There is something about patchwork quilts that evokes a sense of old world charm and the old, slow way of life. Especially if they are painstakingly pieced together by hand. As is being done in the small village of Khanapur taluka in Karnataka’s Belgaum district, by its long-time resident, Morvarid Fernandez.“My quilts are quite organic in a way,” she says, “I just work on them as I go along, with no set pattern in mind. The only things I decide beforehand is the size, and the colour spectrum that I plan to use.”
Mainly wall hangings meant for decorative use, Fernandez’s quilts are works of art in themselves, peopled by a host of birds and animals, flowers and trees—all appliquéd onto a base of pieces of fabric stitched together. The process is the same as that of a regular three-layered quilt—the top layer that is decorative, the central wadding, and the backing which is usually a plain fabric.
Fernandez says she was inspired to get into quilting by watching the women of her village at work. “Traditional village quilts use old sarees and old clothes that are no longer serviceable. Unlike modern quilts, village quilts or cowans or kaundhis as they are called here, used all types of material and not just cotton,” she explains.
She stuck with that for her wall hangings as well, using a variety of fabrics, as well as lace and rickrack, to give texture. “Most of my cloth is scraps sourced from ladies’ tailors as well as cut-pieces from cloth shops,” she says.
Fernandez, whose family ran a guest house in the area, first got into quilting 14 years ago when she asked the village women to make some quilts for the rooms. “Our guests liked them so much that we started making them for sale. I chose the colour spectrum and supplied the material, and the women stitched them as they wished,” she recalls. Incidentally, she also gave them scissors to use, because until then, sickles were being used to cut the cloth!
However, while she soldiers on with wall hangings, she stopped retailing quilts four years ago when she shut down the guest house. It was a problem finding another outlet and the shops asked for huge commissions. But the saddest part was that the village women didn’t want to make them anymore, preferring the quick wages of farm labour to the laborious, slow stitching that this entailed.