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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Once upon a time in Jaipur- Part 3 The Balotra ghaggra.

While in Jaipur, visiting the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing, I was introduced to the means of divining the status of a native of the area of Balotra by the fabric of the traditional clothes that they wore.
Anokhi are a company who aim to promote, support and encourage traditional means of creating fabric designs, both in historical and contemporary styles.   At the Museum there were fascinating displays of fabrics, both old and new, shown as lengths of cloth or made up into clothing.  Craftsmen demonstrated the making of printing blocks and the printing of fabric.  Exhibits explained the often very complex techniques used to create multi-coloured fabrics.
Of course there is a museum shop selling fabric, clothes and the beautiful paperback books that Anokhi produce about various aspects of traditional fabric.  I bought "Balotra, the complex language of print".  All these books have marvellous photographs and actual fabric samples in them.

 Included  in the book were instructions on exactly how to cut a ghaggra skirt.

And, amongst the hand-printed fabric in the shop, was the very design illustrated.  Immediately I knew that  I wanted to make this skirt.  Traditionally the skirt is full length and requires at least 5 metres of fabric but I knew that this was not practical for me so I decided on just below the knee.  With the help of the shop staff  we worked out that I needed 3 metres.

The various fabric designs convey different messages about the status of the wearer.  Some can only be worn by young unmarried girls, some only by married women, some only by widows, others are worn only by natives of a particular tribe of the region and some only by people of a certain trade- potters, iron workers etc.  Thus you could look at the clothes worn by a woman and see that she was a widow of a particular tribe.
The fabric shown above can be worn by any woman but it is the decorative edging that conveys their marital status, the wide red border with yellow piping means that the wearer is a married woman whereas a very thin red border meant a widow.  I am not married but do have a long term partner but there appeared to be no traditional way of communicating this via fabric.
The way the fabric is cut gives very little wastage, needs no pattern and only requires cutting in straight lines.  First the fabric is cut into sections the length you want the skirt to be, this is the stage shown in the picture above. Each section is folded in half selvedge to selvedge and you make a diagonal fold across the fabric a short distance in from the corner.  Then you cut down that fold- see below.

  From this folded section of cloth you will get 4 kalis (panels) as you see below.

These are then sewn together with the narrowest sections at the top.  Below are the four joined kalis from one section of cloth. You can see that an interesting chevron pattern is formed at certain points.
In total I had 16 kalis to join, below you can see 8 of them shown from the wrong side.  The carpet was the only place I could find where there was enough room to spread it out.

The waist is formed by creating a channel through which a cord can be threaded, drawn up and tied at the side of the ghaggra.  Traditionally this is red and I found a lovely bright red at Wimbledon Sewing and Craft Superstore- thank goodness I live not far from this shop.  I simply stitched a length around the waist, folded it over and stitched it again to create a tube.  The drawcord was made from some yellow, red and black striped ribbon in my stash.  To stop the ribbon disappearing into the channel when not tied I created loops of beads and red dyed bamboo from my stash and knotted these to the ends of the ribbon.  I had seen examples of the end ties of such skirts being embellished with beads in some of the museums that I visited in India.

I pondered as to how I should indicate my status and decided to create my own symbol, which was to put 3 lines of red top stitching just above the hemline.  This also saved me hours of hand stitching the hem.
So here are some more photos of the finished result.

You can get carried away with twirling!
If anyone would like to make a skirt in this manner I can send a better copy of the brief instructions, just ask in the comments section below.


  1. This ghaggra skirt sounds and looks wonderful! What a great way to sew a skirt (no pattern!) and being able to use the originally intended fabric is beyond fabulous!

    I very love your idea of inventing your own symbol, three lines of stitching sounds like just the thing and such a life-saver re avoiding hand stitching - the hem length would turn that into an endless task!g

    I hope we get to see you in this skirt at one of the meetings, I am already geared up to ooh and aah! over it! It looks tremendous. Great job!

    PS: I love the tie ends, lovely.

  2. Thanks, Giselle, I am now inspired to try and reproduce clothes from other cultures. Many of them are cut on a zero waste basis, like this one.


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