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Written by my good friend; Umm Abdullah (UK)
Ah the good old days; when I first came to the deen in 1997, rectangular scarves or khimars were just unheard of here in the UK. Even in regular non-Muslim stores; the closest you’d get to a rectangular scarf would be a sarong or a necktie scarf designed for little old ladies. You’d occasionally get a giant dupatta or ‘chaddar’ in Asian shops; but even that was uncommon and they were very much viewed as something you’d wear at home for salah, especially if you were under 60 years old.
The main type of scarf available in many places was the trianglular, lace edged ‘Indian’ scarves; I never liked those as being a pre-sewn triangle there was no chance of mixing it up a bit by doing clever folds or wraps; and after a few washes the front crease would always ‘go’ terribly wrong and look all wobbly.
In the late 90s Turkish style printed square scarves became mainstream; you could get plain ones but it was a rarity and they’d often for some unfathomable reason cost a few ££££s more than the printed ones. At first the Turkish scarves were in nice good quality fabrics; silk charmeuse, high quality silk or synthetic georgette, but over time as they became more popular and mass produced the fabrics became more and more cheap and nasty; something which I think led to their downfall as some of them were starting to last no longer than a couple of wears.
You could also get oversized; sometimes as large as 65” square Jordanian scarves; in polycotton with an embedded stripe. I quite liked these but they’d often not quite sit right; as if they had been originally woven or cut not quite straight. In 2001/2002 the first normal-sized rectangular scarves started to appear in Islamic stores; and also faux-pashminas usually in viscose (rayon) started to appear in mainstream accessories stores.
Still in northern England; where I lived then, very few people took up the style. Although with practice; and in some ways rectangular scarves are easier to put on and style; if you’re a newcomer to them they can be very awkward and it is especially difficult to get the coverage at the back.
The fact the rectangular scarves costed £10 each at the time probably was one reason they were so prohibitive as well. I had become really tired of the Turkish scarves though and especially the cheap fabrics they had then come to be made from; they were itchy and uncomfortable even with an underscarf and even gave me hives at one point! Still at the same time I couldn’t get the hang of the rectangles either they seemed to always pull on my head and I’d have a pretty bad migraine by the end of a long day wearing one.
However when I moved to London the rectangles were all people were wearing and I soon started to feel out of place; in London they only seemed to sell a few triangular and square scarves and they simply weren’t my style. So in the end I gradually started to accumulate the rectangular scarves and got quite adept at styling them. Over time I got rid of my square scarves to the extent that I now only have one left; the one I got married in mashaAllaah; a scarf I made back in ’03 in blue ‘bandage’ crepe with a rose design on it. Several years later I am seriously starting to ‘rue’ my decision to switch. For a start, after a couple of basic wrap styles; there are really no other options for styling a rectangle scarf which guarantee comfort and covering properly front and back; and even then its hit and miss.
So many times I have seen sisters less savvy with the rectangles realise that things have gone awry at the back and their hair is showing! Also as the rectangular scarf is cut straight from the fabric; unless you get a crinkle or stretch fabric one; there really is no ‘give’ to the fabric so unless you fasten it extremely tightly; it works loose; and if you do fasten it as tightly as needed, its uncomfortable. Thirdly; as someone with quite a long face with prominent cheekbones, and a high forehead; I don’t feel most rectangle scarves suit me. I recently visited an area of the US seemingly untouched by rectangular scarf mania; all there were in the stores were wall to wall 45” and 50” square hijabs in every type of pattern, colourway and fabric you could imagine. At the time I was disappointed as it meant I was unable to bolster my scarf collection while taking advantage of a still reasonable pound-dollar exchange rate; as I thought these scarves; while pretty would be more or less useless to me. Now I am wondering if I wasted an opportunity. Last night I got out my one lonely solitary square scarf and decided to have a bit of a play around with various styles. It was so easy and I didn’t feel like I was as limited as I am with my pashmina collection. Using various brooches and pins which Alhamdulillaah I didn’t get rid of; I was able to create various elegant styles in a jiffy and all of them suited me mashaAllaah. As the square scarves are extremely rare now here in the UK; except for the cheap rash-causing Turkish variety, which due to the cyclical nature of fashion trends are back in the same questionable garish paisley, animal print and nautical prints as when I first reverted; I decided I would make my own in some nice prints. It seems the reason for the square ones being still popular in the US is that they are usually sewn in small quantities from quality off-the-roll fabrics such as georgette; which is far more comfortable, hardwearing and generally drapes better than the cheap fabrics used nowadays for Turkish scarves.
Over here we do have fabric shops with georgette and chiffon fabrics for £1 a metre; but they tend to be in the most horrendous garish prints. For anything decent you’re looking for up to £8 a metre. Also there is the problem of generally needing 1.25 to 1.5 metres for a scarf; but not all stores sell in anything but whole metres; so you end up with bits of fabric left over and nothing you can do with it. So I thought I’d check ebay, and lo and behold there were plenty of roughly scarf-sized remnants on there for not much at all. I got six remnants; four of which a 60” square could be made from, and two of which a 45” square could be made from, for £23 including postage. Just try tapping ‘georgette’ or ‘chiffon’ into the search engine. For anyone with any sewing experience; sewing a small; straight hem is fairly easy (it may take a small amount of practice for some) and a scarf doesn’t take more than 20 minutes. I will post pictures of my scarves when they are made InshaAllaah!