Friday, April 22, 2011

Making a quilt – the traditional way

No rotary cutters. No rulers. No ironing. Nirmala akka’s method of quilting makes use of what is freely available to her. Her hands, needles, thread, and lots of cloth. Don’t be deceived though… this method takes work and  if you’re a beginner at this be sure you’ll come away with blisters and aching fingers.

Lots of beautiful silks used here by Poornima
For the workshop we worked on a 24X24 inch mini-quilt. We were asked to bring a cotton sari or dupatta with a border, a metre of plain white cloth, colorful scraps for the top, and, an old sari or dupatta for the batting (inside layers). You can use all cotton fabrics or mix them up. Nirmala akka uses all kinds of fabrics in her quilts and they turn out just beautifully. A couple of the participants had gorgeous silks and their quilts were striking. Silk is harder to work with, especially if you’re starting off, but hey, what’s wrong with a little ambition?

This one is Chandini's. Lovely fabrics.
We began by separating the border from the sari cutting an inch away from the inside of the border. Our teacher only uses scissors to nip the cloth and then tears it. This is a fun and fast way to do it and can be quite therapeutic. Then we measured the fabric for the back with a tape measure providing an allowance of an inch. The inside layers were measured  to the same size as the back. The thickness is up to the preference of the quilter. We used about three to four layers for our quilts but be warned that the thicker the quilt is the harder your fingers have to work.

The back of the quilt is laid on the floor and the inside layers on top of it so the inside faces the quilter. Akka taught us how to use our feet to give us a better grip when we sew. First the border is attached with short running stitches. Akka’s stitches look like they’re straight out of a machine. They are equal in size and equidistant from each other and the lines all run straight. This will come only with practice. After all she’s been doing this for 20 years now.
This was a smaller piece that one of the participants started. But you see how the border gets sewn first.
Once the border is done the patches are attached. Akka uses white for the four corners of the quilt where she does her motifs. So we cut out four squares of the same size from the white cloth and attached the first one to one of the corners. This is done by folding in about half an inch of two sides of the patches and starting the line of running stitches on the patch. Another patch of color is added when you come to the end of the white patch and the running stitch goes on. Each time the patch is added a back stitch is taken to secure the patch.


Once we went all round the quilt we had to begin with the motifs. The motifs need to be thought of earlier on as the entire quilt is sewed inwards in lines that go round the quilt – like concentric squares. So on each line a part of the motif is brought in. You need to remember that a certain piece of cloth needs to appear on the opposite corner when you get there. We decided to stick with the easy ones. Some of us made corners and kites and others tried their hands at a turtle. All turned out beautifully under the watchful eye of akka.
That's how the corner motif starts out.
You can have as many of the corner lines as you like. This is Meena's quilt.  

This is mid-way with the addition of a kite. 
When we were done with stitching the motifs and covered the first round of patches with stitches we moved on to the inner square. Here too we followed the same method of attaching the patches but now we could run the stitches from the left to right instead of going round the quilt. Here we needed to keep an eye on the balance of the rows of stitches.
The first row of patches with the motifs being sewn as we move inwards.
Coming to the center of the quilt and adding more patches.
In this manner we come to the centre of the quilt and here akka has a beautiful way of finishing off the quilt. She says that traditionally when you finish a quilt it is like closing the mouth of the quilt. The quilt has life and must not be hungry. So they always put in a little cooked food – rice or roti – anything to feed the quilt. She also said that if a pregnant woman is making a quilt she should not finish it. Somebody else must or her womb will be closed as well.
Feeding the quilt with rice.


So we fed our quilts too and the finishing stitches were added. And we returned, with new friends, new skills, and much joy and pride with our very own handmade, traditional, mini-quilts.
All done! :)
This post can also be found on Savita's blog buDa folklore. (When she puts it up) Savita organized the workshop and very generously opened her home to us for four days. 

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this tutorial. The process looks like fun to do and the quilt is very lovely.

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  2. You're welcome though I must say it's not quite a tutorial. I began to write it like one but it was just way to complicated. There's so many little things that need to be done with the stitches and the folding... so I just made it a general post on the method. Still... glad you enjoyed it. :)

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  3. This was absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing the experience! The process is intriguing and I'd never heard about feeding a quilt. Love the folklore!

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  4. I am so glad you shared your process. I would have never thought of a quilt starting from the outer edge! I am so going to try this! I have my mom's sari that I brought from India.. Can't wait!

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  5. I will look forward to seeing it! :)

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  6. wow what an amazing story. i too find it interesting you work from the outer border to the center
    it would be fun to try something extremely small like this. :o)
    thanks

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  7. How fascinating! The quilt is beautiful!

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  8. Beautiful! What thread do I use for the quilting ?

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