Time Travel Textiles
Using a sari as gown fabric
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Many of the saris I carry are chosen because their print motifs resemble cotton dress goods popular in 18th-century England and America. If you're considering making a gown from a sari, here is some information that may be helpful.

With some exceptions, most saris are about 6 yards long, but only about 5 yards feature the main body print. The remaining yard is the "pallu" -- the decorative end piece that's thrown over the left shoulder in the traditional nivi wrap. In some cases, the pallu may have a pattern that will work as an 18th-century neck-handkerchief; some may also work as the front of a coordinating petticoat.

The saris have borders on each long side; these are usually no more than one or two inches wide, leaving you at least 40 inches of main fabric. There are examples of similar borders used at the hems and front openings of banyans and, occasionally, of gowns, but it is more typical of 18th century cotton gowns not to use a border print. You will probably want to fold the border into a hem or seam or cut it away.

Most of the saris are very finely-woven, lightweight cotton. There are examples of gowns from the period made with such light cottons; the close weave makes the cloth surprisingly sturdy. However, you may prefer to line your gown, or add vertical seams to the skirt to give it more body. Starching the finished gown is another way to add body.

Saris are printed with the pattern oriented across the 44- to 45-inch width. This means that if you want to cut the back en fourreau with the print oriented up-and-down, you may have to piece. But in the 18th century, dressmakers were not always so fussy about the direction of the print. One authentic option is to have the print run left-to-right on the back section and up-and-down on the skirts.

If you'd like detailed instruction in creating an 18th-century gown, Cherry Dawson, Milliner, and Sharon Ann Burnston offer gown draping workshops and classes in other aspects of 18th-century costume.

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