Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fabric store trip

I just realized I didn't take any pictures, but there are some in a previous post. I traveled to India with my sister and two of her kids. We arrived on Friday around 9:30 at night and we were at the fabric store at 11 o'clock the next morning. We went back there three times! I don't have pictures, but I will try to describe the shop.

Madhar Sha is a well known fabric store in Madras (Chennai). It has been around for almost seventy-five years. OK, I just checked and the shopping bag says since 1938. There are four floors and each floor is specific to a fabric or fabric use. The basement is filled with cotton solids and silk blends used mostly for choli sari blouses. The first floor is the men's department with all sorts of fabric for shirts, pants and suits. School uniform fabric is also on this floor. The second floor are saris of every kind imaginable- silk, cotton, polyester, beaded, embroidered, plain. The third floor has something on it, but we didn't make it up there. I think furnishings maybe?

There are thousands of bolts in the store. The pictures in the previous post shows that. As a customer you don't get to touch the bolts. They are behind a counter and there is someone to help you for every department. You request the bolt you want to see and they will hand it to you. While that may seem restrictive, it really isn't because the men are very, very helpful and have a lot of experience and knowledge.  Oh, that's an interesting thing- there really aren't any female sales staff. Most of the time, people are looking for a colour match, so they hand over the fabric swatch or sari that needs to be matched and the man behind the counter picks several colours for you to decide from. If that is what you want, they will cut your required amount. It then gets moved in a pile by the checkout and when you are done with all your choices you find your pile. No waiting at a cut counter because it is cut immediately after you decide that is what you want.

I wanted silk, but real silk can be pricey. I went with spun silk which uses the cocoon 'leftovers' and the broken cocoons. The poor man behind the counter was sick of us because we would say "Can we see the blue?", he would point to one blue and we would say, "No, the next one. The next one. No, one more", to get to the one we wanted. My niece enjoyed weighing in on my choices and she was a good little colour consultant. I didn't go crazy buying. I made a conscious decision to get only what I could use. It is very easy to get carried away and I didn't want to be greedy.  Well, my sister got it in her head that she could use the fabric to make table linens, specifically napkins. She wanted them to be 20 inch square. Fabric is sold in meters in India so 20 inch squares with seam allowance is a little over half a meter. She had to buy a full meter. Very unfortunate for her but wonderful for me. I told her I would take take her scraps. My mum was a little suspicious of my math, but 20 inches= 51 cm. My sister wanted a set of 12 (varied colours) so I made out like a bandit! There is some overlap between her choices and mine, but I added about a half dozen colours. She drove the poor man more crazy than I did. Everything gets drug out when my sister is involved. Since we were there on a Saturday morning, it was busy filled with women shopping with their saris looking for matching fabrics, but he was very patient with us.

We went back another day because we were looking for a silk sari as a gift. We went through several different types before we decided on a Kancheepuram silk. That was a very enjoyable experience. I got so carried away with picking it out, I went back for the third time and got a cotton sari for myself.

I apologize for the very wordy post and lack of pictures. My words can't do justice to the experience, but I hope it shares a bit on how things work on the other side of the world. Pictures of the purchases in a later post. I'm still running only at half speed.


  1. Karen, I kind of enjoyed reading this without pictures, I had vivid pics in my mind the entire time! Very well written and great description...

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