As my Bombazine buddy and former travel companion Klarissa will attest, I have no sense of direction. I couldn’t point you in the way of North if you paid me. I get lost in my own suburb. And I read maps backwards. Occasionally upside down.
I was recently lucky enough to spend some time Mumbai, which is a Mecca for fabric fans – but not so great for the navigationally challenged. After a few false starts locating the fabric markets I asked my hotel keepers for help (such a tourist), which they delivered in the form of a guide for the afternoon. A lovely, local, English-speaking, lady driver and guide with a penchant for shopping and impossible parallel parks. In one afternoon she helped me track down a sari for a six-year-old; some quality bangles for tiny girl wrists and enough fabric to tip me into the excess luggage zone.
The Mangaldas Market is an inside-outside rabbit warren of narrow lanes of hundreds of fabric stalls, with colours so intense it hurts. Situated near Crawford Market in South Mumbai, most would say it’s quite easy to find. Take a deep breath before you head in – many Mumbaikars don’t buy clothes off the rack, but choose their own fabrics and get them made up by their local tailor, so the markets are at mosh pit levels at all times of day.
I braved the crowd crush and bought almost a dozen different pieces of cloth in less than an hour. I could have kept going forever but my guide’s park was running out (some problems transcend cultures!). Mostly I chose hand appliqued, lightly beaded indigo block prints, as well as a gorgeous neutral and one lovely rosey pink and red beaded print. Many of the fabrics come in cut lengths of about 1.5 metres, which limits sewing options a little, and all were pretty cheap. So cheap in fact, I returned on my own the following day (thanks Google maps) and bought even more.
I admit I’ve been a bit stumped with what to do with many of these pieces since I’ve returned. I’m aiming for a look that’s more Ace & Jig and less refugee from a Goa full moon party, but it’s a delicate balance so I’m taking my time. Any suggestions would be most welcome. Have you sewn with Indian fabrics? What patterns have worked best for you?
PS: Some totally unsponsored tourist tips in case you’re headed to Bombay:
Abode is a small, sweet little boutique hotel just around the corner from the Gateway of India. The staff? They’re friendly. The breakfast kheer? It’s the best. And if you fall in love with your bed linen or soft furnishings – they may just let you buy them!
For a never-ending thali lunch on a tray the size of the moon, try Shree Thaker Bhojanalay;
If you want quilts, homewares and clothes that won’t lose colour or fall apart on the first wash, Anokhi is a good start;
For multiple floors of clothes, jewellery, traditional shoes and general Indian crazy amazingness – you may never leave Bungalow 8;
Catch a local train, it’s an adventure in itself;
Stalk a Bollywood star – set yourself up in a bar in Bandra, wait and keep watch…..