TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ralli Quilts: The Book & New Arrivals on Rayela Art


I wrote a post early on about how I fell in love with ralli quilts, patchwork and appliqué quilts from Pakistan and India. I have been buying as many as I can afford and have a bunch of new ones available for sale in my Etsy store and a couple on eBay. They arrive filthy and I machine wash them in a big industrial washer at the laundromat, testing to see if they will fall apart. Most are between 20-50 years old, ranging in price from $60-$200, depending on the workmanship, condition and how much I paid for them. All the ralli photos in this post are ones that I recently posted. Click on the image and it will take you to the listing with more photos, dimensions, price and other info.

I also purchased the book, Ralli Quilts by Patricia Ormsby Stoddard. This is THE resource for ralli quilts, comprehensive in documentation of photos, techniques, symbolism and historical roots. I believe that ralli quilts will be the next Quilts of Gee's Bend craze. They have the same organic, spontaneous, naive appeal that brought so much attention to the women of Alabama.

I have not had time to read the book in depth, but would like to highlight some interesting ralli info Patricia Ormsby Stoddard speaks about in her book. The intro itself is fascinating as Patricia describes her trip into the harsh and remote areas where the quilts are found:

"We were accompanied by Pakistani friends and a police escort. I'm sure our arrival was quite an occasion in some of the small villages where we stopped. In one place, a woman asked, through a translator, where we were from. I answered, "America," and she asked "What's that?" Later, I thought maybe I should have said Islamabad or just a city north of here. With little transportation or knowledge of the outside, her world was only the limited area she knew." (page 6)

She continues,
"As I traveled throughout the ralli region, I, a stranger, was greeted warmly by the women. Their willingness to share their quilting tradition and handiwork was obvious. Their smiles came quickly. Their flair for color is obvious in their work. They painstakingly continue the textile crafts that has been handed down for generations. They carefully form patterns and symbols from cloth, some simple and some complex. The women making these quilts rely on their own memories and the memories of their mothers and older women to teach them the patterns. They do not use paper or any tools to make their patterns. I remember on one occasion giving a woman a pencil so she could draw a picture of a pattern she was trying to explain. She apparently had never used a pencil and just made a big circle on the paper. The ralli compositions are in the women's minds and memories and they execute them with great skill in needlework." (page 7)

When I read this, I thought, "Oh, my..." I always sketch out what I am going to do to at least have a general idea of where I am going in my quilts. I can understand having a pretty simple image in your head, but in some of the more complex ones, I would have gotten completely lost if I were doing it. On the other hand, others, uh, could use some guidance... Some of the ralli quilts I have purchased have been pretty shocking in the fabric selection or choice of colors, but somehow this also adds to the freshness of it all.

Patricia describes the village life of the different areas she visited. Here is an excerpt from her visit to Kutch, an area which is extremely rich in wonderful textiles besides the ralli quilts:
"The women take care of the house and children and may sell embroidery to add to the family income. Textiles are part of the family treasures. Using quilting, appliqué and embroidery to decorate, the women make quilts and quilt covers, pillows and bags as well as clothing. Women wear tightly fitted, brightly embroidered blouses with full skirts made from ten to twelve meters of cloth and a shawl (odhani). Interestingly, embroidery is prized for its beauty and commercial value but quilts symbolize a family's social position and wealth. Quilts are often seen inside homes piled neatly on tables or chests, sometimes with a special quilted or embroidered cover." (page 25)

My favorite quilts from the ones I have are cotton that have been dyed with what I thought were veggie dyes. Apparently, these are chemical dyes that are available in local markets, but that are not very good and fade over time, a quality which I personally find attractive. I like the softness that time gives the colors. Patricia talks about the history of dyeing and how there is now a resurgence in using veggie techniques again. (page 40)

When the ralli has been assembled and is ready for the quilting stage, the quilter invites the other women from neighboring houses for a "rallee-vijhanu". (page 43) Each woman stitches at least one line to help keep the quilt together, normally a whole morning's activity. Then, the quilter finishes it herself, filling in the quilting between the larger spaces the other women worked on. She will also contribute her time when another neighbor needs help getting her ralli finished. This is such a nice touch, reminiscent of our own historical quilting bees, where a whole community is reflected in one piece.
Patricia has an extensive section in the book that traces ralli designs to ancient pottery shards of the region. She states that the checkerboard patterns are common in both pottery and quilts. (page 118)

Newer quilts, from the 1970's on use fabrics that are colorfast, including rayon, polyester, silk and other synthetics. These can be very bright and bright in color value. Intricate quilts are made for weddings and other special occasions, while simpler ones, using whole cloth or larger pieces of fabric, are for every day use.

Often times, they are made of worn shawls that have pieces that can be salvaged or commercial fabrics which may be over-dyed.

Ralli Quilts has an extensive section dedicated to appliqué techniques used in different regions. Some are absolutely stunning in their intricacy, almost looking like lace. I have not been able to get any of the good ones, but have one simple quilt available that is at least a sample of that style. The workmanship on it is not the best, which probably means it was made by an older woman with poor eyesight or a young one, just learning. There are many efforts out there which try to help widows and older women use their sewing skills for extra income.
My hope is that these quilts will someday achieve the recognition they deserve and truly become a source of real income for these women, many of whom are extremely poor. This is always the pleasure for me, in working with these textiles- the knowledge that we can help create and sustain a market for people who still live connected to both the earth and to each other, whether they are here in our own neighborhood or in a remote village in Ralli Land.

1 comment:

“Sing like no one's listening, love like you've never been hurt, dance like nobody's watching, and live like it's heaven on earth.”

“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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