Sarongs – Fashion, Function & Fun
Sep 24 2014
Who knew a sarong collection could save the sanity of two struggling young single moms? Liz and Melanie had taken different paths after high school, but both found themselves unexpectedly single, each raising two young children.
Liz had gone straight to college, intent on a career and independence. Marrying her college sweetie wasn’t in the plan, nor was having two children in quick succession. But that’s what happened, and when Prince Charming decided that a life of changing diapers was not for him, Liz struggled to find her way.
Melanie, meanwhile, decided to travel the world. She’d work just long enough to earn money for the next lap of her trip, and then be on the road again. Boyfriends came and went. Her focus was on seeing the world.
But in the city of Brescia in northern Italy, she met Agostino, impossibly exotic and attractive. It seemed unbelievably romantic to get married in a tiny old stone church and settle down to raise a family in Italy. But changing diapers wasn’t for Agostino, either, and cultural differences that seemed insignificant before babies were huge after.
Melanie sought refuge with her parents while she regrouped. At a Mommy and Me gathering, she met Liz. Their kids were close in age. They were struggling to be great moms while supporting their children. Liz was the first to say what they were both thinking. “Teaming up and doing this together would be so much easier.” They could each work part-time while the other watched all four kids. They could split the cooking, shopping, cleaning, and driving. They could give each other breaks so that they weren’t “on” constantly.
They could afford a roomy two-bedroom apartment with a tiny yard. It would have to do. It was more important to have time with the kids than to have a big place. Melanie had traveled enough to know that in most countries, there was no expectation that each child have his own room. Four kids in a room was not unusual. “Let’s pretend we’re in an exotic foreign country,” she suggested. And they did.
Western ways were ingrained enough that they all felt the need for a bit of privacy. That’s when Melanie remembered her sarong collection. Traveling through Asia, she had purchased a dozen beautiful sarongs in vibrant colors. These now livened up the stark white walls of their apartment and served as room dividers in both bedrooms. The kids and the adults could claim a bit of space as their own, surrounded by cheerful patterns and colors. “I need a break!” someone would proclaim, and dive behind a sarong to chill out.
“Those sarongs certainly saved our sanity,” Liz and Melanie agree.
Sep 16 2014
I knew there were many uses for a sarong, but I never thought a sarong could save a relationship. Hearing from Louisiana customer Marina M. made me realize that I’m just beginning to understand the versatility of the sarong.
As Marina tells it, she had recently met the guy of her dreams, Jimmy. He was more laid-back than she, but that was part of his appeal. The relationship progressed so well that Jimmy wanted to introduce Marina to his parents in Los Angeles. Flying out there would have been simple—too simple. They were both captivated by the thought of a long road trip together. So they set out without, in retrospect, very much preparation.
The car had been parked in the sun all morning. Marina hopped in, let out a shriek that could be heard all around the neighborhood, and went leaping out. The seat was painfully hot. Her towel was at the bottom of her duffel bag, but her sarong was easily accessible. She tied the two corners of the short end together and looped them around the headrest. Voila! A seat cover to shield her from the hot leather.
Since it was summer, Marina and Jimmy thought they’d save money by staying at campgrounds. The first morning, a major difference in their styles became evident. Jimmy didn’t mind rolling out of bed and getting on the road again. Marina absolutely had to have a shower before venturing into the world. The campground did boast a shower, but Marina was horrified to find that it was an outdoor shower with no privacy whatsoever. It was used by people wanting to rinse sand off after a day at the river. Jimmy was much amused. Marina was not.
“Whose bright idea…” Marina was beginning to think she and Jimmy were not at all compatible when she suddenly got a bright idea herself. Using a rope tied at one end to a post and at the other to a tree, she draped her sarong along the rope, creating a makeshift shower curtain. “That was the quickest shower I ever took,” she related.
The next night promised to be much better. They were staying with friends of Jimmy’s who had a pleasant little home along their route. Indoor plumbing and a shower curtain were in place. Marina checked.
The problem began after the friends had gone to bed. Marina and Jimmy were to sleep on the sofa. They shared the living room with a beautiful—and very loud—parrot. Not used to company at night, the parrot took the opportunity to converse with its roommates in the living room, which got a lot of light from outside. It promised to be a sleepless night until Jimmy got an idea.
“Where’s your sarong?” he asked. Marina handed it to him silently. She was beginning to think about flying home. He draped it over the parrot’s cage and silence descended. Marina and Jimmy and presumably, the parrot, got a good night’s sleep. Marina recalls, “We were still speaking to each other when we got to L.A. I know it seems simple and even a little silly to say this but I doubt we would have been if not for the sarong.”
Sep 9 2014
Sarongs in the classroom? Only in Bali? Not at all. The last school we shipped sarongs to was in Reston, Virginia. School had just started and Connie Leontine, a brand-new teacher, was determined to excite and engage her students. The first region in her yearlong Cultures of the World curriculum was Indonesia. She chose it because she was fortunate to have twins from Bali in her class. This was a first, and she seized the opportunity.
The girl, Wayan, and the boy, Kadek, were outgoing and at ease with the other kids. They had lived in different places as they followed their diplomat parents around the world. Their mother had assured Miss Leontine that they proudly owned their cultural heritage and were very comfortable sharing information about it. Something about their demeanor did not invite teasing. It seemed to have the opposite effect. They wore their differences proudly and the other kids were fascinated.
While sarongs are worn in countries across southeast Asia and beyond, they are linked in the public’s mind with Bali. So Connie ordered enough sarongs for each student, hoping the kids would be willing to put them on and join in the Balinese dancing she planned to teach.
Whether due to beginner’s luck, a brilliant introduction, or the kids’ fascination with Wayan and Kadek, it worked. The kids were all over the package of sarongs when it arrived. Connie had been tracking the progress of the package on the class computer, and on the day it was due to arrive, she took the entire class to wait outside the office at the hour UPS normally came.
They practiced a Balinese song they were learning as they waited, and were still singing when the driver walked in. “People are often happy to see me, but I’ve never been serenaded before,” he said with a laugh, as the children jumped up and down with excitement.
Back in the classroom, the kids couldn’t wait to put on the sarongs. Boys and girls alike chose a favorite with minimal bickering and unselfconsciously put it on. They watched a brief video of Balinese dancing and then, with Wayan and Kadek in the lead, started dancing themselves.
Aug 18 2014
The Milando family awaited the beginning of the school year with mixed feelings. Arturo couldn’t wait for school to begin. He had made the varsity soccer team and was eager to get out on the field. Schoolwork came easy to him, and he never dreaded the start of a new year. Cesar was just as bright but less focused. He wished the summer would go on forever.
Celia, their mom, knew she’d miss the unpressured family time they had during the summer. She wasn’t looking forward to another over-scheduled school year, but she was looking forward to more time to devote to her fledgling art gallery. So when her effervescent friend, Margit, called with one of her characteristic great ideas, Celia was ready to jump on board.
“Let’s have one last, terrific, blow-out, end-of-summer picnic. We’ll invite all the kids’ friends, all our friends, our book group, everyone. We’ll give the summer one big good-bye party,” said Margit, in what seemed like one breath.
“Count me in,” said Celia. “It’s got to be beautiful. Casual but beautiful. I’ll be the artistic director.”
While Margit was lining up great food, Celia was planning the decorations. Borrowing an idea she had seen at a recent wedding, she got gorgeous imported sarongs as tablecloths for all the picnic tables. She splurged for some extras and hung them along the fence to provide both privacy and beauty. Still other sarongs served as picnic blankets.
When the day of the picnic arrived, Celia was up at the crack of dawn decorating the picnic area. It was a riot of color. All the guests ooh’d and aah’d as they arrived with gourmet food and drinks. Two guests were in a band together, and live music rounded out the afternoon. People grabbed sarongs as impromptu costumes and danced to the music.
“Isn’t this the best picnic ever?” Celia and Margit kept saying to each other. The departing guests all said, “Let’s do it again next year!”
Taking down the sarongs, it dawned on Celia that she could use them to decorate her art gallery. “They really are works of art,” she said to Margit as she folded the last one.
Aug 13 2014
Remember Lisa’s great idea to give sarongs to her guests as wedding favors? They were incredibly popular, and guests danced the night away in them. Lisa told me to expect a call from one of her bridesmaids, and sure enough, Allana called soon after.
She was in a flurry of preparations for her upcoming fall wedding, and she was worried. The outdoor venue Allana had chosen offered a beautiful view, and it became truly magnificent as the sun was setting. That was the time Allana had set for the ceremony. Now that the invitations were sent and the spot reserved for that time, she was concerned that guests who dressed for a warm fall day would be very chilly once the sun began to set. Instead of enjoying the view and the unique ceremony, they would be standing there shivering.
Allana had arrived at Lisa’s wedding stewing over this problem. She tried to take her mind off it and be really present as one of Lisa’s bridesmaids, but the thought kept creeping back. Would her guests leave in the middle of the ceremony? Would she forever hear about how 90-year-old Uncle Wifred who was complaining during the entire ceremony about how cold it was?
It wasn’t until Lisa gave out sarongs as wedding favors that it struck Allana: Here was her answer! Sarongs! She’d have a basket of them at the entryway. If guests were getting chilly, they could drape a sarong over themselves. Would it work? Would they do it?
Allana chose her sarongs carefully, with a mix of solid colors and prints, bright colors and muted tones. She hoped there’d be something for everybody. I waited to hear back from her, curious about how it had worked.
Sure enough, Allana called me, ecstatic about the outcome. The afternoon had indeed turned chilly as the sun began to set, and there was a bottleneck around the sarong baskets as guests chose their color. Women helped each other find a sarong that went well with their dress. “Here’s a dusky purple one for you, honey. It goes perfectly with what you’re wearing.”
Men who had worn sports jackets didn’t really need one, but when they noticed other men in shirtsleeves picking a sarong, they dove in, too. A festive atmosphere prevailed. The idea was a great success.
Aug 3 2014
A Most Unusual Wedding Favor
When a customer called wanting a dozen brightly colored sarongs, it didn’t seem that out of the ordinary. She said she was going to use them as table coverings at her outdoor wedding. That’s a terrific idea, one that other customers have come up with, too.
When the same customer, Lisa, called back the next day wanting 50 sarongs, I couldn’t help asking what she planned to do with them. Turns out her original plan were this: at the end of the wedding meal, when all the dishes were cleared, she’d have a drawing. The winner at each table would take home the colorful sarong covering that table.
As soon as Lisa ran this idea by her friends, she ran into a mutiny. “You can’t have just one person per table take home the sarong,” they told her adamantly. “This is not a vase of flowers or even a personalized glass. This is so unusual that everyone will want one. Never mind want. Everyone will demand one. They’ll never forgive you.”
It’s possible that this lovely young bride has a group of very pushy friends, or it’s possible that sarongs are just so irresistible and enchanting that the lucky winners would be mobbed by their fellow guests. In any case, Lisa didn’t want her wedding to descend into chaos. She decided to let her friends guide her, and came back to buy enough sarongs so that each guest could take one home.
“Lucky thing I’m having a small wedding,” she told me. “Imagine if I had to buy sarongs for 200 guests!”
Sounds pretty good to me.
PS. Lisa emailed me when she got back from her honeymoon. The sarongs were a huge hit. All the women and most of the men immediately draped the sarongs around themselves and started dancing. The band, a group of good sports, shifted into Polynesian music, and the guests danced in their sarongs for the next two hours.
Lisa also told me to expect a call from one of her bridesmaids, Allana, who had another unusual idea for her own upcoming wedding in the fall. Stay tuned.
Jul 28 2014
We like to focus on the amazing versatility of the sarong, but did you ever wonder what gives sarongs their stunning and original designs and those vibrant colors? It’s the batik process that’s used. Batik is an ancient art that has been practiced over the centuries in different parts of Asia, Africa, and India. Indonesia and Java are noted for their long history of making fine batik clothing and decorative items.
Tahitians brought their art to the island of Hawaii long before it was part of the United States, and Hawaii has developed its own tradition of batik.
The ancient tradition of using wax and dye is still practiced in many of these countries. Areas of the cloth are brushed with wax, and the cloth is then dyed. The areas covered with wax resist the dye and retain their original color. Highly skilled craftspeople repeat the process for more elaborate designs. After the process is complete, the wax is removed and the piece is ready.
The word “batik” is thought by some to be derived from a Malay word meaning “to write.” Others say it’s from a Javanese word, “tik,” meaning “to dot.” The art is, in fact, very common on the island of Java. When batik was first developed in Java, it was for the exclusive benefit of royalty and nobility. Royal women practiced batik as a hobby. Particular designs were the property of aristocratic families. The family’s status could be ascertained through these proprietary designs.
Today, tradition holds that certain designs have their own meanings and that they confer good luck and prosperity to those who wear them.
Batik artists today work with various fabrics such as silk, cotton, wool, and leather. Batik is also done on paper. The ancient craft is practiced in China and Europe as well as in the traditional strongholds of Malaysia, Java, and India. Here at Turtle Island Imports, we are proud to carry stunning sarongs and other items of beauty and originality from the Indonesian island of Bali.
Jul 21 2014
Do you think kids can only have fun when there are dozens of toys available? Or when they have access to video games? Actually, kids have a grand time when they can let their imagination have free reign. Sometimes the fewer the toys, the better the game.
Marci found this out by accident when she got stranded with three kids at a riverside campsite. Not one of the kids was Marci’s. In fact, Marci didn’t have kids. Truth be told, kids made Marci nervous. What was worse, she barely knew these three kids. As she tells it, she did not volunteer to watch the kids.
It all started when she and the other campers were packing up to leave. Her friends and fellow campers, Mark and Leslee, parents of said kids, began to haul the kayaks to the trailer, a distance away. They called over their shoulders as they staggered along with the kayaks, “Marci, would you keep an eye on the kids for a minute?” Then they disappeared from sight. And didn’t come back.
As one minute turned into five and then ten, it became increasingly difficult to keep the kids close by. Thinking fast, Marci rummaged through her bag and found her sarong. She had brought it along as a cover-up and had only worn it once. “Hey kids, look at this!” she called out. The trio trooped over to where she was securing one end of the sarong to the picnic table with a few heavy rocks.
“What are you making?” asked the oldest. “Where’s Mommy?” asked the youngest. Marci kept working. She, too, wondered where Leslee was, but she wasn’t about to let the kids see her nervousness. She continued with her project, securing the other end of the sarong to the ground with more rocks. Voila! A play tent.
The kids caught on immediately, diving into the tent and beginning a game that took their minds off their missing parents. The makeshift tent was a fort, then a pirate hideout, and finally a secret clubhouse. They played and played, much to Marci’s relief, until Mark and Leslee reappeared, full of apologies. On their way to the car, they happened to discover a campers who had slipped down a bank and sprained his ankle badly. Mark had gone looking for a ranger and Leslee had stayed with the injured camper until help came. They both admired Marci’s ingenuity and vowed to try it themselves in their backyard.
Jul 14 2014
How do you wear your sarong? Are you creative with your sarongs? Compete in our contest. Starts July 21st!
Here are the details!
Post your submission on our page: https://www.facebook.com/turtleislandimports .
The grand prize for best way to tie a sarong wins $25 gift certificate to turtleislandimports.com. The three most creative, interesting or funny ways win any sarong we have in stock, up to a $15 value, including free shipping.
Jul 14 2014
We know that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Would a sarong by any other name be as beautiful and useful?
We’ve talked about some of the many uses for a sarong or pareo. Perhaps you’re wondering about the countries where these versatile garments are used, and the different names they are known by.
When you hear the word “sarong,” you may picture a beautiful Balinese woman wearing one. Sarongs are worn in many countries, from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia, to parts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In some places the rectangular lengths of fabric are worn by both men and women. Malaysian men wear their checked-pattern sarongs only when attending Friday prayers at the mosque. Women in Malaysia wear theirs every day. Arab fishermen in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean also wear sarongs. In Sri Lanka, sarongs are traditionally worn only by men and mostly as casual dress at home, since the culture views them as a sign of the lower classes.
The word sarong derives from a Malay word meaning “sheath.” The sarong is the traditional clothing of Java and the Malaysian archipelago, where it is wrapped around the body and tied, usually at the waist.
In different cultures, sarongs are called by different names. In certain parts of Africa, sarongs worn by men are termed “kangas;” those worn by women are known as “kikois.” In Saudi Arabia, one hears the name “izaar;” in Oman, they’re known as “wizaars.” In the south of India you might hear the term “mundu,” referring to sarongs worn at religious ceremonies. The better-known name for a sarong in India is “sari,” which means “strip of cloth” in Sanskrit. Saris tend to contain more fabric and be tied differently than the Southeast Asian sarong.
In Jhumpa Lahiri’s bestselling novel, Unaccustomed Earth, the title story’s protagonist speaks of her Indian mother owning 218 saris. That does seem like a lot. But when you consider the many different colors, designs, fabrics, and patterns, well, it still seems like a lot. Then compare it to the number of shoes some women own. Okay, we admit it. 218 is a staggering number of sarongs/saris. We’d love to hear from readers about the number of sarongs you or your friends own and the different ways you use them.
A sarong by any other name is still a comfortable, convenient, beautiful, and versatile cover-up. The possibilities are numerous, and we’ll explore more of them in future blog articles. Watch this space for more great ideas for using your sarongs this summer.
Sarongs are versatile and fun. Sarongs and pareos for everyone!