‘Quilting the Memories’ – There is more to Kalbeliya than Dance & Swoon

To preserve this quilting tradition and provide sustenance to community within their village, an exhibition of quilts — titled ‘Quilting the Memories’ — made by the women of the Kalbelia community is on display till July 26, 2022, at Annexe Art Gallery, India International Centre.

Recognised under UNESCO’s ‘Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ — quilt-making tradition of Kalbeliya community is still constricted within the confines of their deras, mostly in the villages under Bundi district in Rajasthan.

The idea behind Kalbelia Craft Revival Project is to spread awareness about this intriguing  art and ensure sustained livelihoods for these women of the community. According to Dr Meena, exhibition curator, “This project started in Bundi after the first lockdown. During the Covid-19 lockdown, many women of the Kalbelia community, returned to Bundi. We decided to start working with their quilt tradition as it is unknown to the majority and has a lot of value. We started with just two women and it was supported by NIFT Jodhpur and IICD Jaipur.”

The aesthetics of the Kalbelia quilts have been morphed by the experiences and traditions of the community. One can find references from the texture of snake scales in the embroidered patterns of the quilt.

“Not everybody from the community dances or sings. Those like me, who did, don’t get offers anymore. There’s an acute shortage of food and money. If this craft grows further, women and young girls will get some money to sustain their families,” said Mewa from Kalbeliya tribe.

The motifs on the quilt mimic their movement of a snake. The threads crawl on the fabric just like a snake does on the floor,” Singh said, explaining the technique which she refers to as “an amalgamation of embroidery and quilting”.

The technique employed to create these quilts is colloquially called as ‘doda dora‘ because after stitching layers of clothes together, the surface is embroidered with different patterns in which the needle passes angularly (called doda in vernacular language) through the stitched thread. Each quilt is made with a combination of applique work, quilting and embroidery. It takes more than two to three months to complete a simple design as the craft demands immense patience and meticulous work of hands. The more intricate design may require up to six months.

Image Source IIC

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