A quilter and writer makes
an unforgettable journey through India in search of some unusual
quilts and textiles.
text and images by Cynthia Harvey
Cynthia Harvey Baker is a quilter and a writer. She is Quilt Historian
for the West Australian Quilters' Association, Convenor of the
Quilt Study Group of Australia in WA and Local Representative
of the National Quilt Register, for whom she wrote this article.
Besides a passion for quilts, Cynthia has a passion for travel
- especially when it's a combination of the two.
Indian Diary is dedicated with thanks to Wendy Hucker
of the National Quilt Register.
I have a memory of some twenty years ago when, on the way to
England, the plane landed in Mumbai for a brief refuelling stop.
I walked to the door of the plane and looked out. I took a deep
breath and inhaled heat and dust and new smells I couldn't identify.
The plane door closed but the memory of those smells remained.
Twenty years has past and suddenly, I am free to travel again.
Child grown. Big house sold. Marriage dissolved.
(Photo by Matthew Baker)
I was in South Africa at the end of 1999, when an idle conversation
with my sister-in-law Diana and my niece Emma sparked a decision
to go to India together.
I started to read. Indian history, religion, culture, food, traveller's
tales, textile books. For over a year I read anything I could
lay my hands on. My textile reading opened the door to a new world.
It led me through the textile treasures which have always been
a large part of Indian culture. I read about ikat and double
ikat, (which originated in India and is called patola).
I read about tie-dye and block-printing. I read about the quilts
and embroidery of the tribal people, especially the Rabari.
The Rabari range up and down the Big and Little Raans of Kutch
with their flocks. The work of the Rabari women interested me
especially and I decided to make it the focus of my trip. In particular,
I wanted to find a doli, an embroidered textile that covers
quilts during the day, when they are not in use.
On either side of the Indus River, archaeologists in the 1920s
had found the great cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro. When digging
at the Mohenjo-daro site on the Pakistan side of the Indus, a
silver urn had been found. Around it was wrapped a piece of cloth.
At 2,500 BC it is one of the oldest textiles known to science.
An old Lonely Planet guide said that the cloth was in
the Museum of Bangalore. I had to see that too, if I could. That
would be the quest - that and the work of the Rabari women.
We planned to go in February 2001 but delayed our departure until
October. My nephew Joshua, a geologist with the de Beers diamond
company, was also to be there.