Contemporary Quilting and Beyond: The India Quilt Festival

India Quilt Festival

Do you often wonder and marvel at other cultures and their quilting history? While in the U.S. we often claim quilting as an American heritage, many other societies have a rich quilting history as well—different from ours—but just as significant. At Quilting Arts Magazine we rejoice in all quilting traditions, contemporary quilting as well as ancient art! Join Patrick J. Finn as he explores the India Quilt Festival (held January 2019) and the gorgeous artwork displayed there. Please enjoy this excerpt, for the full article grab a copy of Quilting Arts August/September 2019.

A grand quilted peacock greeted visitors at the door of the India Quilt Festival. Quilts featuring flowers, landscapes, portraits, animals, and more flooded the hall with color and excitement. Each beckoned to be noticed and we happily obliged.

India Quilt Festival

“Shivarajyabhishek—The Coronation of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj” • Shruti Rohit Dandekar • 19′ x 8′ (detail) | Photo by Chaitanya Pandit

A Bit of History

Quilt India Foundation inaugurated this festival, its first quilt exhibition in India to explore
the nation’s historic quilting heritage and to showcase quilt making, old and new. The last national quilt show was held in 1922. Traditional quilt making and other textile work in India originated thousands of years ago. Although no quilted examples survive from the earliest period, quilted clothing is “worn” by ancient statues of kings and religious figures. In the 16th century, the Portuguese commissioned the famous Bengalla colchas (quilts), which they exported home. Bengali craftspeople densely embroidered these 16th- and 17th-century silk quilts now exhibited in various museum collections.

Seventy curated vintage and contemporary quilts added cultural context to the festival. The collection, “Quilts Across Time and Nations,” revealed how contemporary quilters adapt traditional techniques in innovative ways. For example, the spirals and diagonal quilting discovered on a 1,819-year-old Scythian chieftain quilt appeared in a modern quilt by Roopa Hebballi titled “Check Me Out.”

India Quilt Festival

“Dance of the Peacock” • 250+ Desi Quilters • 36″ x 108″ | Photos by Patrick J. Finn unless otherwise noted

The festival was grand, displaying 360 quilts and boasting 290 entries from 167 individuals and 11 countries. The five competitive categories were: Traditional Quilts, Modern Quilts, Art Quilts, Novice Quilts and Theme Quilts—The Dance of the Peacock. And dance they did!

Creativity and Art

From the quaint to quirky and contemporary to classic, every quilt teemed with an unsurpassed creative spirit. Chitra Mandanna’s Best of Show exemplifies attention to detail. “Inspiration” portrays her uncle designed in cheesecloth and denim. The assembly of dissimilar fabrics creates a stunning textural symphony without drawing attention to the materials. “It took me a month to create this. Working with cheesecloth can be challenging,” says the 42-year-old Indian quilter, who won the day with four ribbons.

India Quilt Festival

“Anamika: We Too—The Unsung Bravehearts” • Lalitha Rajan and Prabha Mathew • quilted by Kalindi Hambir • 61″ x 48″

“Anamika,” pieced by Lalitha Rajan and Prabha Mathew and quilted by Kalindi Hambir, is characterized by the subtitle, “We Too—The Unsung Bravehearts.” This First Place–Art Quilt winner reveals an emotional and haunting scene of women walking away from the viewer balancing bundles on their heads. But the light streaming through the trees, creating shadows, underscores the profound theme of this quilt—the invisible faces of women in Indian society.

India Quilt Festival

“Shivarajyabhishek—The Coronation of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj” • Shruti Rohit Dandekar • 19′ x 8′ | Photo by Chaitanya Pandit

“Shivarajyabhishek—The Coronation of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj,” Shruti Rohit Dandekar’s masterpiece, hung in the entryway. This exciting quilt depicts Shivaraj’s coronation with raw-edge appliqué covered in tulle and then quilted. This 19′ x 8′ quilt took 693 hours to create, includes 20,852 pieces of fabric in 287 different shades, and weighs over 15 pounds. Shruti’s masterwork stood as a genuine inspiration for novice and experienced quilters alike.

A gala awards ceremony capped the event, intensifying the already electric atmosphere. Yet beyond the glitter and glamour, an authentic community assembled to recognize each other’s achievements and honor India’s ancient craft.

India Quilt Festival

“Inspiration” • Chitra Mandanna • 36″ x 48″

The tradition and history of Indian quilt making remain undeniable. Through the efforts of Quilt India Foundation, the world will once again share in this rich cultural heritage— the quilts of India.

Want to learn more?

The India Quilt Festival was held January 25–27, 2019, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. To see the winning entries click here.

Patrick J. Finn is the author of Quilts of India: Timeless Textiles and Quilt Field Guide For India, Bangladesh and Pakistan (affiliate link). His next book, Quilt Story: the Cultural Heritage, is due out later this year. Patrick lives in Jaipur, Rajasthan.

Enjoy more compelling stories of culture, artistry, and quilting in Quilting Arts Magazine October/November 2019, and subscribe today to never miss an issue!

Sew long,

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