Threads that bind

Quilts Of Haliyal

Threads that bind

Women belonging to the agrarian community of Haliyal hand-stitch quilts, popularly known as ‘kaudi’. Quilter Nirmalakka, a native of Haliyal, tells Chethana Dinesh many a warm story about the art and what it means to the people of the Uttara Kannada town.

Colourful scraps of cloth, creatively sewn into attractive geometric patterns. Simple stitches that relate a story of cultural diversity. Even lines that speak for the design’s originality. Not only are they eye-catching, but also speak for a whole community of people for whom quilting is a way of life, an art that gives expression to their dreams and desires, creativity and culture.

These exquisite works of art in scraps of cloth are distinct to the people of Haliyal in Uttara Kannada district. Popularly known as kaudi, these quilts are hand-stitched by the womenfolk of the mostly agrarian community of Haliyal with great care and love for their families. After a hard day’s work at the fields, stitching together pieces of cloth, collected over a period of time from friends and family, provides them with the right positive outlet for their ambitions and aspirations.

“The cloth pieces we use for the kaudi are generally cut from used clothes of our friends and family members. When all these pieces are stitched together to make a kaudi, we are not only making something that keeps us warm but also carrying fond memories of people whose clothes have lent a special touch to our quilts,” says Nirmalakka, a native of Haliyal town, who is an expert quilter.

Her fingers thread the needle so fast that you begin to wonder if she uses a special needle with an eye that’s very wide!  In Bangalore recently to teach the art of quilting to a few interested women, she prides herself on the fact that she hails from a region that is known for its expertise in quilt making. “It is an art that fosters togetherness.

We, the women of the region, bond well when we sit together and stitch. It offers us a great opportunity to share village gossip and forget our problems,” she says, even as her expert fingers weave magic on the piece of quilt she’s working on.

Signature pieces
Being individual expressions of art, each quilt carries the signature of the person behind the piece. “Our taste in colours and our choice of geometric patterns mirror our creativity and the kind of persons we are. In fact, in our home town, we can even tell accurately as to which of our friends stitched a particular quilt,” says Nirmalakka.

An art form that has travelled down generations effortlessly, quilt making is never taught, but learnt. “I learnt by watching my mother do it, while my daughter perfected this art by watching me stitch,” she says.

Though nothing much is known about the history of quilt making in Haliyal, the general belief is that quilt making started as a means of putting old pieces of cloth to creative and practical use. However, the fact that women stitch quilts as an expression of love for their family members cannot be disputed.

Recalls Savita Uday of Buda Folklore, an organisation that strives to propagate the knowledge of folklore of Uttara Kannada to the world, “When I first chanced upon a beautiful quilt in Haliyal, I wanted to have it for myself at any cost. When I expressed my desire to buy it, the old woman who had just finished stitching it refused to sell it to me. Not wanting to give up, I offered her a lot of money for it.

But, she bluntly refused, saying, ‘My eye sight is failing and God knows if I’ll be able to stitch another quilt or not. This may be my last quilt and it is only for my husband and to nobody else’. I realised my folly in trying to fix a price for an item the old woman had so lovingly stitched for her husband. Such is the attachment the women of Haliyal have for the quilts they stitch.”

In fact, one priceless gift that any bride of Haliyal carries to her husband’s home is a quilt lovingly stitched by her mother, putting together pieces of cloth from her maternal home. “It’s like carrying a piece of your maternal home to your new home. It offers a great sense of security, especially in the initial days at the new home,” says Nirmalakka.

When the quilt is ‘fed’
Apart from the sentimental value attached to them, these quilts are also imbued with human qualities. Hence, no quilt gets its final stitch till it is ‘fed’. Yes, the quilt is actually ‘fed’, with the food of one’s choice. “A piece of rotti or rice is kept in one of the many layers of the centre-most piece of cloth of the quilt (considered as the quilt’s stomach), before it gets its final stitch. We do it with the belief that a happy stomach is a happy quilt,” says Nirmalakka. Also, pregnant women are not allowed to give a quilt its final stitch as a life is growing inside them.

Quilting, which necessitates a great deal of dexterity and involves straight lines in symmetric fashion, requires an understanding of ratios and proportions. The women of Haliyal, though illiterate, are able to achieve this only by constant practice. Says Tina, who had come all the way from Chennai to learn the art of quilting from Nirmalakka, “I have learnt different styles of quilting before, both western and Indian.

They lay a great deal of emphasis on measurements and colour schemes. Also, they are all machine-stitched and proceed from the centre towards the border. However, Nirmalakka’s style of quilting is simply amazing. No hard and fast rules about anything; no use of rulers or measuring tapes either. And, the end product is stunning, to say the least.” No wonder, the quilts of Haliyal are in great demand.

They have improvised their skill of quilting to make everything from bed covers and pillow cases to tea coasters and dining table sets. However, the women of Haliyal are not very keen on pursuing their traditional craft on a purely commercial basis. Neither is Buda.

In Savita’s own words, “Once it is commercialised, the emotional and creative value attached to it dies a natural death. A quilt then becomes just pieces of cloth sewn together, which anyone can buy over the counter, for a price.”

So true. These quilts are treasures of Haliyal and a fantastic creative tradition that convey a community’s beliefs and sentiments. And, it should remain so.

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