I’ve written before about why I don’t do sewing for overseas charities, because I believe that gifts in kind, however well-intentioned, are likely to undermine local markets, traditions, creativity, skills and pride. But, having made that great pronouncement, I am really aware that I don’t know much at all about those traditions, and would love to learn. So, I was really interested to read an article about the quilts made by the women of Kachchh (aka Kutch & pronounced Kaach) in the latest issue of Quiltmania magazine. It inspired me to start googling and I’ve been so fascinated by what I found that I thought I’d share a little bit.
Kachchh is a district of the Gurjarat in western India. It’s a very hostile environment in which to try and create a living because for most of the year it is dry, and has extremes of temperatures through the day, as well as across the seasons. There’s also a dramatic wet season with flooding and wild weather in abundance. It seems that patchwork quilts are an absolute necessity of life, with each household traditionally having up to thirty or forty quilts for day to day use. They are kept folded, piled and covered with beautifully embroidered covers until they are needed:
This is the pile of quilts belonging to Sofiya Nalenitha Mutwa, a skilled textile artisan from the town of Dhordo in Kachchh, as photographed by Carole Douglas, who leads tours to the area. Wouldn’t it be amazing to visit and see these quilts in reality! This article, by Carole Douglas, on the iquilt website, called Dhadki, Dowry and Diversity is fascinating reading, and gives a real insight into what it is to live and work in this tough environment.
All this googling also led me to the website of the Kala Raksha Trust which aims to to preserve traditional arts of the Kachchh region by making them culturally and economically viable. They believe that by helping maintain the traditional artisanal skills of the region they are giving people the opportunity to gain a measure of economic security and independence. The Trust also maintains a museum in order to preserve the beautiful artefacts of the region and to give local people access to their own rich heritage. Here’s one of the beautiful quilts in the collection:
Some local stitchers call this pattern Laher which means waves, and others call it Mod, which means groom’s headress. It is good to know that we all have name for these things (and arguments about them too).
And here’s a beautiful Dowry bag with applique and patchwork:
As if the climate were not difficult enough, Kachchh is also subject to earthquakes, and in 2001 (you might remember) the region was devastated by a quake which measured nearly 8 on the Richter scale. To provide support and encouragement, Carole Douglas worked with textile artisans from the region to create a travelling exhibition to draw attention to their experience and to bring hope. You can see the exquisite work that was created for this exhibition, called Resurgence, in the exhibition catalogue (pdf) – it is incredibly moving to read. I was touched by the statement of a group of artists from different communities in the region who worked together to create a piece of beautiful embroidery:
This is an important thing we have done. In the earthquake we momentarily forgot our skill and now we are reviving it. There is unity in this work in the way we have all worked together to achieve this result. In the three months we worked on this piece we have learned much about each other and our different skills… Our work shows the strength and beauty of each of our communities, Jat, Mutwa, Meghwar, Sodha-Rajput and Rabari. We have used our ﬁnest embroidery skills to make something new and unique out of tradition. We are proud that our work is being seen in other countries. We are proud to be Kutchis.
I find it wonderful to think that all of us who stitch for work and for pleasure have this connection with each other. You can find out how to support the work of the Kala Raksha Trust just here.