Patriarchy is resilient, but women’s economic independence is a powerful solvent: gender status in medieval China and today.
Every time a woman drapes a sari anywhere in the world, she is creating Indian material culture. Both the weaver and the wearer are considered to be artists. To understand why folklorist Pravina Shukla calls it Indian material culture1, it helps to examine how saris are made, sold, and worn.
To begin with, one never cuts or stitches a sari. It’s a single woven length, and comes off of the loom ready to wear. This represents purity and unity. Variations come in with the color, weave, and drape technique. Some examples include the red-bordered saris from West Bengal, the brocaded saris from Banaras, and the Boggili Posi Kattukodam pleated drape from Andhra Pradesh. There were times in history when a woman brought her own weavers as part of her marriage dowry because her saris were part of her identity.
Since weavers create the textile and wearers assemble it, the creation of the sari is a collaborative effort, supported by an industry that includes technology (looms), technicians, and salespeople.
Between 1996 and 2003, Shukla studied the connection between handlooms (technology), sari makers (producers), and sari wearers (consumers) in the ancient city of Banaras. Banaras handlooms combine the Indian pit loom and the nineteenth-century French Jacquard loom. Master weavers and their apprentices use three pedals and “perforated cards that control the design” to weave gold-brocaded weft into silk. A sari like this takes one-and-a-half to two weeks to make; many brides choose these to wear for their weddings.
The traditional sari buying process can take several visits to the shops. Women come in groups, and sit and drink tea while shopkeepers show them new collections. Their comments influence future designs. Different social classes and different religions all come together; Shukla goes as far as to say that it helps to “create social order.1”
This explains mounting concern about the disappearance of handloom weavers and related skilled jobs, like spinners, weavers, printers, dyers, card-makers, and designers. When competition from powerlooms and imports forces handloom weavers out of business, it impacts a rare and rich cultural history. Economist P. Dharmaraju has found, however, “large local demand for traditional handloom products.2” Handloom weavers can stay in business by joining in cooperatives. Modern websites show women different ways to drape their saris in an effort to keep the sari current.
As an art form and material culture, the sari is a symbol of Indian culture that has lasted for over a millennium.
- Shukla, Pravina. “Evaluating Saris: Social Tension and Aesthetic Complexity in the Textile of Modern India.” Western Folklore 67, no. 2/3 (2008): 163-178.
- Dharmaraju, P. “Marketing in Handloom Cooperatives.” Economic and Political Weekly (2006): 3385-3387.
First published on February 23, 2018 in JSTOR Daily by Cynthia Green
The first clothes, worn at least 70,000 years ago and perhaps much earlier, were probably made of animal skins and helped protect early humans from the ice ages. Then at some point people learned to weave plant fibers into textiles. But when? The answer is not certain, because cloth is rarely preserved at archaeological sites. Now discoveries at a cave in the Republic of Georgia suggest that this skill was acquired more than 30,000 years ago.
Clothes make the man in respects more vital than mere appearance and social acceptability. It is true that a slender man looks more stout in a double-breasted coat, or that suiting with a vertical stripe makes the short man look taller. But these are not especially vital factors. Research and scientific opinion are rapidly accumulating data which indicate rather definitely that clothing may almost remake the course of human history.
This newer knowledge helps one understand why we make more mistakes in summer, why usually sensible Germany has a growing number of nude societies, why the Alps are healthful, how to keep cool in summer; and it also makes us pause and wonder about man’s place in the decades to come.
When individuals are considering how to minimize their carbon footprint, thoughts often turn to air travel with its large emissions, while some small day-to-day changes may be overlooked. The obvious daily changes that can be made include food choices—such as reducing meat and dairy consumption; personal energy use and supplier; and reduced consumerism.
In addition to the environment in which man is placed by nature, without any participation on his part, he creates himself another, which is generally called the “cultural world.” When we consider the human being in this cultural world, we see that of all its multitudinous cultural forms his dress is not only the one which is physically closest to him but also that which most immediately and most intimately expresses his relation to the environment. Not even the cultural forms assumed by man’s most elementary vital activities, such as nutrition and reproduction, are so directly and so constantly interwoven with human life and the human body as dress is, except as they express themselves through it.
Janelle Shane is a humorist who creates and mines her material from neural networks, the form of machine learning that has come to dominate the field of artificial intelligence over the last half-decade. Perhaps you’ve seen the candy-heart slogans she generated for Valentine’s Day: DEAR ME, MY MY, LOVE BOT, CUTE KISS, MY BEAR, and LOVE BUN. Or her new paint-color names: Parp Green, Shy Bather, Farty Red, and Bull Cream. Or her neural-net-generated Halloween costumes: Punk Tree, Disco Monster, Spartan Gandalf, Starfleet Shark, and A Masked Box.
Her latest project, still ongoing, pushes the joke into a new, physical realm. Prodded by a knitter on the knitting forum Ravelry, Shane trained a type of neural network on a series of over 500 sets of knitting instructions. Then, she generated new instructions, which members of the Ravelry community have actually attempted to knit.