Eight students of the Kanadukathan Muthiah Subbiah Chettiar Girls Higher Secondary School in Nattarasankottai — a village in the Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu — knew nothing about quilting when Meena Subramanian, granddaughter of the school’s founder, suggested that they should attend the India Quilt Festival in Chennai. Unaware but excited and skilled, the group started working towards the exhibit. “After watching videos of quilting on YouTube, all of them were excited. I got them materials. Their trainer was absent for a while because of a cataract surgery but the students prepared to participate in the show in less than 10 days,” says Subramanian, who describes herself as a traveller, chef and quilter.
The eight students are among the 161 participants from 11 countries who are exhibiting at the festival that is being held from January 25 to 27 at Sri Sankara Hall in Chennai. Organised by the Quilt India Foundation, the festival features a quilt show, workshops, interactive learning sessions with leading Indian and international quilters and live demonstrations on quilt-making. The display ranges from vintage Indian quilts to traditional designs. While the competition category is divided into traditional quilts, modern quilts, art and innovative quilts and novice quilts, the most thrilling category is expected to be quilts under the theme of “Dance of the Peacock”.
The trio behind the festival comprises Varsha Soundararajan, a teacher; Tina Katwal, founder of Desi Quilters; and Deepa Vasudevan, marketing and business specialist. The three founded the Quilt India Foundation last year to revive the art of quilting, bringing the artists, quilters and suppliers together on a common platform. A series of events are being planned to celebrate the textile art.
Days before the festival, Soundararajan was busy shortlisting entries from professional and amateurs, including Chennai-based housewives. The WhatsApp group started by the organisation comprises over 200 women. “One of the major attractions of the festival is the presence of tentmakers from Cairo. They have brought handmade appliquéd textiles called Khayamiya, which were historically used to decorate tents across the Middle East. Toda tribal artisans from the Nilgiris district have produced exquisite pieces of textile craft representing Toda culture. We also have a team of women artisans from Narsapur, who have worked with crochet lace knitting. Arun Bajaj, son of a tailor in Patiala, specialises in thread work on sherwanis and achkans. The Porgai Artisans Association, comprising Lambadi women artisans, specialises in the rich tradition of hand embroidery,” says Soundararajan.
Excited about the festival, Soundararajan notes that quilting involves not just sewing two or more layers of fabric together to make a thicker padded material, but also concerns art and aesthetics. She cites the example of Kantha from West Bengal, where tattered pieces of cloth are stitched together. “An artisan who make these gets Rs 1,000 or even less. I have seen these being sold at 600 Euros. We want to create a better market for these artisans,” says Soundararajan. She hopes to initiate a conversation through the festival that will also feature numerous lectures. Interacting with the audience will be Nirmala Akka, a Kowdhi artist and teacher associated with BuDa, an organisation in Honnavar; Pat Archibald, an occupational therapist and owner of a patchwork and quilting shop in Scotland; and Patrick J Finn, author of Quilts of India: Timeless Textiles, a book on Indian quilts.