Ralli quilts on display at the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Alex Labry
On a recent visit to the wonderful International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I was delighted to see a small exhibit of quilts made by women from the Sindh province of Pakistan. This region of the Indian subcontinent has a rich and ancient tradition of arts and crafts, and it is particularly known for its various kinds of textiles, including the intricate appliqué, embroidered, and patchwork quilts known as rallis. Both Muslim and Hindu women make ralli quilts, and they have been doing so for hundreds of years.
Ralli-making skills are passed down from mother to daughter, and according to the foremost Western authority on ralli quilts, Patricia Stoddard—who wrote the only book on the subject, Ralli Quilts: Traditional Textiles from Pakistan and India (2003)—girls start making rallis when they are about 12 years old.
Stoddard states, “The sewing on the top of the quilt is usually the work of one woman and, traditionally, the sewing of the layers is done by a group of three or four women. (This is very similar to the American tradition of a ‘quilting bee.’) The fabric used for the back of the quilt is often an old head shawl or pieces of several old outfits dyed to be the same color. Special quilts may have a complete fabric on the back. The quilting is especially festive when the quilt is for a marriage, and the sewing is accompanied by singing and stories. There are also legends, folk songs and sayings about rallis.” Rallis are quilted on the ground, not in a frame.
Ralli quilts are integral to the culture of the area and are typically made by rural, poor, traditional women, some of whom are nomadic. Rallis are made primarily for bed coverings and floor coverings, or are sewn into sacks for holding various items. When they start to wear out from their initial use, they are then employed as padding for camel saddles, pack animals’ loads, or other utilitarian uses.
The number of ralli quilts which a family owns is sometimes considered an indicator of personal wealth, and they are an important part of a girl’s dowry. Rallis are also made as gifts for special occasions or special people such as holy men. In these cases, they may be embellished with shells, tiny mirrors, sequins, beads, extra embroidery or tassels.
More recently, ralli quilts have started to be made to sell as a source of income. The exhibit I saw at the Folk Art Museum featured such pieces. Extreme monsoon rains in 2010 caused one-fifth of Pakistan to be submerged under floodwaters for months, and caused 10 million people to lose their homes and incomes, forcing them into temporary relief camps.
According to the exhibit brochure, The Arts of Survival, “As days in the camps became months, the women—many from the famous quiltmaking region of Sindh province—turned their master needlework skills into a source of income, as well as comfort and warmth. With the help of their ever-present needle and thread, they transformed the extra clothes and materials sent by relief organizations into…rallis for sale in nearby stores and markets.”
Anyone who loves quilts knows of their many uses, their deep traditions, and their healing power. Ralli quilts from the Indian subcontinent are proof that such characteristics hold true in every corner of the globe.
The exhibit, The Arts of Survival, will be on display at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico until May 6, 2012.
Click here to return to top.
Column 96: The connection between fairs and quilts.
Column 95: Her Mother Pieced Quilts
Column 94: Rebecca Barker’s Quiltscapes
Column 93: The Thread and Thimble Club Mystery
Column 92: The Ballerina Quilter
Column 91: Grandmother's Flower Garden Comes Alive at Texas Quilt Museum
Column 90: Leitmotif for a Lifelong Love Affair
Column 89: Quilting in The Bahamas
Column 88: Joan of Arc: A Quilter's Inspiration
Column 87: Home Demonstration Clubs and Quilting
Column 86: Linzi Upton and the Quilted Yurt
Column 85: A Bounty of Quilts
Column 84: Desert Trader
Column 83: Quilts and the Women’s Liberation Movement
Column 82: Replicating the Past: Reproduction Fabrics for Today’s Quilts
Column 81: Why So Many Quilt Shops in Bozeman, Montana?
Column 80: Southeastern Quilt and Textile Museum
Column 79: 54 Tons of Quilt
Column 78: Ollie Steele Burden’s Quilt Blocks
Column 77: Quilting with AMD
Column 76: Maverick Quilts and Cowgirls
Column 75: The Modern Quilt Guild—Cyberculture Quilting Ramps Up
Column 74: The Membership Quilt—Czech Quilting in Texas
Column 73: Maximum Security Quilts
Column 72: Author: Terri Thayer
Column 71: The Christmas Quilt
Column 70: New Mexico Centennial Quilt
Column 69: Scrub Quilts
Column 68: “Think Pink” Quilt Raises Funds for Rare Cancer Research
Column 67: Righting Old Wrongs.
Column 66: 100 Years, 100 Quilts - More on the Arizona Centennial.
Column 65: Arizona Centennial Quilt Project
Column 64: Capt. John Files Tom’s Family Tree
Column 63: The Fat Quarters
Column 62: Quilt Fiction Author: Clare O’Donohue
Column 61: Louisiana Bicentennial Quilt
Column 60: The Camo Quilt Project.
Column 59: Thread Wit
Column 58: Ralli Quilts
Column 57: Preschool Quilters
Column 56: The Story Quilt
Column 55: Red and Green Quilts
Column 54: On the Trail
Column 53: Quilt Trail Gathering
Column 52: True Confessions: First Quilt
Column 51: Quilted Pages
Column 50: Doll Quilts
Column 49: More Than a Quilt Shop
Column 48: Las Colchas of the Texas-Mexico Border
Column 47: Literary Gifts
Column 46: A Different Way of Seeing
Column 45: Sampling
Column 44: Hen and Chicks
Column 43: A Star Studied Event
Column 42: Shoo Fly Pattern
Column 41: Awareness Quilts
Column 40: Tivaevae
Column 39: UnOILed UnspOILed Coast Quilt Project
Column 38: Katrina Recovery Quilts
Column 37: Quilted Vermont
Column 36: The Labyrinth Quilt—A Meditative Endeavor
See other archived columns here