Gara embroidery sarees, originally considered to be Parsi family heirlooms, became rare collector’s items because of their intricate work and exorbitant prices. Today, Indian designers have revived this ancient Chinese art from to make exquisite sarees, which have become prized possessions of women all over India.

The most striking and beautiful examples of ancient Chinese embroidery can be discovered on the gara, the famous Pari sari of the last century. The Chinese gara a six-yard long sari worn earlier by Parsi women had a shaky future in modern times till designers decided to revive it. Since then the gara has reached dizzying heights on the fashion carts making it one of the most coveted items in a woman’s wardrobe.

The gara’s history is as colourful as the garment is to behold. The gara was probably introduced in India by Parsi traders in the 19th century who used to travel to China to trade. Originally, it was an item that was normally a labour of love created by the Chinese. Patronized by the Parsi and worn for weddings and Navjote (a ceremony for young Parsi boys and girls in the Zoroastrian faith) ceremonies it is treasured and worn by girls of all ages and is today considered a rare fashion item worth possessing, informs Designer.


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A gara could either be fully embroidered or have a border with embroidery sprinkled all over or just partially embroidered. The popular stitches are the crewel, stem and long and short stitch and the French knot. The popular choice of thread is off-white. Pastels are also favoured. As many as 20-30 different shades of a colour are used in one design, with perfect blending to give it the effect of a painting. The texture of the thread could be either cotton or silk although the latter is more effective. The border of a gara is the cynosure of all eyes in most cases. It expands into the pallav of the sari which is draped in front when worn in the Parsi style.


Designer tries to recreate the original designs from small pieces of embroidery in her collection has also modified some. She is also experimenting with other forms of garments with embroidery similar to the gara. Materials too have changed to synthetic as well as crepe silk and chamois satins. The background colours in vogue are navy blue, black, red and white.


The start of a gara means a drawing of a design of paper. After that a small sample in the actual colours is prepared. This is then given to the craftsmen to study. The design is then traced onto the sari. A single design is repeated several times on a sari but is adjusted perfectly to blend into each other. Each sari is put on a loom at which 4-6 artisans work. The embroidery is done on an assembly line system-one worker does one particular motif only. Today’s gara can be hand washed at home in normal detergent and ironed unlike the originals. The longevity of the present saris is better than their predecessors because of better fabrics and thread.

 

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This exquisite art form originated around 300 years ago, when Parsi businessmen sailed to China to set up their trade. This particular delicate embroidery was then a home industry in China. In exchange of opium, spices and other goods, Parsi traders brought home embroidered Chinese robes and other clothes. Fascinated by the intricate work done on these Chinese garments, some enterprising Parsis thought of getting their sarees embroidered in a similar fashion. Embroidered from top to bottom with a single thread by Chinese artisans. And the embroidery was not mere decoration; it told a tale. Amidst the exquisite needlework was a fable narrated with the help of designs to suit Indian tastes. The name garas was derived from the Gujarati word garo meaning to strain. Since the fabric on which the embroidery was very fine so as to allow straining the embroidered silk gauze.

"According to the old Chinese technique, each artisan would specialize in the embroidering of a particular design and it would take approximately eight to nine months to complete one gara. Though the garas were much in demand for almost four to five decades since they were discovered, they were expensive attire that only the rich could afford and hence died a natural death by the middle of the twentieth century.

The original Chinese garas were considered quite bulky to wear since they had embroidery done all over. Several years after the introduction of the gara in India, craftsmen in Surat managed to duplicate the embroidery. There was a marked difference between the embroidery done by the Chinese craftsmen and that done by our local karigars in Surat. An evenness and intricacy found in garas made by the Chinese was absent in the ones made in India.

 

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In fact garas are now collector's items, the value of a gara increases with each passing year. Visit our special member's only area (login required) to see more patterns.
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Because of the beauty and grandeur of the gara jewelry is never worn with it and definitely not gold but if one must dress it further than it should be with pearls only.

 

The breathtakingly beautiful gara is the traditional attire worn by the Parsi bride and ladies. Gorgeous and in great demand, every lady who wears sarees, will want a gara to be part of their trousseau.

In fact garas are now collector's items, the value of a gara increases with each passing year. Visit our special member's only area to see more patterns.

Since initially only the rich Parsi women were in a position to buy a gara, the colour of the fabric would either be rich violet, purple or red, as these three colours are associated with royalty and aristocracy. A gara could be fully embroidered or have a border with embroidery sprinkled all over or just partially. The earliest garas were embroidered on all four borders, a custom which gradually gave way to two, given the manner in which sarees are draped. The Persian influence made it felt in the fruit, flower, and bird motifs interspersed on a distinctly Chinese background. Each gara has its own story in the form of pictures embroidered across the length of the saree with distinct scenes of Chinese life, shrines, boatmen, river banks, soldiers and cranes. The most common stitches found on a gara are that of the satin and French knot.

"A particular kind of stitch called crewel was found in the earlier garas. This extremely intricate stitch was so minute that it caused blindness among the craftsmen. The English rulers on learning about the effects of this kind of embroidery made them stop producing the crewel stitch. The popular choice of thread is off-white. Pastels were also favored to a large extent and this was due to the European influence. Shading done by different colors of thread to give it a painting like effect was a specialty too,".

Traditionally, the gara was worn over the head, exposing only one ear. This is the reason why many old sets of Parsi jewelry have only one earring. Modern versions of the traditional gara incorporate traditional motifs with Swarovski crystal and touches of gold and silver interweaving. Perhaps due to the extreme care required to maintain and preserve a gara, its popularity declined. Now with the modifications brought about in the design and the reproduction of embroidery similar to that of the Chinese, garas have regained their lost glory and are the most sought after garments among the Parsi elite. These rare pieces of Parsi legacy are now serious collector's items!

The gara’s history is as colourful as the garment is to behold. The gara was probably introduced in India by Parsi traders in the 19th century who used to travel to China to trade. Originally, it was an item that was normally a labour of love created by the Chinese. Patronized by the Parsi and worn for weddings and Navjote (a ceremony for young Parsi boys and girls in the Zoroastrian faith) ceremonies it is treasured and worn by girls of all ages and is today considered a rare fashion item worth possessing, informs Designer.
Any one’s love for the revival of the gara was kindled when she tried to salvage a sari for a friend. At that time designer, an expert embroiderer, seriously considered devoting her efforts to resuscitate the dying art.

 The original Chinese garas were considered quite buky to wear as saris since they had embroidered borders on all four sides. The most favoured colour was purple or violet. Several years after the introduction of the gara in India, craftsmen in Surat in Gujrat managed to duplicate the embroidery. But the Surat gara is identified by its net and French knots which the Chinese ones did not have. Besides violet, the colours popular were wine red, navy blue, white or off white with white embroidery in twisted cotton thread. At times, gold threads were also used. Unfortunately, colour fastness of fabric and threads was dubious thereby spoiling the garment. At last designer has rectified it and changed the fabric to synthetic silk, which is easier to maintain.


Because of the visual beauty of the rich and intricate work, always hand done, it could take up to nine months to complete each gara. Decades ago a gara was a must in a bride’s trousseau. Today a gara may cost a large sum starting with Rs.2, 500 because of the lack of craftsmen. Since the embroidery is specialized and intricate every few days, the craftsmen have to be given a simpler sari to break the monotony of the hard work so that they can return refreshed to the complicated motifs. A craftsman specializes in a particular motif-like flower, tree, house and figure etc. so that there is uniformity in the workmanship, adds Indian designers. Most of the craftsmen are from all over India specializing in their particular motif. It is believed that if a Chinese craftsman embroidered birds he would do so all his life. This concept is also carried on in India.


A gara is not an easy piece to purchase. In fact it is well-night impossible because nobody makes such saris any more in China. During the Mao regime it was a banned craft since they preferred manual labour to artistic talents. For the last 50 years no garas have been produced in China and Parsis who owned a few family heirlooms have either sold them or cut them up due to disintegration.

 

Although the motifs are hand embroidered, the finish is superb on the right side as well as the wrong. Each gara has its own story in the form of pictures embroidered across the length of the sari.


Surprisingly, the interest in the gara is not just restricted to the women but even men are ardent admirers. One who had searched the whole of China for a gara for his wife was very happy to know that he could buy one right here in Bombay!


Originally considered a Parsi family heirloom, today with the help of Indian designer’s revival of the garment the gara has become the prized possession of woman all over India. The original Chinese garas are considered priceless works of craftsmanship but the biggest compliment paid to Indian designer’s efforts was the comment after hours of careful examination that it must be an original from China!

 

ParsiCuisine.com

Gara embroidery sarees, originally considered to be Parsi family heirlooms, became rare collector’s items because of their intricate work and exorbitant prices. Today, Indian designers have revived this ancient Chinese art from to make exquisite sarees, which have become prized possessions of women all over India.

The most striking and beautiful examples of ancient Chinese embroidery can be discovered on the gara, the famous Pari sari of the last century.

The Chinese gara a six-yard long sari worn earlier by Parsi women had a shaky future in modern times till designers decided to revive it. Since then the gara has reached dizzying heights on the fashion carts making it one of the most coveted items in a woman’s wardrobe.
ParsiCuisine.com

Parsi textiles depict two confronting birds, a motif which originated in Western Asia, but was transmitted to China through Sogdiana in the Tang Dynasty. This favourite motif is seen here embroidered in Parsi textiles
 

The popular motifs are trees, flowers leaves, birds, figures, houses, bridges, each coming alive with the help of vivid colours and stitches.

There are distinct scenes of Chinese life-pagodas, shrines, boatmen, river banks, soldiers and cranes. The embroidery is very close to each other and the more intricate the design the more expensive the gara becomes.

There also are several types of garas with quaint names like kanda and papeta gaga which literally means onions and potatoes that resembled large pink and yellow polka dots, where the pink denotes onions and yellow the potatoes.

The karolia or spider design is actually a flower.

The chakla/chakli motif (male/female sparrow) and the more (peacock) are some of the other variations.

There are still some Parsis who do not wear a peacock design as they consider it inauspicious.

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Because of the beauty and grandeur of the gara jewelry is never worn with it and definitely not gold but if one must dress it further than it should be with pearls only.