Chennai’s quarantine quilt project: the digital avatar of India International Quilt Festival begins this weekend
With a new section for child artists, a shopping hub and lectures, the digital avatar of India International Quilt Festival begins this weekend
In the village of Nattarasankottai in Tamil Nadu, 11 students of the KMSC Girls Higher Secondary School pleated, folded, embroidered and sewed under the watchful eye of their craft teachers and local deity, Kanattammal. They were introduced to quilting by Meena Subramaniam — whose grandfather hails from the village — in January 2020. She went there armed with quilting books and fabrics, and the students picked a pattern of their choice to work on. Subramaniam promised to check on them in May, but then the pandemic stuck. So, with the help from the school’s computer teacher, she explained quilting intricacies to them via Zoom calls, all the way from London where she lives.
The pandemic has, no doubt, prompted several artistic pursuits and quilting seems to be one of the most popular activities. We’ve seen children learn the art from family members, grandmothers designing quilts for the family, and many making masks and blankets to be donated. At Nattarasankottai, the girls used to gather in the school’s sewing room and worked for three to four hours a day to create 11 quilts that were sent for the 2021 India International Quilt Festival (IIQF).
At the festival’s first edition held in Chennai in 2019, the organisers had promised a second edition for 2021. Now, despite the pandemic, they are sticking to that promise and taking the three-day IIQF virtual today.
Bringing in the kids
This time around, there is a special category, Gen Nxt, for quilts made by children under the age of 18. The category now has 17 entries: 11 from Nattarasankottai, five from Chennai and one from Pune. “We owe it to our children to pass on the knowledge of our ancestors,” says Tina Katwal, a co-founder at IIQF who also started India’s first quilting studio, The Square Inch, back in 2014. “It is the only way children are going to have a rich, tactile experience that is removed from their usual digital world.” She believes that quilting is a way of creating memories and expressing emotion.
The lockdown and the subsequent no-school days helped many parents do just that as they sat with their kids and taught them handwork. “I have no regrets about missed school days,” says quilter Chitra Mandanna, who took the time as an opportunity to teach her five-year-old, Isha, quilting. “She has always seen me quilting and whenever I sat at my machine, she wanted to do it too. So, with leftover fabric scraps from my work, Isha began to put them together to create blocks,” explains Mandanna, whose daughter is perhaps the youngest entrant in the Gen Next category.
Saahiti Sriram is a tad older at six. Her mother Soumyalakshmi, an award-winning quilter herself, says, “She is no stranger to the needle and thread. While I sat quilting, she would make clothes for her dolls. It is our way of mother-daughter bonding… talking about colours and designs.”
Taking IIQF digital
Besides the Gen Nxt category, there’s a section for Indian quilts, where the entries reflect India’s vast textile tradition, and the Floral Rhapsody themed category that invites quilts crafted using any technique, style and method of construction.
The turnout is impressive, but pulling off IIQF was a challenge. “We reinvented ourselves so many times in the past 12 months,” says co-founder Varsha Sundararajan. Due to the pandemic, sponsors were hard to come by and it was difficult to convince them about a digital event. “The greater worry was holding on to so many amazing quilters who weren’t comfortable or familiar with technology and gadgets,” she adds.
But Katwal, Sundararajan and co-founder Deepa Vasudevan pulled off a coup. For the quilt show competition, 288 quilts were submitted by 139 quilters/groups from Australia, India, Kenya, Kuwait, Singapore, South Africa, UAE, UK and the USA. This, in a year where some of the major international quilting events such as the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, the International Quilt Festival (Houston), and the Carrefour Européen du Patchwork (Grand Est region, France) were cancelled.
Lectures and a showcase
It is not just quilts on display. There are several workshops on quilting techniques for beginners and the experienced, an artisan showcase, a shopping hub and lectures. Patrick Finn, photographer and author of Quilts of India: Timeless Textiles (that features over 25 quilting techniques) will speak about tradition and quilting in a special lecture. Contemporary quilting trends will be explored in a session by Luana Rubin, co-owner of eQuilter.com, a quilt fabric store that remains a favourite among quilters worldwide. Rubin’s platform also gathers thousands of donated comfort quilts to distribute around the world for disaster relief.
Sundararajan is chuffed to have roped in three eminent judges: Reena Dewan of Kolkata Centre for Creativity, Marline Turner of the South African Quilters’ Guild, and quilter Paramjeet Bawa (her quilt, ‘Dust Storm’ has won international accolades) who is also presenting a trunk show of her creations at IIQF. “The goal of IIQF is to put India’s rich legacy of embroidery, quilting traditions and textiles on the global quilting map. The act of stitching together pieces of rags into a beautiful whole that can be reused is what quilting is all about,” concludes Katwal.
The India International Quilt Festival 2021 goes live on January 23 at 9.30 am. For details, visit indiaquiltfestival.com