Indian sari, 19th century. Indian sari, 19th century. Copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK, acc. no. IS.181-1960.

A sari is a woman’s garment made out of a long length of cloth. It is particularly associated with Hindu women living in the Indian subcontinent and among the Indian diaspora. A sari can vary in length from 4 – 9 metres and may be between 60-120 cm wide. This variation is due to regional differences in form, as well as differing methods in how it is worn (depending on the social group of the wearer, daily or ceremonial occasions, dance, etc).

Saris normally have a narrow border along the two long sides and a deep border at one end. Saris are often decorated with printed, woven or embroidered designs.

By the end of the twentieth century, saris were generally worn with a long petticoat and a short blouse (choli) with short sleeves. In order to create the skirt section, the cloth is wrapped around the waist several times, and 4-10 folds of between 5-10 cm in width are made and held in the hand and then tucked into the petticoat at the front of the garment. The cloth is then wrapped around the waist again. The remaining cloth is normally draped over the left shoulder or over the head coming down over the right shoulder and covering the upper front of the wearer’s body.

There are various types of embroidered saris, which reflect social and regional differences, as well as the occasion when a sari is being worn. The embroidered saris from Gujarat and Rajasthan, for example, use mirrors as part of the design (shisha work). Kasuti embroidered saris have a design made from lines of running stitch.

A more subtle form of embroidered saris comes from Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. This type is decorated in chikan work, a form of shadow embroidery. The delicate designs of embroidered saris from the Kashmir region use fine wool or silk for the embroidery. The most elaborately embroidered saris are those used for brides, and such saris are often decorated with metal thread (zari, zardozi) embroidery of various types.


  • ASKARI, Nasreen and Liz Arthur (1999). Uncut Cloth: Saris, Shawls and Sashes, London: Merrell.
  • BANERJEE, Mukulika and Daniel MILLER (2003). The Sari, Oxford: Berg Publishers.
  • LYNTON, Linda (2002). The Sari, London: Thames and Hudson.
  • VERMA, Malika (n.d.). 'Nine facts you may not know about the sari' (download here).

V&A online catalogue (retrieved 8th July 2016).


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