Tag Archives: saree

How to Hand Wash Silk Sarees

by Jana Thevar

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I’m not sure where this myth (that silk can’t be hand washed) came from. If one is careful and does it the right way, most natural silk can be hand washed with no damage to the fabric.

I wash my silk sarees with baby shampoo, then protect them with a good quality hair conditioner. That’s right – those regular hair products you put on your hair every day. In fact, most silk fabrics (not just sarees) can be washed safely this way.

How does this work? Just like hair, silk is a natural fibre and doesn’t require harsh detergents. Regular laundry detergent will strip silk of its natural sheen and weaken the fibres, leaving it more prone to damage. Dry-cleaning is harsh, because strong chemicals and solvents are often used. Besides being potentially damaging and leaving chemical residue on your sarees, dry-cleaning can also be expensive. I use Johnson’s Baby Conditioning Shampoo and some drugstore-brand Italian conditioner which I bought in bulk during a sale. I’ve also used Loreal Elseve and Tresemme shampoos and conditioners, with great results.

If you’d like to know why I started hand-washing my silk sarees, scroll down below for the full story.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I cannot guarantee that your silk saree won’t be damaged by hand washing, as I am unable to see and judge the fabric. This article is solely based on my personal experience and current practise of hand washing my personal collection of silk sarees. Please read the precautions below to avoid damaging your sarees if you choose to hand wash them. If your saree is very expensive, intricate, rare, old or has sentimental value, it may be better to have it professionally cleaned.

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What You’ll Need:

• Baby shampoo (any variant)
• Good-quality hair conditioner
• A large pail
• An old towel
• Hot weather (or an indoor clothing drying device)

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Method:

1. Fill your pail with plain water (warm or cool) up to ¾ full. Add roughly 1 tablespoon of baby shampoo into the water. Use your hands to the shampoo in mix well.
2. Immerse your silk saree into the shampoo solution. Submerge it completely. Gently stir it around in the water using your hands. You can squeeze, knead and lift the fabric if required as long as you’re gentle. Don’t be too worried; silk is stronger than it looks. The key is to always be gentle when handling wet silk. Never tug, pull or wring wet silk.
3. After 2 – 3 minutes of cleaning, it’s time for rinsing. Lift the entire saree out of the pail in a heap with both hands. Let the water drain from the silk naturally for a few seconds, then place it somewhere to continue draining (while still in a loose heap). Never, ever wring your silk saree.
4. Fill the pail again, but this time with plain water. Immerse the whole saree again, using your hands to work the fabric gently for about 10 seconds, then lift it out again and drain per Step 3. Note: You can rinse once or twice; it’s entirely up to you. I do it twice to get all traces of shampoo out.
5. Fill the pail for the last time, while the saree is drip-draining. Add 1 tablespoon of hair conditioner into the water and stir vigorously. Depending on what conditioner you use, you may work up a froth or foam – that’s fine. Ensure that the conditioner has dissolved well into the water. You can add the conditioner while the water is running to ensure it mixes better.
6. Dip the saree into the conditioner solution. Work it for a few seconds, then lift out and drain again. Allow the saree to dip-drain a little longer this time, about 5 minutes. For the final draining, I like to ‘pile’ the fabric over a bathroom rail so more water leaves the cloth. Don’t leave the silk wet for longer than 10 minutes – dry it as soon as possible.
7. If you live in a hot climate, line dry your saree in the shade and secure it with clothes pegs. It’s best to dry it during midday, between 11am and 2pm when the sun rays are strongest. It should be sufficiently dry in about 20 to 45 minutes.
8. If you’re using an indoor drying device (like a laundry-room drying closet), lay the saree over an old towel first. Then, roll the towel up from one edge with the saree inside it (like a Swiss roll) and squeeze so that the towel absorbs the water. After that, unroll the towel and hang the saree in the drying device. Keep the temperature on mild to medium heat to prevent fabric damage. Absolutely DO NOT tumble-dry or spin-dry silk sarees – the fabric will develop permanent creases, and possibly shrink or tear in the process.
9. Once your silk saree is dry, you may fold it up and store it as usual. Steam ironing is best for silk sarees. If you’re using a regular iron for your saree, it’s safer to iron over a thin piece of white cotton fabric (like muslin) to avoid burning the silk.

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Precautions:

Take note that not all silk can be hand washed safely. Most Indian sarees, such as kanchipuram and tussar, are sturdy fabrics and can usually be hand washed if one is gentle and careful. If in doubt, wash a small, hidden part of the inner corner and iron it while damp to see how the fabric is affected. Alternatively, you may cut off the blouse piece and wash that first to test how it stands up to hand washing.
Deep colors, especially red shades, are HIGHLY likely to run. If you have made the decision to handwash your silk saree anyway, prepare for the fact that a lot of the color may bleed into the washing water. There’s no reason to panic; I find this is usually the excess dye coming out. If the saree is of good quality, handwashing will not fade the color. Just remember to wash it separately so the dye doesn’t stain other items. If your saree has many bright, contrasting colors (such as yellow and blue), it’s best not to hand wash it for the first wash as the colors may bleed into one another.
• If you have sarees of similar colors, they can be washed together if your pail is big enough. Use ample water when it comes to washing silk sarees to ensure any dye that bleeds into the water is diluted and less likely to stain.
NEVER put pure silk sarees into a washing machine, not even in a laundry bag. Machine washing and drying is too rough for silk.

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Why Hand Wash Silk Sarees?

Hand washing is much gentler than dry-cleaning. The latter utilises chemicals and solvents which can be damaging to delicate silk fibres.
Your sarees will last longer. When you add hair conditioner, you’re effectively adding a coat of protection over the silk fibres. This helps shield the fabric from wear and tear, sun damage and pollution. The hair conditioner also adds a natural sheen and body to the silk, keeping the fabric supple.
Remove chemicals left over from the manufacturing process. I am severely allergic to many types of synthetic substances, hence why I wash anything that will come into contact with my skin. Even if you don’t have allergies, it’s always better to have less factory-manufactured chemicals involved in your daily life.
Improves the fabric texture. Many Indian silk sarees are highly starched. This makes it look good for display in the showroom, but can be annoyingly stiff to drape. I personally prefer the soft feel of natural fabrics. I find that once washed and conditioned, silk sarees are easier to work with and hug the curves of the female figure beautifully.
It’s good exercise. I’ll admit, it’s tough work – all that rinsing, draining and refilling. Not to mention the weight of heavy silk once wet! Washing one saree is alright – wash a few at once and you’ll realise how many calories you’re burning. I welcome the work: it makes me appreciate my sarees better and keeps me fit. Anyhow, I don’t trust my prized pieces in anyone else’s hands.
It’s way cheaper than dry cleaning. All you need is shampoo and conditioner, sunlight (or a dryer) and some effort on your part.

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Image: Actress Tamanna Bhatia in a silk saree

My Story

My mum, sister and I jointly own a few hundred sarees – we lost count a few years ago. Many of those are made of silk. When I was little, mum thought nothing of sending her silk sarees for dry-cleaning regularly. It was such a hassle; she always had to travel back and forth between laundrettes, especially during wedding season.

I noticed how the texture of the silk changed after just the first cleaning: the silk often lost its natural sheen and sometimes changed color. Upon draping, it fell flat and ‘dead’. Not very nice, as silk fabrics should look and feel lustrous. I guess that’s what strong chemicals does to delicate fabrics.

The first silk saree I bought was a single-shade piece with a gold border. I was 18 years old and bored to death in a saree shop in Chennai. The shop workers were enthusiastically spreading out length after length of cloth all over the place, creating colourful heaps and mounds of cloth around the store. My mother was picking the pieces she wanted.  I had a headache just looking at the colors; dazzling, vibrant reds, blues and greens in every imaginable combination.

Eventually, my mum had picked out a stack of sarees for herself and was ready to pay. The shop owner felt bad that I had chosen nothing for myself, so he came over with his workers to see if they could help me find something I liked. They must’ve felt sorry for me – an awkward teenager in jeans and a black heavy metal t-shirt, in a country where females wore feminine things and fresh flowers in their hair.

I told them I had only one thing I mind: I wanted a cream or white saree with a gold border. They were disappointed as they didn’t have it – they had every shade except what I wanted. I told them not to worry about it and was about to leave. Suddenly, the shop owner smiled and told me to wait a bit. He said he had a special piece that he was sure I would like. I was sceptical but I decided to see it anyway.

He disappeared into the warehouse, then came out with this lovely piece in his hands. It was shimmering gently under the lights, the color of fresh sandalwood paste. It had a simple frosted gold border. The saree wasn’t white, but I fell in love with it immediately. It was elegant and resplendent, with the natural sheen of new, untreated Indian silk. I wore it a few times, mainly for occasions like Janmasthami and also for a stage play I acted in, called Jaganatha Priya Nataka, during the years I was active in ISKCON.

After a couple of uses, I decided (unwillingly) to send my precious saree for dry-cleaning, simply because I didn’t know any better back then. The result? It wasn’t completely destroyed, but the fabric came back lacklustre and ‘dead’. It had lost its natural sheen and fell flat upon draping. I was heartbroken – it was a rare piece, both by color and design. That was the first and last time I ever sent a saree to the dry-cleaners. I have been hand-washing all my silk sarees ever since.

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Fashion Photoshoot: Project Israa

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by Jana Thevar and Shiva

Why We Did It

Shiva is a civil engineer by profession. Like me, he’s an artist, passion-wise. We often speak about collaborating on art projects but are always too busy with our day jobs. However, it finally happened. This is the first art project we did together. And what can I say? It was an amazing experience. We had lots of fun and learned a lot in the process.

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As a fine art photographer, Shiva loves to explore unconventional ideas. I am no less eccentric, which is probably why we make a good team (when we’re not fighting, at least).

This shoot was pretty much a regular fashion shoot, but since it was the first time we were working together on a personal art project, we didn’t get too crazy with things. He gave me some basic guidelines on the mood and emotions he wanted to capture in the model, but he left the fashion styling and wardrobe choices entirely to me. I didn’t really know what to expect either, so I formed some mental concepts and decided to go with the flow.

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As an ex-fashion editor of CLEO and wardrobe stylist on film sets, I’d worked with a lot of models before. From directing photo shoots and costuming to doubling up as a makeup artist, I’ve done a bunch of these things and thoroughly enjoyed myself along the way, before I ditched it all for the drab stability of financial-services cubicle life. These projects are my escape routes from my self-inflicted, modern-day slavery.

I’ve also been a die-hard fan of Vogue and haute couture since I could read, so you can say fashion is in my blood. My mum is a seamstress; a very good one too. I had all my dresses tailor-made for me right up to my teens. Sometimes, I helped my mum sew, especially during Diwali when there was too much to do. I literally grew up steeped in fashion.DSC_2399-1

My Fashion Styling for the Model

Our model expressed her wishes to be shot in street-style denim and muted colors, with some implied nudity thrown in. In fact, she’d contacted Shiva after seeing his fine art photography with a nude model, so we knew she was comfortable with that kind of art.

I asked if she was okay to try a saree, and she was game. I was excited; I loved draping sarees on non-Indian women. With an Indian woman you kind of know what it’s going to look like, but with a woman of a different ethnicity, it’s always a wonderful surprise.

I requested for a few pictures of her, full-length and without makeup, to get some ideas and inspiration on how to dress her. Then, I began the process of picking the outfits.

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She is from Sudan, and had the exotic, ethnic features of people from that region. I decided to use outfits that contrasted with the idea of fashion that’s generally associated with people of African roots (bright colors, turbans, bold prints, etc.). I asked her to keep the makeup neutral and natural so it would blend with a variety of looks.

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Her major plus points were her lovely figure and long legs, so I decided to play those features up with the clothes I chose for her. I picked a raincloud-grey jersey dress, an acid-wash denim miniskirt and jacket combo, a white and blue Bohemian-inspired ensemble, a sheer beige chiffon top and finally, a black saree with champagne and frosted copper detailing. With the modern clothes, I was aiming for a breezy, natural look – the kind you’d see on a city girl who’d gotten dressed to stroll the streets on a beautiful summer’s day.

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I loved the way the pictures turned out, they were perfect to me. The ones of her in the saree stunned me though. I don’t know how or why, but she suddenly transformed into a goddess the minute I finished draping the material over her. She just immediately became more elegant and graceful. She glowed. A demure, dark radiance. A saree does that to women, I’ve noticed. It brings out that sacred feminine beauty in ways that other outfits simply can’t.

I chose the saree based on her name, which means ‘Night Journey’ in Arabic. Here she is, the dark moon draped in a galaxy of stars. And Shiva captured her resplendence perfectly, in that precise moment when our energies of creation aligned. I created the look, she created the magic and he created the art with a click.

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Shiva Speaks

As a photographer, it would be a crime to say the role of a photographer is only limited to identifying special moments. I can be vilified for such a claim by the photographers’ community. I don’t really care. With the advent of technology, endless auto-modes and presets, anyone can capture a good quality photograph, even with a mobile phone.

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So what separates a photographer from a camera owner? It’s the eye for tasteful details that touch the artist in everyone. It’s just like good music. Everyone likes it but no one knows why and the composer would have most certainly not composed it academically.

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I’ve always been on the receiving end of questions like what is it that I intend to convey through a particular photograph. My answer is always the same; none. Art is just a reflection of our inner being manifesting in completely purposeless action; purposeless as far as satiating our rudimentary survival needs is concerned.

Art is self-expression, something as simple as a wink or showing your middle finger in anger. It should not be academic. Do you calculate how high you have to raise your hand and the moment force to be applied to express the right amount of anger when you show your middle finger? That’s my type of photography. I don’t overthink the outcome. I don’t plan my shots. I don’t think about the rule of thirds, shadows behind the nasal bridge and the grains in the highlights. The details are always there for us to see, everywhere and anywhere, in the darkness and in bright sunshine. You don’t see the stars during the full moon and when you get to see the stars during new moon, you don’t get to see the moon. The moments are just beautifully unfolding perpetually. We fail to see them more often than not.

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I am an impulsive photographer. I click each time I see a good moment from my perspective. I don’t give out too many instructions, let alone clear ones. I told Jana a few things. “I am a fine art photographer. Whoever I shoot and whatever the theme, I want my pictures to be a double edged sword. Seductive without being obscene, raw yet aesthetic, gracefully minimalistic. Strictly no manipulation of body parts. Capture human beauty in its natural state”.

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She suggested a little bit of makeup, some clothes, and maybe heels. I would rather take a lot of stick than to receive a diplomatic compliment. Diplomacy and normalcy are like flaccid dick. Not much use. A hard on is debatable. Men think a hard on makes them superhuman. Women feel it’s equally boring because men don’t last. But there it is; a double edged sword and hoopla. Anyway, I was just kidding.

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All three of us showed up on the day of the photo shoot. I set up some basic lighting. The stylist decided on the outfit, the model posed with the input from the stylist and I clicked. Both of them created the moments and the details for me. They were brilliant. I just needed to click at the right time. I think the outcome of their work was quite impressive.

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