It’s taken me a while to write this story.
Most of you on my blog, are quilters or love the art of Textiles. We have a textile advantage that we take for granted so today I share a story of art and experimental reinvention.
Dena Crain a quilter from Kenya, taught the local ladies a technique called “Siddi” quilting.
“What on earth is Siddi Quilting” you say?
Basically its a style of quilt known as a Kawandi and it is made by the generations of Siddi people taken to India some 400 years ago as indentured workers… possibly slaves. Based on DNA information it would appear that about 50% of the Indian Siddi population are descendants of Bantus from East Africa, while many others are descendants of Ethiopians. Although the Siddis have adopted many Indian characteristics, there are still some cultural elements that are regarded as their own and of African origin. These include the making and use of patchwork quilts known locally as kawandi. These are made by women and used as covers, mattresses and quilts Kawandi are bright, colourful quilts often with haphazard or puzzle designs, although the use of blocks associated with Western style quilts is becoming more common.
Kawandi are often called patchwork quilts, but technically they are made in an appliqué technique. Starting at one corner of the sari, the women begin to work their way around, fixing the patches in place with lines of back stitch or running stitch, until the entire sari is covered. The stitches are seen as important, as they add a distinctive ‘rhythm’ that is regarded as the part of the ‘visual signature’ of the maker, along with the colours, designs, shapes and sizes of the cloth patches that individuals choose to use. The final step is to sew at each corner of the quilt one or more folded square patches, which form a multi-layered triangle called a phula, or ‘flower.’ These serve no specific function, but they are regarded as essential to a properly finished or ‘dressed’ Siddi quilt. A kawandi would be regarded as ‘naked’ without the phula.
Which leads me to the Salama Mamas, a group of four women here in Nairobi, who with the help of Dorothy Stockell have graduated from making basic handicrafts for sale to creating their own form of Salama Quilts. They have taken the basic idea and created unique works of art. They use local fabric and have added their own style to the quilts.
They have taught a number of local people to make them, and yesterday they gave me a lesson. I loved every minute of it.
I’ve just commissioned them to make one for me. I’ve seen it in part and I’m excited beyond words. I think it is my part of textile history.
I first visited them in their small rented shop in their town. They pay for it by selling their craft and quilts. They also give part of their earning s to the Salama Gachie School where their children attend. The students are mainly children of single mothers, orphans living with relatives and street children. A monthly fee of USD$5 allows the children to receive remedial and primary education, nutritious daily meals, uniforms, text books and other school supplies.
I love the style, the idea and it has limitless possibilities.
And then it was my turn to share.
I created an illustration of a small shop, similar to the ones in the street their workshop is on.
Then the ladies practiced tracing an image, colouring it and stitching free motion for the first time.
They were so excited at this new method of creating and quilting fabric, the smiles were enough.
I can’t wait to see what they do with my techniques. I think we had a fair trade of experiences and I thank Dorothy for making it happen.
For those of you coming to India in November, Siddi Quilts are on the list.