Monday, September 12, 2011

Sewing in the Subcontinent

I live in India, and have for the past ~2.5 years.  When my sewing mojo started to extend beyond making curtains and chair covers for the house, I had to start searching for fashion fabric.  You'd think that since so many garments you buy in the US and elsewhere are "Made in India", it should be easy to find fabric here.  Ha ha...if only that were true.  What I can find easily is "Dress Materials".  Dress materials are used to make Salwar Kameez, which is sometimes called a Punjabi suit.  When you buy Dress Materials you get 2 coordinating fabrics, one piece is 2.5m for the top and the other 2.25-2.5m for the bottoms and a coordinating scarf or dupatta.  Here is an example:
So an Indian lady would purchase their dress materials and bring all three pieces to a tailor who would then stitch up an outfit (made to measure).  In this way, ladies can customize their outfits, sleeve lengths, necklines, etc etc.  While it is nice for me to find such lovely fabrics, usually crepe or cottons, I am often hesitant to make a purchase because often I won't like one of the coordinating fabrics.  I should mention that combinations for tops and bottoms can often be quite clashing, ugly, bold, and I'd hate to be left with an entire piece of fabric 2m+ in length that I don't like.  That being said, I have found a few shops where I can have good luck with finding printed fabric by the meter.  Plain cotton or poplin can be found in any Matching Center, which is a shop that sells (guess what?) plain cotton or poplin so that ladies can get pants/salwars, etc made to match an existing top.  Here is me browsing in one:

Finding sewing supplies was initially a challenge, but a trip to General Bazaar changed all of that.  This is the main street at General Bazaar:


I went with non-sewing girlfriends who wanted to stop at the "Scarf Guy's" shop. This is his tiny shop:

His main business is cloth for saree blouses as well as ready-made petticoats (that go under a saree and hold the whole thing up).  He keeps his huge stash of scarves and petticoats in his storeroom which is a small garage off the adjacent alley.  This is it:

Scarves...I think I bought that one!

Crepe by the meter!  Lets check my list!

So not only did Mr. "Scarf Guy" surprise me by having gorgeous crepes and satin in his storeroom, but he also directed me to my new favorite shop in the whole city.  I must clarify that the term "shop" is a rather loose definition.  A hole in the wall walk up counter with stuff, stuff, and more stuff stacked to the ceiling is a much better description.  Here are photos (If I had stood on the sidewalk, I could have fit the whole shop into one camera frame:

Needles, Pins, Scissors, this that and the other piled high
Lots and lots of boxes of thread!

The owner, Mr. Prakash, speaks very good English and lights up whenever I come in.  Granted, I spend more in his shop per visit than he would typically earn in an entire day, if not 2 or 3 days. He sells "tailoring materials" - wholesale.  That's right, in the country where things are cheap anyway, I found a place to pay even LESS!  Here I pay less than 10 cents (US) for a 300m spool of polyester thread. 16" Invisible zippers: 15 cents, and the same for regular 16" zippers.  Short zippers are 11 cents.  Needless to say I buy tons and tons whenever I go.  Before you start to groan, I do have to dig through large bags of zippers picking out the ones I want, and they are quite often dusty or even dirty.  Mr. Prakash allows me to wash my hands with his bucket of drinking water when I leave the store.  What a gentleman!  

Apart from zippers and thread, I also buy interfacing by the meter as well as my preferred muslin material.  Mr. Prakash's main clientele are local tailors who send their errand boys over with swatches of fabric in order to buy matching thread.  These local tailors stitch up menswear as well as ladies wear.  So anything you'd need to make a man's suit (apart from the exterior fabric) he sells.  That means suit linings, and pocket material.  I had never given much thought about trouser pockets before, but this "pocket material" is, at 50 cents a meter, my diamond in the rough.  It is a plain cotton that is quite soft once washed, and works wonderfully for muslins.
Searching for just the right thread color

Sewing in the subcontinent is always an adventure, nothing comes easy, but it can come cheap.  Incredible India!


  1. Hi Meigan, thank you for sharing your blog, nice to read your experience! Your photos of Hyderabad remind me very much of some places I've seen in Bangalore.

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