Quilts of India: A Patchwork Chronicle by Patrick J Finn

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), July 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

Quilts of India: A Patchwork Chronicle by Patrick J Finn


India, July 27 -- American Patrick J Finn travelled across India researching the country's many wonderful quilting traditions.

Quilts of India; Timeless Textiles by Patrick J Finn

Niyogi Books

Rs. 4,500; PP 386

Drive down Mumbai's thoroughfares, the ones hemmed in by tin shanties and makeshift homes and chances are you'll spot an intricately hand stitched quilt hung out to air on a rickety balcony or a road divider. It flaps there proclaiming to passers by the talent and industriousness of the lady of the house - for it is almost always women who quilt in a domestic setting, who repurpose tattered bed sheets, clothes that the children have outgrown, and old saris, and transform them into patchworks of art.

Of course, it isn't only the impoverished who quilt. In many families that are enthusiastic about needlework, it is a domestic art form that's passed on from generation to generation, from mother to daughter, one that stitches them together as surely as the invisible threads of familial love. Men quilt too though most often as a commercial activity.

You dimly perceived all this, your inner hausfrau sometimes propelled you to rework ruined bits of cloth - never managing, of course, to achieve the brilliance of those sheets flapping in Mumbai's coastal breeze - but it is Patrick J Finn's wonderful book Quilts of India: Timeless Textiles that has opened your eyes to this country's many wonderful quilting traditions.

The myths and motifs that are part of Bengal's intricate kanthas, the koudis of Karnataka, the resplendent gudris of Rajasthan, the intricate Indo-Portuguese quilts of Goa, quilted palampores,the ledras of Jharkhand, the razais of UP, the reverse appliqued dharkis and the godris of Gujrat, and Odisha's appliques are all studied here. The author makes connections to religion, folklore, the landscape, nature and historic trade routes while also honouring expert craftspeople.

Here's Shekhawat Hussain Khan, master of the balaposh - the unquilted quilt - who is unsure that his family will continue with the tradition; Here's Deviben Kodiyatar of Chhaya Porbandar whose patchwork quilts dazzle with their repetitive geometric shapes; and here's Lakshmi, a Siddi from Yellapur sitting on her bright patchwork koudi.

Finn has crisscrossed the country, going to remote pockets where the sight of a foreigner is probably rare and has come away with information that is as fresh to an Indian as it is to an outsider. Beautifully produced and painstakingly detailed, Quilts of India strikes the balance between being scholarly and accessible; a book to read and to periodically revisit for inspiration.

In an email interview, Patrick J Finn, spoke about why Indian quilts - so ubiquitous you never really 'saw' them before - are so special. …

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