I began a textile adventure at the start of this winter that I have contemplated for many a year - hand quilting. For all the amazing fabrics I've been fortunate to have access to, it was ultimately a humble selection of Indian garment remnants that finally stirred me to put a hand needle into quilting action. Sourced on a joyous late summer's day at the vibrant Sussex Prairie Gardens Bazaar Indian Market, I lovingly fingered my textile treasures for some weeks and pondered how I could work with them. As autumn gave way to low light winter days, little could I imagine how my treasures would brighten my days and I continue to look at my modest hand quilt achievement in wonder.
Whenever I have thought of quilting, there has always been a strong urge to stay true to the roots of this much loved heritage craft. Derived from the Latin word culcita meaning to bolster or cushion, the first known example of quilting was a garment depicted on an ivory carving from the ancient Egyptian First Dynasty. Quilting became part of the needlework tradition from the 15th century for both clothing and housefhold use. Originally quilted items were 'wholecloth' and 'patchwork' quilting started in the late 18th century and was in many respects, the first example of 'upcycling'. It is this repurposing of fabric that would otherwise be relegated to waste that has always appealed to me and these were my modest Indian textile remnants that started my journey.
It also felt important to work with my fabrics in an authentic way and after a little research I came upon the Siddi women of Western India. Early African imigrants, one of the traditions they have retained in their culture is the creation of colourful quilts called 'Kawandi'. Made from patches of well worn clothing and often backed onto old saris, their striking and creative quilts adorn any Siddi village and are routinely used. Others before me have been equally drawn by their tradition and have initiated exhibitions and their own quilting journeys. This short write up by Henry John Drewel gives a little insight into the cultural setting.
As the UK autumn days shortened, I dilegently researched how this hand quilting technique was worked. How I envied those who had been able to travel to Siddi villages and sit in person to see the technique in action. And so one one early winter's day, I laid a piece of hand blocked printed Indian cotton on a pair of my studio tables followed by a piece of beautiful wool wadding. After folding the edge of the backing fabric around the wadding, I started to cut, position and hand stitch my first line of blocks of varying widths - the constitant height gave me a chance to get use to constructing and hand quilting at the same time.
I had learnt from studying many Siddi quilt photographs, that there were a number of traditions in adding particular shapes and one of these was an 'L' shape in quilt corners. Concerned at the beginning about running out of fabrics, my colour choices for these were conservative and I wished later that I had acquired extra remmants earlier than I did. I hand stitched throughout in a perle 12 cotton thread in a light beige colour - this is much finer than the white cotton thread traditionally used. I kept my hand stitching to a size that I could comfortably work without hooping or putting in a frame, neither of which was an option.