Thursday, March 19, 2015

A little bit of India

I thought a week and half in Seattle had faded away most of my memories of India. But then yesterday I transferred my pictures into the computer!  The trip was an incredible learning experience on many levels.

Most encouraging part of the trip - Seeing quilts in person which validated my point of view in the book and meeting with the people who make them.

I had the opportunity to meet with a family who earns their living making quilts. Families of three brothers living in one farmhouse.

Farmhouses in the region of kutch, Gujarat are clusters of one-room mud-huts with a large open courtyard in the center. People were so warm, they smiled ear to ear! They were happy to show off their homes and offer us food fresh from the wood-burning stoves, also made with mud!

Here is the picture of a quilt made for personal use. It is finished with thousands of little stitches, made with most humble fabrics - The fabrics most quilters in the west would probably think are not worth the time. 

But for the villagers in Gujarat, India it is an absolute necessity. Desert cold can be brutal. Wood burning stoves and fire pits are the only source of heat for most of the rural homes. Each member of the family must have quilts to sleep on and cover themselves with.

If the thin sari fabric wears out at some point in time, there is always a plan B!

Patch it up and make it part of the quilt. New layers of  thin saris are added as old layers wear out and quilts get heavier with time.

The reality is, they make beautiful quilts with the mix of new and old fabrics. To improvise is not a style, it is a way of living. They must use the fabrics they have for personal quilts and purchase new fabrics for quilts worthy of consumer markets all over the world to earn the living. As beautiful as that indigo quilt is, I was sadden by the fact that the quilt looked perfect! Perfect in placement of fabrics, colors and stitching.. One look at it and I was done seeing the whole quilt!

As far as future of quilting in India goes, conversations with quilt making community were a mix bag of happy and sad.  I must write all that down before I forget.

I so badly wanted to buy one of their quilts and bring it home. I asked if they would sell one to me.. The one with all the mistakes and imperfections, one I could use as my inspiration board forever!

The answer will surprise you.. A flat out "NO" with tremendous pride!

The explanation was simple - Quilts for their personal use were either given to them as wedding gifts or were made for future events like wedding in the family or birth of the child. A 65 years old woman showed me the quilt she had brought with her when she wedded her husband.

They showed us stacks of personal quilts neatly folded and stored under a large sheet. They were for the relatives and guests who often visit from other villages. To keep them warm, to show their respect and to show off their artistry.

The real truth for not selling the quilts, this woman explained, "Our ancestors said to never sell Godharis."  

I came away with a beautiful experience. During our seven hours' car ride to the city, all I could think about was when will I return next.

Three hours with them were just not enough, but they gave me a lot to ponder over.


By the way, if you missed my earlier post, I will be lecturing and teaching at MAQ this summer. Click on the link below for more information.


  1. A beautiful story! I love the the family history that their quilts much more than just a quilt.

  2. I was so impatient to hear from your experiences in India! Good friends of mine travel over there each year to make fair trade with some artisans - for stamp-printed fabrics. This country is harsh to live but the people have to much to teach us too!
    Thank you Sujata!

  3. Thank you for this article! A couple years ago, I made my own version of a sari, or kantha quilt. I used voile fabric, wool bat, large thread and stitches for quilting, and no rulers. 'Also whip-stitched the edges, rather than bind. The quilt is not like anything I have ever made before, and I loved making it, and giving it away.

  4. That is a lovely story Sujata, I really like that phrase "to improvise is not a style, it is a way of living"

  5. Thank you for sharing these with us. Even the "perfect" quilts are beautiful, and have their own Indian aesthetic. I, like you, would prefer the "personal" quilts. You said it very well, "To improvise is not a style, it's a way of living." So true. I think the necessity to make quilts with limited materials fuels improvisation. Those conditions are hard to replicate in these times.

  6. Thank you for sharing these photos, and tales of your trip.What a wonderful journey on many different levels, to meet the quilters of these beautiful quilts. I love that they didn't want to sell them because of the history contained in their stitches. I too found your sentence "To Improvise is not a style, it's a way of living " stood out.

  7. You have the best posts! LOVE the star quilt and the woman that made it. She is so proud! Beautiful. Wish I could have seen you in Seattle and am SO glad your son is better. How scary!!! Welcome home. Settle in. We'll be here.

  8. Maybe improvisation is the difference between "art" versus "craft". A well crafted item is a good thing, but a item created with emotion and hopes for a long future is art, just as these quilts are. I too enjoy a slightly imperfect wonky quilt, one that embraces history and skill. It is a skill to marry together all types of fabric and make it work. I was always drawn to a scrappy style with quilts and ignoring rules, now you have shown me how others take it to a higher level. Thank you, for sharing these snippets of far flung places that serve to connect us more.

  9. Aren't these quilts amazing!! I love your photo of the quilt with the small patch and multi coloured thread - what stories they have to tell.

  10. Interesting to learn about their quilting culture. You never see quilts from India in books, magazines or at shows. It seem it is a highly personal expressive art form. The stitching is amazing.

  11. The personal use quilts are incredible. Love the make-do fixes. It really gives the quilt a beautiful look and texture!

  12. Thank you for sharing these beautiful quilts from Gujarat. What joy they put into their work! I am delighted to know they keep the best and most precious for themselves because they will always be valued and never fall out of style. You were so privileged to be able to see them.

  13. You are having an incredible journey. Thank you so very much for sharing it with us. It would be a dream come true to travel to India with you and explore the world of women and fabrics in your native country.

  14. beautiful quilts and philosophy....just like early american quilters who quilted out of necessity only, for warmth, and not with new or bought fabric either....thank you for a lovely and interesting post!

    1. It was amazing to see them in piles that were at-least three to four feet high! I came away with a wonderful experience and loads of memories.

  15. So wonderful to hear the quilts are cherished.

  16. Wonderful post. Thanks for letting us live vicariously through you and your travels! And yes, "To Improvise is not a style, it's a way of living "... that line really hit me as well. Beautifully said, and one for me to ruminate on.


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