The Red Sari

rs1rs2rs3rs4Then when the lamps were lit, I should put on my red dress and it would be thin as a veil, and would wind about my body, and billow out as I came into the room, pirouetting. It would make a flower shape as I sank down, in the middle of the room, on a gilt chair. The Waves, Virginia Woolf.

The Red Sari,  Sunita Reclining/Matthew Smith (early 1930s).

The 1930s features: Sleeveless blouse and the sari wrapped twice to give the three tier effect below waist.


sd1In an interview, he recognized the centrality of these forms to his work: “In the anatomy of these gigantic plants I found the essence of calligraphy. Everything that I have painted since then — a city like Rawalpindi, buildings, a forest, a boat, a table or a chair, a man, a mother and child, or a woman—has been based on calligraphy, which in itself issues from the structure of the cactus.” The transition is evi­dent in works such as Genesis: Lady amidst Mountain Cacti (ca. 1957) ,  in which the woman’s face and limbs are painted in a realist manner but the landscape around her and her sari have been fractured into thorny, angular planes. [X]

The Pakistani painter Sadequain on the calligraphic roots of his paintings and the recurrence of cacti in his work. This work is Lady Amidst Mountain Cacti (~1957).

Notes: I am very uncertain about the notes for this painting – and it’s not the first time I have found auction notes suspect –  looks less like Hestia with a lamp and more like a lady in a sari (albeit kind of reversed) with a batua (like a reticule).

The Kebaya Post

w1 w2 w3Now and then I like to look at fashions east of India. Especially the kain-kebaya which you can still spot in everyday use.

I spotted an Indonesian book of fashion illustrations (Cantik Elegan dengan Kebaya XL aka  Beautiful and Elegant in Kebaya XL) on my travels. It has a 100 odd illustrations of kain-kebaya for larger women (apparently to break away from the sarong-kebayas are for slender Singapore Girl kind of feeling). The illustrated lady looks pretty cool and there are numerous patterns and vivid colours in there – I always miss colours when in Australia. Kind of a mix of indigenous Indonesian and Islamic influences

The pics are not the best, I only had my phone on me.

The Pallu Drape Post


Though in our times the fashion is to leave the pallu (the loose end of the sari) largely unsecured,  historically there were several ways of securing or draping the pallu of a nivi sari.

In the 1930s-1940s when the nivi style was fairly new amongst the many modes of doing so were the kinds shown in these paper dolls.

From the left: 1) the loosely draped over the shoulder style (more common in South India) – sometimes the pallu would be loosely secured at the waist much like for a nine yard sari 2) the pinned to the shoulder with a brooch and then draped over the head style, more common in Bengal and Western India 3) similar to style 1 but with possibly a brooch at the shoulder and something like a belt – though this style doesn’t always require the drape over the shoulder and 4) the loose end of the sari tucked in at the waist (common in vintage Tamil photographs and also a bit of a 1950s thing)

The Fashion Illustration Post

Paul Louis de Giafferri’s pochoir prints which cover a number of historical costumes, including India (~1925).   Some are accurate and probably based on photographs of India at the time, some are a bit whimsical and fanciful and European in execution.  E.g. No 11 in pic 2 looks nothing like Indian fashions of 1925 or antiquity yet wouldn’t be out of place on an Indian runway today. And of course I love some of the blouses in pic 3.

Images via bananastrudel.

The Cartoon Post

From SD Phadnis’ cartoons of the 1950s and 1960s.

The lady in pic 2 with that excellent dog is a woman after my own heart.

Also I have a sudden desire to do something anything in white shoes and a sari.

And of course one totally needs a sari with cats on it!

A Birthday


My grandmother died not too long back, she would have been 88 today.  The studio pic is of her as a wee thing in about 1930-she was the eldest child so this must have been a special trip. She looks pretty good all decked up in a pavadai, loose “chattai” and bits and bobs. I like that ribbon touch the best but that’s just me, I love ribbons.

Later in life – and I don’t have a picture handy –  she was a slim 5’6’ who always wore a nine yard sari even as her peers abandoned it. She also  retained her two nose studs. Her abundant hair was always oiled and plaited, her person always neat and elegant. She was a calm and methodical worker, not the kind who cooked up a feast but the kind who would make two faultless dishes. Like many Tamil women of her age she had been instructed in music and was good at it.

Though we had a fractious relationship at times – she was strict and serious, I carefree and unruly – her influence on me in matters aesthetic is very strong. Most of all my fascination with the 30s-50s is thanks to my grandparents accounts of the times.

My grandmother gave me this photo as a keepsake when I was 21, she trusted me to preserve it and take joy in it. It’s a little battered with all my moves but still intact. In a way it was the first piece on my vintage inspiration board.

My personal journal has a lot of entries on my grandmother. When she died I found that she had kept copies of those pieces. To be remembered in a public post, to know that this first photograph of hers is still around, would make her happy. So here it is!