaces.
Our necklaces begin with a sari. The sari is made, then bought and worn by a woman somewhere in India. One day a sari-trader knocks on the door of the woman and asks if she has any saris to sell or trade. The sari passes to the hands of the sari-trader, who then passes it to another and finally another, and sometime later, the sari finds itself in New Delhi.
This is where I come in. Every few months, I make a textile pilgrimage to our sari supplier, Mini, who lives above her warehouse filled with vintage saris and bits of fabric in North Delhi. Mini and her husband will first feed me a delicious Gujarati meal of mutton soup and chicken curry, followed by the sweetest, milkiest chai ever made. We then get into the serious business of buying and selling saris. Bundles of saris are brought into the room and me, sipping my chai, look through them, piece by piece. Those that attract the eye with colour and pattern, or soothe the hand with their texture, go to one side. All others are returned to Mini. To give you an idea of numbers, when I was last there in August, I selected 1,200 vintage, silk saris in one such session.
The saris are brought back to our studio where they are cleaned and carefully checked for all defects. Working with pre-loved textiles takes an inordinate amount of time in terms of quality control. Where possible, we cut the saris into pieces sized to make our Kantha Scarves and Shawls. If a section of sari has too many defects to make into these larger Kantha products, it will be added to a huge mountain of sari remnants destined for other lives.
When this sari remnant mountain looks ready to topple, or when we’re low in necklace stock, we sort through the pieces of fabric, and this is where the work flow begins for the necklaces.
Larger pieces of fabric, such as full saris and half saris, are selected for our statement necklaces - these are the styles (like the 7, 12 and 20+ String Beaded Necklaces) that use up much more fabric.
Smaller pieces of fabric with a minimum of half a meter in length are selected for the other styles of necklaces (like the 1 and 6 String Beaded Necklaces, the Jhumka Necklaces and the Sari String Necklaces).
We look for bright colours, interesting prints, neutrals and jewel tones. Sometimes we make a necklace from the fabric of one sari, often we mix fabrics from two saris into one necklace. The selected fabrics are kept aside, in separate piles for each style.
In old Johnny Walker Whisky boxes, which are the perfect size, we store hundreds of spools of thread in bright colours. Once the fabric has been selected, we open up these boxes and, fabric-bundle by fabric-bundle, match fabric and thread. Sometimes we choose contrasting thread colours which will add a highlight to the sari fabric; sometimes we choose a complementary thread colour which will enhance the colours of the fabric. The spool is twisted into the fabric and put aside.
Now the scraps of fabric need to be prepared. Each scrap is opened up and ironed flat. Working on the bias (the diagonal of the fabric, which makes it more pliable and a better fit around the beads), the fabric is folded, ironed and folded again. By layering the fabric we give it extra strength and make the silk more durable. It is then cut into narrow strips comprising four layers of fabric which are folded along one side.
Next, these neatly ironed strips of sari fabric go to the sewing machine, where they are sewn along the open edge into tubes. For all the Beaded Necklaces, the tubes need to be wide enough to allow the beads to be fed into them. For the Sari String Necklaces (which are made exclusively from the sari fabric), the tubes are much smaller and tighter.
Now comes one of the more time-consuming jobs - turning the tubes inside out so the seam is inside. This is particularly difficult for the much tighter Sari String Necklaces tubes.
The fabric is now ready to be filled with the sheesham wood prayer beads. One end of the tube is twisted and hand-finished with stitches that close it and this end is secured in place, usually tied to a sewing machine. By holding it in place, it is easier to feed the beads into the tube until it’s full. Once filled with beads, the hand-stitching begins. With a regular sewing needle and the thread selected back in Step Five, our artisans stitch each bead into place. The thread is wrapped several times around the fabric at the end of each bead, then pulled through the centre of the bead to the other side where it is wrapped again. This not only holds the beads in place, but this small detail of colour and hand-finishing elevates the necklace to a little work of art. Once the tube is complete, the other end is twisted and hand-stitched to close it. Here we finish our 1-String Beaded Necklaces, by stitching the two ends of this long string together. We also finish our Jhumka Necklaces, by adding the vintage jhumka (metal tassels made and used by India’s tribal Banjara community) and stitching the ends together.
At this stage we now have dozens of strings of sari fabric - beaded ones for our Beaded Necklaces and tight tubes for our Sari String Necklaces. These need now to be positioned in place. On a large work table, the strings are layered according to whichever style we’re making. This is a very important step, to make sure the necklace will hang around the neck with each string sitting perfectly, just where it’s supposed to. The ends of the strings are pinned in place and so begin the most laborious task - the finishing.
Finishing each necklace involves hand-stitching the ends of the strings together, to maintain their positioning, and then completing the necklace by sewing the ties in place. The completed pieces now sit in a basket in our workshop, waiting to be steam ironed, which will help to flatten them out.
The necklaces are then quality checked and any defected pieces are returned for re-work, while the approved pieces are photographed and sold to you!
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