How to make a Pakistani quilt
By: M. Shirazi
What is the first thing that comes to your mind as soon as you think of winters? For most of us, it will be sitting on our sofas snuggled in our blankets/quilts with a cup of coffee in our hands. Well, we still have a few more chilly days to enjoy and if you want to add some warmth in your house or your bedroom then quilts is the way to go. Yes! adding a splash of colour and texture to your room by choosing multi-coloured quilts which are crafted with a lot of attention to detail can make any room look more inviting and cosy. No matter what style you choose, traditional or contemporary, a quilt is sure to make your resting time comfy and relaxed. Quilts not only provide warmth, but also work as a decorative accessory for any room. A smaller version of a quilt can also be used as a wall hanging or you can use it as a throw on your sofa set. They say colour has a profound effect on our moods and incorporating a colourful quilt in your room can uplift your spirit and refresh you instantly.
Tradition of quilt-making
Pakistan has a rich tradition of quilt-making. The art of ralli-making (ralli being the local name for traditional patchwork quilts), is practiced mostly in rural communities. Traditionally rallis were made at home, from recycled and hand dyed cotton cloth, with intricate geometric designs. The quilts are mostly made with ‘solid’ fabrics, using a combination of patchwork and reverse applique techniques. One or several layers of fabric are used for batting and most quilts are extensively quilted. No modern tools/gadgets like templates or rotary cutters etc. are used and yet the makers succeed in churning out remarkably complicated patterns with an amazing degree of accuracy.
‘Bichhuana’ is a collaborative non-profit undertaking which came into existence after the devastating floods in 2010. It was then that Maliha Bhimjee and Tasnim Jaffer took the initiative to help the women of rural Sindh, to a sustainable entrepreneurial pursuit. They decided to encourage women housed at refugee camps, to invest their time in making rallis for a reasonable compensation. By introducing innovative patterns into the traditional ralli designs, the organisation has helped create a more marketable product. Bichhauna supports 35 quilters/quilting families (flood affected) in a small village Khamiso Kholoro, near Dadu in rural Sindh. “Because of security issues these families come to Karachi and take back work. Fabric is bought shrunk and tested for colour and then cut and bagged with a design – ethnic or contemporary and sent to the quilters. All the proceeds go back to the quilters. A major chunk of the sales proceeds are paid as wages to the quilters. Left over funds are invested in their welfare – health, education or home repairs,” says one of the organisers.
Recently, an exhibition was held in Karachi which was well received by all. Read on to find out more about the organisation and its quilters …
You! Tell us a bit about bichhuana? How did this idea occur to you and why quilts?
Bichhauna: After the floods of 2010 we visited a relief camp in Site area, Karachi, where we found the women were at a loose end. So we decided to employ them gainfully. In the beginning we considered embroidery but every other NGO was into embroidery. We found Sindhi quilts being used by them so we decided to try making rallies, a dying art. The first batch had to be scrapped but every subsequent one was better. After the quilters returned to their villages, taking with them fabric to be made into quilts, they sent in a batch of quilts that inspired us to hold our first exhibition in December 2012, to which they too were invited. We were all sold out!
You! What is the inspiration behind bichhuana?
B: Initially the idea behind the project was to help the flood devastated families get back on their feet. Now our main aim is to keep the stoves of our 35 quilting families alight.
You! How many exhibitions have you had up till now?
B: We have had over 50 shows and exhibitions so far in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, London, Dubai, Essex, New York, Chicago, Dallas, Canada, South Africa, India, Sri Lanka and Brussels, Doha and Singapore. Also, we were invited to participate in a festival Alchemy at Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre in London in April 2012 to present our project and sell our wares. We have also shown at non profit trade fairs in Dubai and Brussels.
You! Tell us about the recent exhibition held in Karachi and what sort of response did you receive?
B: The response was amazing as usual. There were 45 quilts on display and almost two-thirds of them were sold.
You! Tell us about the types of quilts that you produce? What type of material or fabric goes into making the quilts?
B: Throws, single queen and king size bedspreads are made by the quilters which are all pieced and sewn by hand. The quilts are made from 100 per cent cotton fabric of finest quality which is pre-shrunk and tested for colour runs. The quilts have 3 layers – design patchwork top layer, middle plain white cotton layer and printed bottom layer – so they are reversible. No machines are used and it takes the quilters up to 160 hours to complete one quilt. The quilters use their own inherent sense of colour and design while following the assigned pattern. Once the top design layer is complete, all three layers (top, lining and back) are then secured together with a running stitch along the entire surface of the ralli.
You! How are bichhuana quilted products different from the rest available in the market?
B: The quilts available in the markets use mixed polyester fabric and are pieced with machines. The quality is not of high standard as compared to the quilts that we produce. Also we focus on fusion designs – ethnic as well as contemporary and classic American designs. Sometimes we make runners, mats, bags, pot holders etc but our focus is on the bigger stuff so that our quilters can earn good money.
You! You only export your stuff? Why is that so?
B: We choose to sell abroad through exhibitions and art galleries because there is a big market and appreciation for handmade patchwork quilts abroad plus we can charge higher prices, thus benefitting our quilters.
You! Do you display your products anywhere in Pakistan? If not any plans of opening up an outlet in Pakistan?
B: We find it convenient to sell through exhibitions at homes and restaurants/art galleries as there is no middleman, rent or commission involved. We aim to keep our overheads very low.
You! What are your future plans?
B: Well we hope to introduce innovative designs, bridal quilts, silk quilts and larger product variety in the future.We also hope to collaborate with other ngos to further our cause. We are looking to market our quilts at reputed ‘Home stores’ abroad, who can deal directly with our quilters and give them a permanent means of livelihood.