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Clothing and Culture in South Asia

From the Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection
Koehnline Museum of Art
February 10-March 25, 2011


Detail of a Woman’s sari

Detail of HLATC #W.L.I.2871

Woman’s sari
early to mid 20th c.
Chingleput, Kanchipuram District, Tamil Nadu, India
217.5” long x 43” wide
Silk with zari (metallic thread) supplementary warp (continuous) and weft (discontinuous) brocading; knotted fringe  


This sari would have been worn for weddings and other special occasions. South India’s silks are known for their brilliant colors, and Kanchipuram saris of heavyweight silk with metallic-thread brocaded patterns are famous far and wide. They are woven in thousands of homes, each dwelling dominated by its large wooden pit loom sunk into the floor.

Until recently over 40,000 children were part of this local industry, either within the home or as indentured labor at workshops, but their number has been greatly reduced.


Woman’s sari

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection #W.L.I.2871 MORE INFO


Video courtesy of the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA


Muslim woman's wedding ensemble

HLATC 1999.08.006a More info


Muslim woman's wedding ensemble

c. 3rd quarter 20th c.
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India
40.5” long x 46” wide (kameez), 19.5” long x 22” wide (vest), and 37” long x 33” wide (salwar)
Silk, cotton, rayon, and metallic-thread with zardozi (metallic-thread) embroidery in satin-stitch and couching, sequins, plastic “jewels,” and plastic seed beads


Zardozi is embroidery in metallic-thread that is tacked down (couched) to the surface of the cloth. The technique may go back over 1,500 years in South Asia and seems to have been practiced largely at royal workshops, Hindu as well as Muslim. It flourished under Mughal court patronage in the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries and remains strongly associated with Mughal artistic taste. Today zardozi is done both in homes and at workshops throughout much of the subcontinent, and Hyderabad is one of these centers. Men and women often work side-by-side at home, while workshops are exclusively male. Zardozi-work has been a valuable export for centuries (see #2001.12.008).

Muslim woman's wedding ensemble

Detail of HLATC ##1999.08.006b

This glittering, high-fashion, custom-made wedding ensemble looks back to aristocratic Mughal men’s attire for its inspiration. It would probably have been worn with a red zardozi veil and zardozi slippers or sandals. This so-called Anarkali style with its fitted bodice and flared skirt worn over pants is newly fashionable once again, although nowadays Hyderabadi Muslim brides are wearing red zardozi saris resembling those worn by their Hindu counterparts.


Woman's Sari

early to mid-20th c.

Patan, Patan District, Gujarat, India

89 long x 46.5 wide

Silk; patola (double ikat)


Detail of a Woman's Sari

Detail of HLATC #W.R.I.2825

Woman wearing Kanchipuram sari

Woman wearing a Kanchipuram sari, New Delhi, India. Photo by Prabhu Ram


The double-ikat silk patola saris of Patan are world famous. They are phenomenally difficult to create, and today there are only two remaining Salvi families making them. They produce 25-30 saris annually, to order; there is a two-year wait and patola saris cost a small fortune. Patola saris are reserved for the most special occasions—in Gujarat they are the preferred attire for mothers at their daughters’ weddings—and can be expected to last 80-100 years. The triple-blossom design here, called tran phul bhat, is one of the ten traditional patola patterns. The colors in this piece are likewise characteristic.  


Woman's Sari

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection #W.R.I.2825 MORE INFO


Woman’s sari

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection # W.L.I.2845 MORE INFO

Woman’s sari
early to mid 20th c.
Phaulia, Nadia District, West Bengal, India
190.25” long x 47” wide
Cotton; jamdani (discontinuous supplementary weft)

Detail of a Woman’s sari

Detail of HLATC # W.L.I.2845

Bengal’s gossamer-fine muslin saris were once legendary. After Partition in 1947 Bengal was divided into predominantly Hindu West Bengal in India and predominantly Muslim East Bengal in Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Many expert weavers from Dhaka resettled in the weaving centers of Nadia in West Bengal. With government support their combined skills created a major handloom industry; sadly, this is now threatened by the starvation wages the weavers are earning. To ensure their survival, Bengal’s classic muslin saris are being updated by fashion designers and marketed as both chic and economically sustainable. This sari’s bold mangos look quite modern decades after they were woven.