Founder Mallika’s mother and aunt form the basis of her memories of silk crushing - a technique which results in the crinkle ‘finish’ evident on the modern-day Indoi styles which bear their names. “My mum was 16 or 17 when she really got into silk crushing with her sister at their childhood home in Karachi, Pakistan - it’s something that’s been handed down the generations,” explains Mallika. In fact, it is something so buried in family tradition that very little is written or documented as to how it is done and why. “It’s a bit like family recipes - there are no step-by-step instructions noted neatly in a book; it’s all ‘a little bit of this, a drop of that’. The process of simply growing up around another’s influence means what they teach you becomes second nature...that’s how silk crushing found its way into the generations of my family.”
The crushing or binding of silk fabric is a traditional technique originally from the Indus Region of South Asia, similar to the Shibori technique of Japan. “My mother and aunts tell stories of how they used to crush their dupattas at home and use their feet to hold one end of the fabric whilst they twisted from the other end. They would call the process Chunnawha Duppatas; chunna meaning ‘crinkle’ in Urdu.”
Shully and Gully would visit fabric markets to buy lengths of fabric to match their outfits, usually in silk or mull mull (pure, fine, cotton-like muslin), and take it to the family dyers. Once at home, they’d wet the material, pleat it and bind it tightly with string. Left to dry for several days, the fabric would be released from its entrapment to reveal the beautifully irregular, crinkly undulations of silk crushing.
These dupattas were often worn at celebratory ceremonies like weddings or mehndi, and dyed beforehand to compliment their outfits. “It is tradition to give dupattas to close male family and friends on arrival so they have them to dance with,” Mallika explains. At her own wedding, her aunt, Putsy, who still lives in Karachi, sourced the fabric for the celebratory dupattas and had them dyed at the family dyers they have frequented for generations (the very same dyers used by Indoi). “Marigolds were a big part of our wedding so the dupattas were dyed to match, highlighted with red and gifted to the male members of our wedding party.”
The beauty of silk crushing is that it requires hardly any tools...just the fabric, some string and a strong hand to tie it up! Although it is traditionally done on lengths of fabric, it is great for reviving or adding interest to old clothes. The only rule is that you choose a natural fabric like silk or cotton as it needs the protein in the fibres to retain the pleat - it just won’t work on anything man made. The results are all the more dramatic on finer, thinner fabrics and it looks stunning on silk velvet.
There is plenty of opportunity to practice as the results are only semi-permanent and will probably need redoing after each wash. Says Mallika of Indoi’s designs, “We recommend you don’t wash the Shully or Gully dresses. Over-washing is a western habit. In the east, people favour hanging their clothes to air or steaming them to remove any odours or stains.”
If you fancy having a go yourself, follow this step by step guide to silk crushing: