Stitching connections..

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:

A pile of quilts belonging to a Kachchh quilter

Photo © iquilt.com and Carole Douglas

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:

Ralli patchwork at Kala Raksha Museum

Image courtesy of the Kala Raksha Museum

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:

Image courtesy of the Kala Raksha Museum

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.

10 thoughts on “Stitching connections..

    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed reading the old post too. These things are so complex, and I think it’s lovely that people want to make and share things, but there’s probably better ways of going about giving to people who need a hand.

  1. I read your older post about needing to think about gifts in kind, and it’s a great post! I hadn’t really thought about it before, and I’m glad you pointed those things out. Just donate money is my takeaway lesson! 🙂

    1. I’ve come to that conclusion too… money is always the best gift if you want to help someone. Obviously that comes with it’s complications too, but thoughtful giving is so important. Of course, you can always make something and sell it, THEN send the money… 🙂

    1. Thanks George, glad you enjoyed reading it. It would be lovely to see them, one of the great things about doing sewing is learning about textile traditions. Lovely to see you too – hope you are doing good. xx

  2. Surely it qualifies as an excellent ‘school trip’ for you and the boys! I loved ‘school trips’ when we were home-schooling! Fabulous work under such limiting circumstances. Isn’t Google an amazing way to explore the world!

    1. Oooh, I love the idea of going to India on a school trip! We’re planning on a trip up the road to Manchester after Easter, but maybe we need to be more ambitious! The internet is a wonderful thing, I was blown away that I could go on Google Maps and look at the roofs of the houses where these craftspeople live. Amazing!

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