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Clothing of India: the Punjabi suit

marie_berman's picture

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I have seen many Indian and Pakistan women wearing the "Punjabi suit" or salwar kameez. For those who haven't seen it, this is a very graceful tunic and trousers ensemble, often worn with a coordinating scarf. These outfits come in many styles and fabrics. They are extremely flattering- all ages and figure types seem to look good in them.

However, I haven't been able to learn much about designing and sewing them. There is a folkwear pattern called "Jewels of India." But that's the only one I've seen. The Folkwear pattern is okay, but pretty basic (and I don't care for their sizing.)

Does anyone know of a book or magazine dealing with Indian fashion? I would like to know more about current and traditional styles, fabrics, and design details.

Chris_Schettler's picture

(post #26955, reply #1 of 10)

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I bought and wore several such suits while travelling in India. I shopped in several stores all over India, and also spent a lot of time admiring them. The suit itself is not a single pattern of course, but just many variations on a theme of a long overshirt and simple drawstring pants in the same or coordinating material. There are variations such as side slits in a closer fitting kameez, and pants that fit very tightly and gather around the lower shins, sometimes with a sort of cuff around the ankles, or with some type of lace-up closure with several eyelet holes on the outer ankle. The thing that seems uniform is the choice of beautiful fabric(s) and a duppatta (DOOP uh-tuh)
(scarf) which is draped over the front with both ends hanging over the shoulders down the back, so as to modestly keep the curves of the bust covered. In the West of course that is optional, but the scarf however it is worn is such a graceful and lovely detail. Another common detail seems to be some kind of embroidery on the bodice and/or neck area.

That is what I know about this garment, (except that I was told the kameez should hang several inches below the knees.)
I regret that I did not look for sewing patterns in India!

If you want to make some outfits like this for yourself, I would make 2 suggestions. 1) Get the Folkwear pattern and make whatever style and size adjustments you want to it, so that it does fit and suit your taste. But remember it is just one type of salwar/kameez, and styles and types go in and out of fashion in India just like types of jeans and jackets do here. 2) You might do better by just taking the concept of a loose long shirt or dress over drawstring pants, and find a couple of Western style sewing patterns that suit you, to invent your own version of this outfit. If you can go to a big city with India clothing shops (probably called Sari shops but carrying other clothes too)
you will get a lot of inspiration. The key is to choose lovely fabrics, possibly more vibrant than you might otherwise choose.
Have fun!

lin_hendrix's picture

(post #26955, reply #2 of 10)

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Hi Marie,

One other suggestion for finding "authentic" Punjabis is to visit the local Indian clothing stores. I'm not sure where you live but most metropolitan areas have a sari store or two. These typically carry the Punjabi tops, bottoms, and suits, as well as saris.

Since the Punjabis frequently come in cottons you might be able to pick one up for fairly cheap then copy it in a more luxurious fabric. I've used a sari for yardage; you may wish to do the same for your Punjabi; there's usually about six yards of gorgeous silk, more than enough for a Punjabi top, bottom, and scarf.

If you have trouble finding sari stores in the phone book try looking under specialty foods. There's almost always an Indian grocery; call them and ask where the sari stores are.
Visit them all if you can, prices can vary quite a bit.

Another attempt might be to post on internetindia's white board:

http://www.internetindia.com/wwwboard/index.html

There's all sorts of requests and postings here; one for an authentic Punjabi pattern shouldn't be too odd.

--lin

Chris_Schettler's picture

(post #26955, reply #3 of 10)

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b I found some great ideas on-line!!

Me again! I got inspired to do a bit of searching on line, and found a company that makes custom S. Asian style clothing. There is a "design your own" area, which allows you to choose desogn options such as necklines, sleeve styles, closures, pants styles, etc. There are a LOT of good ideas for style options.

Go to:
<> for a simple gopher list of design options, which you can then view as simple line drawings (like the illustration I included as a *.gif file) very good for copying, or finding similar patterns to use or alter.

Go to the index page (www.gagan.com) for LOTS of color photos of all kinds of different S. Asian style clothing, and lots of inspiration (and you may even find fabrics).

Again, have fun...

marie_berman's picture

(post #26955, reply #4 of 10)

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Wow! This is a great website. Thank you Lin and Chris for all the excellent suggestions. I am planning a trip to southern India next year. Does anyone want to recommend some good sari shops, tailors, or other textile related places in the Chennai/Madras area?

Kelley_Dean-Crowley's picture

(post #26955, reply #5 of 10)

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Another lovely option in the Punjabi suit arena that I ran across was....

On the Kameez in the stores you almost always see very elaborate embroidery on the neck/bodice, cuffs and hem. Most people would not know how to start with the embr. but I recently purchased a peice of lovely kelly green silk for $25 dollars with the embroidery already done. They do the embroidery on the fabric and then you carefully cut the fabric to pattern with the embroidery in the right place. The piece that I have has lovely green and white arabesques augmented with sewn on pearls and leaves scattered on the field of green. Took my breath away when I saw it. It was marked $67.00 but the owner offered it for 25 to me. Makes me believe that the Indians here is the states still bargain for the products!

Also my sister in law recently brought back a piece of embroidery with the mirror work that is so lovely, just the bodice and some cuffs on a small piece of fabric that can then be incorporated into a garment. Anyone going to India should look out for these. Eve got it in the Kashmir region.

Lastly, my husband saw the green silk and thought that I should abandon the salwar kameez idea and make a caftan out of it. Another idea for those who love the flowing ethnic look in scrumptious fabrics!

Chris_Schettler's picture

(post #26955, reply #6 of 10)

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b Anyone have experience sewing with Saris as yardage?

I bought a lovely pink silk sari with hand embroidery and am looking for help or ideas using as much of the embroidery as possible.

The piece is a little over 6 yards long and 45 " wide. The embroidery is about 2 inches wide and extends the full length of one side (minus ~ 30") and then turns the corner to edge one end of the sari and then extends up the other side about 2 yards. This is the pallau, which is the part that is thrown over the shoulder of the sari wearer.

Here is a simple ASCII drawing, to give you a visual idea of the layout of the embroidery.

__________________________________________________________
| xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx|
| . . . . . . . . .x|
| . . . . . . . . . x|
| . . . . . . . . x| | . . . . . . . . . . x|
| xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx|
----------------------------------------------------------

That is the best approximation I can come up with. The little dots are tiny (1/3 ") embroidered flowers which get more dense on the pallau. The x's are the embroidered border. The embroidered border itself is about 2" wide and is app. 1/2 to 3/4 inch from the edge of the fabric.

You can see that many dress patterns make it difficult to use all that lovely embroidery! I am even considering just wearing it as a sari (I have some aquaintences from S Asia who can help me tie it) in order to show it all off.

Any help or ideas would be greatly appreciated!

You can email me directly...

Thank you.

Chris_Schettler's picture

(post #26955, reply #7 of 10)

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Well, the drawing was a miserable failure, but hopefully the description will suffice...

Ideas anyone?

lin_hendrix's picture

(post #26955, reply #8 of 10)

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Hi Chris,

I've sewn a couple of silk saris with elaborate borders (printed, not embroidered) successfully into pant and tunic outfits that are similar in feel to the punjabi suits that started this discussion.

Basically I started with skinny legged, elastic waist pants and a longish tunic with a front seamed, faced, front opening. I placed the border at the hem of the tunic, tunic sleeves, and pants. For the neck opening of the tunic, I cut two facings, one for the inside, one for the outside. The outside facing was carefully placed over the most elaborate part of the border (sideways grain) with a seam in the middle to make it symmetric.

In the second outfit I dispensed with the inner facing and substituted a bias edging around the neck, adding little bias button loops.

Both outfits came out quite well, however they're pretty unusual and dressy and I only get to wear them to special occasions where I'm not known (because they're so distinctive). Great for Sat. nite opera openings! A real wow.

--lin

p.s. If my facing description isn't clear I can try posting a graphic that explains a bit better.

lin_hendrix's picture

(post #26955, reply #9 of 10)

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Hi Chris,

I've sewn a couple of silk saris with elaborate borders (printed, not embroidered) successfully into pant and tunic outfits that are similar in feel to the punjabi suits that started this discussion.

Basically I started with skinny legged, elastic waist pants and a longish tunic with a front seamed, faced, front opening. I placed the border at the hem of the tunic, tunic sleeves, and pants. For the neck opening of the tunic, I cut two facings, one for the inside, one for the outside. The outside facing was carefully placed over the most elaborate part of the border (sideways grain) with a seam in the middle to make it symmetric.

In the second outfit I dispensed with the inner facing and substituted a bias edging around the neck, adding little bias button loops.

Both outfits came out quite well, however they're pretty unusual and dressy and I only get to wear them to special occasions where I'm not known (because they're so distinctive). Great for Sat. nite opera openings! A real wow.

--lin

p.s. If my facing description isn't clear I can try posting a graphic that explains a bit better.

gurmeetkaur's picture

saree (post #26955, reply #10 of 10)

Kancheepuram or kancheevar silk saree is famous in south india, There are many good saris shops in chennai like pothis, south indian mall. You can visit some online sarees shopping site like lashkaraa.com or craftvilla.com to buy the best designer sarees