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  • Revastra

The Ilkal

A slow and spiritual story of knowing, reducing, reusing and recycling this nostalgic drape

My 85-year-old Atta (aunt; P. Venkata Ratnamma), who lives in Belgaum, gave this Ilkal silk-cotoon (SICO) sari to my Amma (mother; B. Bala Devi) in the early 1980s. Its interesting feature is the monochrome black-white, micro checks body with a starkly contrasting, bright maroonish-red, steel-grey and yellowish-orange border. It became stained and dull with age. But I always loved its odd combination, which my mother did not honestly like. Although she wore the sari on and off for over two decades -- sheerly out of courtesy.

So, I decided to let it go and repurpose it. It was again a very emotional journey of love and minimalism. I cut out the border and pallu as carefully and as linearly as I could. Attached it to a black georgette sari that I wear frequently with my black tops and blouses. And then I attached an old-and-in-pieces Odisha ikat, silk sari border to the Ilkal sari body fabric. Finally, I converted the entire body fabric into three kaftans and triangular scarves (for myself and my sisters). Added some crochet detail, too. I folded the lovely pallu into a pleated jhola bag.

But before I did it, I learnt a lot about this sari. One can find both handloom and powerloom versions. The former takes about 6-8 days to make, while the latter is woven in 3-5 hours. I found that historically, sometime in the 8th Century AD, the town Ilkal as a weaving centre expanded from Bellary (a region from where my paternal family comes from). Ilkal lies in the South-East part of Bagalkot district in North Karnataka, South India. These saris originated in that region.

Traditionally, the warp on the sari body is cotton, while the warp on the boder and pallu (front decorative end) is art silk or pure silk. Now you have cotton, cotton-silk, silk, rayon, viscose, polyester and their blended versions. Apparently, in hand and powerloom, the body fabric is joined to the border and pallu and expanded aesthetically using special looping techniques called Kondi and Tope Teni to create the distinct Seragu (3 panels in red and two panels in white).

The Seragu design is the state symbol, was used to cover heads and upper body, and is still considered auspicious. Some Ilkal saris come with complex surface embellishment — folk (Lambani) Kasuti embroidery designs creating raised Gomi, Ganti, Murgi or Neygi motifs.

Well, I could have left the sari as is, but the stains were too many. I could not have covered them even by draping cleverly. Dyeing the whole sari would mean killing the cultural heritage. And cutting through the Seragu and Topi Teni border and pallu for any other body-con styles would have meant annihilating the emotions and stories of the weaver. Also, letting this sari lie in dark corners of cupboards would not have solved any purpose. Repurposing in a slow and spiritual way was the only way in for me. And voila! I have four styles that I can use or present. And one sari that retained the Ilkal story through its border.

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