There was a wedding in the family and Naina Jhaveri of Vaidehi Sarees, Mumbai, was keen to wear a Paithani sari. But even in 1989, she found it tough to find an original Paithani in Mumbai. At a friend’s suggestion she travelled to Pune and found one there.

“It was a good design but the quality was poor. Within three-four months the zari on the sari blackened," she recollects.

Determined to own a good quality Paithani, Jhaveri travelled to Paithan, near Aurangabad, Maharashtra, to get weavers to make an original sari just for her. It took three-four months and cost her Rs11,000. That was 1989.

Today, a good quality Paithani sari costs Rs25,000 and women in Delhi may just have a chance to get one for themselves at the Delhi Crafts Council’s annual sari exhibition next week.

“This year we have 16 participants bringing various types of saris in Indian weaves to the exhibition. From batik print saris, weaves from Banaras and Bengal, shibori print saris, Chanderi saris, Bandhanis from Jamnagar, weaves from Assam and khadi saris from Andhra, we have tried to include many varieties from different states," says Kamayani Jalan, honorary treasurer, Delhi Crafts Council, New Delhi. “While the exhibition is a fund-raising exercise for the council, it also aims to showcase innovation within tradition in sari weaves."

(Left) Delhi-based Sanjay Garg’s collection of Chanderis and Paithani magic: Most Maharashtrian brides want this sari to be a part of their trousseau. Madhu Kapparath/Mint

According to Kuli, it takes 12-35 days to weave and dye one sari and she uses only natural dyes. Some of the common motifs to look out for in her collection are the barfi or diamond pattern, the fan pattern and the gol buti. Her collection will also include saris made from the muga silk yarn. The saris cost upwards of Rs6,000.

Kuli is not the only one adding a special touch to saris. Sanjay Garg, a 2003 graduate in textile design and development from the National Institute of Fashion Technology and winner of the British Council’s Young Fashion Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 award, has contemporized the Chanderi sari by insisting on simpler patterns, fewer motifs and a finished product that is easier to drape. “Women still believe that the Chanderi sari is one that puffs up. That does not happen with my saris. The silk yarn that my weavers use is de-gummed silk thread. That’s why they drape better."

Garg, who retails under the label Raw Mango, which he also stocks at Good Earth, believes an authentic handloom sari is an heirloom that should be passed from mother to daughter.

For the exhibition, he has replaced the traditional zari borders on Chanderis with Mashroo borders. “The challenge has always been to convince the weavers that simpler patterns on a sari do not mean lesser money. Sure, I work with traditional motifs such as the Mughal motif of the Cypress tree or bird motifs but it is how I use them that makes the design contemporary. Besides, I experiment with the colour palette." He will showcase Chanderis in charcoal, fuchsia, parrot green and haldi yellow colours and will also bring a few saris woven with Merino wool yarn. The Raw Mango range starts from Rs3,500, with some Chanderis costing as much as Rs25,000.

The basic problem that Garg faces—convincing artisans to change colour palettes and simplify designs—is something that Jhaveri has grappled with too. “Originally, Paithanis came in three or four colours such as mehendi greens, reds and rani pinks. It took convincing over the years to get my weavers to work with pastel shades such as peaches, pinks, blue, etc., and also to use motifs such as tota-maina (birds) and flowers sparingly. I am not in favour of introducing new motifs on these saris because then they will be something else, not Paithanis," says Jhaveri.

She will showcase Ashavalis (brocade saris with vine and flower patterns) in the range of Rs20,000-41,000, while the more elaborate Paithanis for trousseau collections will start at Rs50,000.

Just as Jhaveri has seen changes in the way women of today shop for the sari, Chimmy Nanjappa and her daughter Pavithra Muddaya of Vimor, Bangalore, have also seen a huge change in the 35 years that they have romanced the garment. “It is not just the buyers who have changed. Even the weavers are reluctant to work on a sari that takes them two-three months to complete," says Muddaya.

What started out as a means of earning a livelihood in the mid-1970s, when Muddaya’s father died, is now a passion to document the weaves of south India and help weavers earn a livelihood while keeping traditional weaving practices alive. “When we started out, apart from working at the revival of the Molakalmuru (the Kanjeevaram of Karnataka), we started by buying antique saris that temples sold. We then resold these pieces after doing some touch-up— mostly replacing a torn border, repairing damaged embroidery or removing metal stains—on them."

However, by the early 1980s, the mother-daughter duo found that antique saris were difficult to come by. “The old saris where the donors had their names weaved into the pallu were tough to come by and more and more saris with modern patterns, weaves and designs were being donated. So we shifted our focus totally on to the weavers and revival of weaves," says Muddaya.

From Cubbonpet and Kanna saris (Karnataka silk saris), to Lakshadeepa saris (with minakari work from Karnataka), the idea has been to preserve the dying crafts of Karnataka and the south. Vimor’s prices at the exhibition will be in the Rs3,000-18,000 range.

The Saree Exhibition will be on from 18-20 October at Aga Khan Hall, Bhagwan Das Road, New Delhi, from 11.00am-7.30pm.