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Folding and Storing Saris

The origami of sari folds.

When you get your sari first from Sarisafari it will be in the original fold that the weavers put it in, directly after taking it off the loom. There's an amazing variety of folds, some of which are so complicated that it takes quite a while to figure them out, sort of like a road map, but with less logic and more square footage. If you've purchased a variety of regional styles you've probably encountered some of these. The Madurai "accordion" fold or the Mangalagiri "taco" fold being some of the hardest to master, then there's the Orissan "double gate" which is surprisingly tricky!

After you've washed your sarees you will want them to be in an easy and convenient fold. Usually sarees are folded with the length in half first, with the right side out, then folded again and again in this direction until you have a strip of folded cloth about 13 - 15" wide and the borders on top and bottom.

Line up the two ends of the top borders. Pallu is facing up right side. Align the top borders until you get to the central first fold. Hold this corner in your right hand and reach over to the pallu end borders and place them together. Align the borders again until you get to the second central fold. Grasp the center fold in the left hand and bring the borders from the right hand over to make the third fold, repeat until you have the last fold which is 13 - 15" wide.

This you fold in half, putting the two borders together, slightly offset to reduce bulk, then fold that direction in half again to get a nice square shape. Don't ever fold the sarees along the length, you will get a nasty horizontal crease that will look like your "equator" when you drape the sari!

I learned alot watching the sari folders of India in action. They unfold sari after sari, literally tossing them out their full lengths to impress and dazzle the clientele. They have an abundant labor force just sitting around waiting to fold them all up again and what seems like a humungous mountain of cloth is magically and miraculously restored to order in a surprisingly short time.

Since I don't have 25 guys working for me and have to do all the folding and unfolding myself I can't quite get the same kind of drama going as these masterful hawkers, but the sarees are so beautiful that even a quarter unfolding leaves my patrons gasping and oohing to no end.

If you sit on the floor, and let the floor support the sari as you fold it you will get more even folds and the borders will line up.

Storing

If you have all your sarees folded in the configuration described above then you can make a neat little stack on a shelf in your closet, or in a storage box for under your bed. The two enemies of textiles are light and dust, so make sure that you have them properly protected. Cloth needs to breathe so storing in plastic is not recommended.

One easy and cost effective way to store them is to make a bundle out of out of an old bedsheet or some left over yardage. (Wash it in very hot water first to get it really clean) The cloth should be about 3 feet square. You can put the sari stack in the middle of it at a diagonal and then tie it into a loose bundle. Bundles are the way that sari merchants in India carry their wares. It weighs nothing, costs nothing and is easy to carry as the top knot is a convenient handle. This is how I transport my stock around to trunk shows.

Old pillow cases also work well as storage bags. Don't overpack or you will cause wrinkles and creases. Just put in two or three sarees in one pillow case and fold the flap over.

A cedar chest is great for sari storage. Many of my women friends in India let me peek into their sari storage chests, usually a galvanized steel chest with a lock. Most women like to store their wedding sarees and fancy silks folded up very tidily and secure in trunks like these. They are planning to hand on these sarees to their daughters. Bugs are a big problem in India, so at almost every fancy event there will be the aroma of moth balls.

Just like any fine textile, taking them outside for a dose of fresh air and dusting is always good for life extension. In very humid climates this is a must - to chase out musty odors and moisture. You can see pictures of my friend Bindu in Kerala airing out her sarees here. She will just leave them out for a few minutes every month or so, not letting them sit in direct sun for very long. If you have a shady place to do this, leaving them out to air for a couple hours is great.

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