Quilted memories and a little bit of history

My mother in law was a wonderfully talented lady! Born and brought up in an era where scrimping and saving was a virtue and everything was recycled, she used her amazing creativity to make some beautiful things.
I remember her telling me that they would patch old worn out men’s pajamas ( other than anglicised people and those in government service, most North Indian men wore white cotton pajama- kurtas) kurtas and dress shirts and they could then be used as night clothes. If they got worn out further, cut them up to make boys’ clothes! Or pillow cases! Unusable pieces were used as kitchen rags. Any further, you could make handkerchiefs and diaper cloths for children! In fact the best hankies and diapers came from well washed cotton cloth.
Of course, worn out sarees , both cotton and silk, were ( and still are, to this date) used to the very last scrap. Salwar- kameezes for the teenagers in the family were the first priority. The softer fabrics went into little gathered smocks for newborns and infants.
Quilts and cushion covers were made when you were down to the last scrap! In any case, chintz ( chheent) was really cheap, and it made much more economic sense to use that to make whole cloth chintz quilts, with possibly a matching or contrast border, rather than using finer dress and saree fabric for quilts. The only exception were quilts which formed the part of a girl’s dowry – these are made of silk and velvet to this day.
That reminds me of another major use of old muslin sarees – quilt covers! In North India, you need really thick quilts razais to keep you warm in the cold winter months, in the absence of heating. These were bagged quilts, filled with loose cotton and not washable. ( The katai walas with their dhunkis who carded and ‘fluffed’ the cotton till it looked like candy floss and the tagai walas who filled and tied the quilts deserve a blogpost of their own!) So,to keep the quilts from getting dirty, you needed quilt covers. There was no point in making the quilts themselves fancy if they were going to be not seen! When they did get dirty, you removed the quilting ( hence no dense quilting, especially in the colder climes of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh) washed the quilt top, cleaned the cotton and re-fluffed it. Back into the bag, and re-tied! This is done to this day, in most of North India. Rajasthan is not as cold, so you have lighter quilts here. The famous Jaipuri razai is half a kilo of cottonwool in beautifully hand-block printed muslin bag with fancier quilting. In even warmer climes the gudri was just two or three layers of fabric quilted together. Obviously, fancier work here!
Old saree borders – they were mainly woven – were joined together and lined with old muslin sarees to make lovely soft, light blankets ‘dohars’ ( literally ‘two layers’). I hope I can find a picture of one such dohar Mummy and I stitched.
And then there were the luxurious satin and taffeta petticoats to be worn under your silk and chiffon sarees. Here Mummy’s creative genius really came into its own! This is picture of one such razai made by her from old worn out petticoats! Winter is here – almost- and the razais will emerge from the closets. I’ll add some moe pictures then!

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10 thoughts on “Quilted memories and a little bit of history

  1. Madhu,
    Such a well written post. We often forget the true meaning of re-purposing and recycling. My mom and aunts did the same. Nothing was ever wasted. Your mom’s razai reminds me of one we had growing up back in India. It is beautiful! Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Thanks, Ranju! I hope to be able to add pictures of a few more razais made by my ma-in-law and me soon. As soon as I get around to photographing them!

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