Our bags were already bursting and overweight. Shoes and well-worn clothes were being left behind. Why did our visit to the village of artisan Ramu Devraj Harijan in the Banni region of Kutch, India have to be at the tail end of our leaving this textile-rich region? Somehow we could wedge a few more pieces into suitcases, couldn’t we? Especially once Ramu and his family unfurled their newly-made quilts and quilt squares, pillow tops, and intricately embroidered textiles before us.
Once I saw the quilt designs, it dawned on me that I have been sleeping under one of Ramu’s quilts for years, purchased at the Santa Fe Folk Art Market. And just like quilt blocks, the pieces all started to fall into place, connections made. Ramu explained that the main fabric he uses is naturally dyed and block printed by another local artisan family, the Khatris, a ninth-generation of Ajrakh block printers, who I introduced you to here. Ramu chooses the combinations of color and design and lays them out to create a patchwork of contemporary quilts.
At the Market this year, I learned more about Ramu. (He laughed when seeing photos of himself and his family taken during our visit to his village last December.) He learned traditional leather work skills practiced by the herdsmen but also, at a young age, he was intrigued by stitching and quilting too. Traditionally, the Banni women make richly embroidered textiles for their dowries while the men cut the tiny pieces of mirror placed on these textiles–they may also help with designing and sewing material pieces together. So it wasn’t unreasonable that Ramu learned all aspects of quilt making and embroidery from his parents, making his first quilt at 12 years of age. He studied quilt designs from other local households, ones that were created a few generations before. Now he looks at current books about crafts and trends for inspiration. He never learned to read but can remember visuals and uses design ideas in his quilts, bags, and cushions.
His family helps with stitching and he has taught the craft to other villagers, so they too can earn a living. With the help of his brother who studied in the village’s new school, Ramu hopes to expand his market and create more jobs. Even though Ramu is illiterate, he has made his way to Santa Fe Folk Art Market a number of times.
This visit was not complete without a tour of the village where he proudly showed us the new community workshop and the water system being built—all from his earnings made at the Folk Art Market. His daughter tagged along, willingly posing for our cameras. And then, she brought out her stitching to sell and, miraculously, we still managed to find a bit of room in our brimming bags along with a few large quilts that we set aside for ClothRoads trunk shows.