Making A Bustle Dress from a Sari

Following along with the theme of “Steampink” -- the idea that Steampunk outfits don’t have to be shade of brown -- I decided I wanted something bright to wear at this year’s Steampunk World’s Faire. Last year I did the now famous “Steampink” natural form 1870s outfit made with a hot pink and gold sari. So I decided to go with cool yet bright colours. What better than the eponymous “Kass green”? There are some who might bristle at the idea of cutting up a beautiful sari to make a Western garment. But I look at it this way -- handwoven saris are produced by an ever-declining cottage industry. If I can keep that industry alive by buying their products, does it matter that I don’t keep the saris in their original form? As for the possible criticism that this is a form of cultural appropriation: India has been an integral part of the Steampunk genre. Incorporating Desi style into a Steampunk outfit honours the Subcontinent, not degrades it. So first I found an obnoxiously-coloured Kass-green sari:
  Sari Considerations When using a sari as fabric, there are a few points you must consider:
  • Saris are a narrower width than most store-bought fabric -- often only 36"-42" wide -- so the usual pattern yardages for 45"-60" fabric won't work
  • Saris vary in length from 5 yards to 9 yards so make sure you have enough for your outfit. Buy two of the same kind if they're available.
  • Saris are often one-of-a-kind so make something that can be accomplished with a single sari. Or mix and match two similarly-coloured saris if you need more fabric.
  • Saris are not patterns contiguously. There are variations in the pattern based on where it is supposed to fall on the wearer. Keep this in mind when cutting.
  • Saris have different parts -- hem, pallu, border, etc. Use these to your advantage when cutting.
Parts of a Sari The names of the sari parts vary by region and style of sari. But there are some general terms you should know: Pallu -- The decorative end of the sari. When worn in nivi style, this is the portion that crosses the torso of the wearer and drapes over the left shoulder. It will always be more elaborate than the other end. Body -- The part of the sari that is not the pallu. It can be decorated with a pattern similar to but less elaborate than the pallu or it may be an entirely different colour and style from the pallu. Border -- The woven decoration along the top and bottom of a sari. On some styles, the top and bottom borders are the same. On other styles, the bottom border is wider and more decorated. Hem -- A piece of reinforcing cotton sewn to a portion of the inside of the sari about 4-6" from the bottom. It gives the bottom of the sari weight and keeps lighter saris from disarranging themselves when the wearer walks. Choli piece -- Some saris are sold with a separate choli piece that is meant to be made up into a blouse worn with the sari. A choli piece sold with a sari matches the sari in colour and design (although cholis that do not exactly match their saris are worn all the time). The choli piece will typically match the pattern of the sari body and sometimes it will be attached to the sari by a few rows of unwoven threads.
The pallu, body, choli piece, and hem of my sari The next thing you want to decide is how and where you want the stripes to go on your outfit. The pallu is only a yard or so long, so you won't have enough to use this highly-decorated piece for a large area. The first question is whether to use it for the top or the bottom. My pallu is not big enough to do the whole bottom, so I am thinking of doing an apron overskirt with it (bottom row photo). Or should I use the pallu for the bodice (top row photos) and do I run the strips horizontally or vertically?
I decided that the stripes were totally lost on the skirt, so I used the pallu for the bodice. But vertical (right photo) or horizontal (left photo)? After much deliberation and staring at these photos, I decided that I would go with the vertical stripes. Of course vertical stripes always make one look taller and slimmer, which is never a bad thing. But with this pallu, I could make use of a beautiful decorative stripe as the front and bottom edges of my bodice. It gave a lovely stiffness to the bottom edge that I couldn't have achieved without it. I also cut the border off the scraps and repurposed those pieces for my cuffs and collar. I have a length of border left that I want to use to trim a parasol or possibly a hat. How do you like it?
Next time... Mixing and Matching Saris in one Outfit -------------------- © 2011 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of this document for non-commercial private research or educational purposes provided the copyright notice and this permission notice are preserved on all copies.