The Origins & Story of Silk Saris

Oct 10, 2023

What is a sik sari?

 

According to the Oxford dictionary, a sari, or saree (don’t worry, we’ll get to that later), is: 

A garment consisting of a length of cotton or silk elaborately draped around the body, traditionally worn by women from South Asia.

Whereas a fashion-forward fondness of sarees is shared across South Asia, even having been reflected in western culture of late, the sari is popular, in fact, ubiquitous in India. It can be worn as a sari dress, a sari wrap skirt, or in its most elegant form, as a traditional Indian wedding saree. In fact, there are more than 80 ways to style a sari, and if that wasn’t enough, did you know that there are more than 100 types of sari fabric in India alone? Historically, more colorful designs with more detailed embroidery are indicative of a higher economic and social status. While silk is the most coveted and costly, woven cotton was the original sari fabric, and more recently synthetic blends like polyester have become popularized as a result of their being comparatively inexpensive. As this sari style of dress transcends physical borders, cultural boundaries, and a multitude of fabrics, we are going to focus on the Indian saree, specifically the silk Indian sari, for the remainder of this post. 

 

Where does sari silk come from?

As you may already know, silk is an extremely delicate and luxurious textile that is produced by a industrious insect called a silkworm and then spun into silk fabric. There are only four types of silkworms, otherwise known as “bombyx mori,” in the world of which India has all four; mugi, eri, tasar, & mulberry. What do silkworms eat? Silkworms are even pickier than pandas and eat only mulberry leaves. In fact, if their diet varies at all they will die, and mulberry is hard to come by in the colder months. It is thanks to silkworms that India has Chandari silk saris, Banarasi silk saris, Assam silk sarees, and Sambalpuri silk sarees amongst many others, however, the popularization of recycled sari silk and synthetic saris is likely thanks to the picky eating habits of the silkworm.

 

What is recycled sari silk?

As we already know, the picky silkworm munches on mulberry leaves, and the result is a beautiful, laborious fabric that is worth its weight in style, and for that reason, is often recycled. Recycled sari silk is upcycled, recycled, or repurposed from sari material using either leftover off cuts from the manufacture of saris, or from repurposing the silk fabric from saris that are no longer desired. The recycled sari is broken down into lengths of cloth, and then sewn or re-spun to create contiguous pieces of fabric, or rolled into lengths of recycled silk yarn. The result is an environmentally conscious textile that is influenced by all of the rich history of its past lives. If a picture tells a thousand words, how many stories do you think a piece of recycled fabric can recount? Sometimes these recycled saris are combined with synthetic fibers or attached to other recycled panels so as to strengthen the fabric as they are turned into a one-of-a-kind kaleidoscopic patchwork, as is the case with our Mexicali recycled silk panel curtains and Mexicali magic skirts!

 

Sari or saree?

Sorry for leaving you hanging, the answer is… both. Whereas “sari” is the typical spelling used in North America, “saree” is the common spelling used in the rest of the world. “Shari” is another spelling that is often incorrectly used. In order to keep this article as multicultural as possible, and to keep you on your toes, we will continue switching back and forth more times than you can say “spell me sari or saree, but never shari.” The etymology of sari is as simple, beautiful, and elegant as its namesake, in its earliest usage it evolves from śāṭikā (Sanskrit: शाटिका) which refers to women’s attire, and into another Sanskrit word that loosely translates to “a strip of cloth.” While more than a strip, you can see how this linguistic understanding evolves with the sari, a strip of cloth that can function as an entire woman’s wardrobe. Furthermore, how poetic it is to have these strips reduced to strips of cloth to be spun again into recycled sari silk, in the beautiful sari silk cycle of rebirth. 

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