We designed our first Sari Bead Necklace back in 2012 as a means to utilising the beautiful remnants of sari fabric left over from the production of our Kantha Sari Scarves. At the time, House of Wandering Silk was a one-woman show, operating out of Katherine's apartment in Delhi, and these remnants were piled high in a mountainous jumble of silk in an unused bathtub.
Since then, this style has evolved into many iterations of the same idea: a zero waste policy that challenges us to use every last piece of fabric from the vintage saris we work with.
Over the years, our small team of artisans - a migrant family from Bihar now living in Delhi - have hand crafted thousands of these necklaces. They've become a signature style of House of Wandering Silk that have been sold at some of the most iconic stores in the world: Liberty London, Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges, Anthropology, V&A Museum and Good Earth.
In fact, our necklaces have reached such a refined level that one has even graced the neck of the queen of style, Iris Apfel, for whom we designed and made our very first Iris Necklace. This is something we're deeply proud of!
Iris Apfel sports the first Iris Necklace we made
Here follows the story of how we translate a small cutting of a pre-loved sari into a piece of jewellery worthy of adorning necks around the world.
Our mix of styles come in every colour of the rainbow
Our necklaces begin with a sari. A sari which has been bought, worn and cherished by a woman somewhere in India. One day a sari-trader knocks on the door of the woman and asks if she has any saris to sell. The sari passes to the hands of the sari-trader, who then passes it to another and finally another, and sometime later, the sari finds itself in New Delhi.
This is where House of Wandering Silk enters the story. Every few months, Katherine makes a textile pilgrimage to our sari supplier, Mini, who lives above her warehouse filled with vintage saris and bits of fabric in West Delhi. Mini and her husband, Vinod, will first feed Katherine with a delicious homemade Gujarati meal of mutton soup and chicken curry, followed by the sweetest, milkiest chai ever made.
They then get into the serious business of buying and selling. Bundles of saris are brought into the room and Katherine, sipping her chai, looks through them, piece by piece. Those that attract the eye with colour and pattern, or soothe the hand with their texture, go to one side. All others are returned to Mini. At one of these marathon sessions, we can purchase upwards of 2000 saris!
The saris are brought back to our studio where they are cleaned and carefully checked for all defects. Working with pre-loved textiles takes an inordinate amount of time in terms of quality control. Where possible, we cut the saris into sizes for the various styles in our Kantha Collection. If a section of sari has too many defects to make into these larger kantha products, it will be added to a huge mountain of sari remnants destined for other lives.
When this sari remnant mountain looks ready to topple, or when we’re low in necklace stock, we sort through the pieces of fabric. Larger pieces of fabric such as full saris and half saris, are sreserved for our statement styles while smaller remnants can be used for the lighter necklaces. We look for bright colours, interesting prints, neutrals and jewel tones. Sometimes we make a necklace from the fabric of one sari, often we mix fabrics from two saris into one necklace.
In old Johnny Walker Whisky boxes, which are the perfect size, we store hundreds of spools of thread in bright colours. Once the fabric has been selected, we open up these boxes and, piece by piece, match fabric and thread. Sometimes we choose contrasting thread colours which will add a highlight to the sari fabric; sometimes we choose a complementary thread colour which will enhance the colours of the fabric.
Now the scraps of fabric need to be prepared. Each scrap is ironed flat then folded over several times. By layering the fabric we give it extra strength and make the silk more durable. It is then cut and sewn into narrow tubes
The fabric is now ready to be filled with sheesham wood prayer beads. Once filled, our artisans stitch each bead into place.
At this stage we now have dozens of strings of sari fabric which need to be positioned in place. On a large work table, the strings are layered according to whichever style we’re making. This is a very important step, to make sure the necklace will hang around the neck with each string sitting perfectly, just where it’s supposed to. The ends of the strings are pinned in place and so begins the most laborious task - the finishing.
Finishing each necklace involves hand-stitching the ends of the strings together, to maintain their positioning, and then completing the necklace by sewing the ties in place. The completed pieces now sit in a basket in our workshop, waiting to be steam ironed, which will help to flatten them out. The necklaces are then quality checked and any problems are rectified before we shoot them and add them to our store.