Last week I sang the praises of the gentle art of hand quilting. Here are two photographs of a piece I am working on to show how the stitching adds another dimension to the cloth.
This is being stitched with a fine embroidery needle and two strands of embroidery cotton. The cloth was torn into strips and “woven” at right angles, then stitched onto a backing cloth of muslin. This is not the first time I have made a piece entirely from hand, but it is the first time I have worked with woven strips.
A few years ago I hand quilted the piece pictured below, from an old sari. I was very aware of the history in the cloth as I stitched it and felt a nebulous connection to the unknown woman (or women) who had worn the sari before discarding it. I called the piece “Loose Threads” in an attempt the name this feeling.
There is nothing new under the sun and I have borrowed from the rich, established stitching traditions from Japan (boro and shashiko) and from India (kantha). Both traditions were born of necessity – fine, close stitching in rows or patterns in order to reinforce or mend worn garments.
Here’s some background information, taken off the web.
Boro (Japanese: ぼろ) are a class of Japanese textiles that have been mended or patched together. The term is derived from Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired. As hemp was more widely available in Japan than cotton, they were often woven together for warmth (thanks Wikipedia for the definition)
In an article on Sashiko, titled “Make do and mend with style”, Kat Siddle writes eloquently about this form of stitching: “Shashiko is a striking hand-sewing technique that originated in ancient Japan. In Japanese, its name means ‘little stabs’—a reference to the plain running stitch that makes up sashiko’s geometric, all-over patterns… Traditional sashiko combined decorative technique with mending and quilting. It was a practical technique that helped farmers and fishermen stay warm and make the most of their families’ resources.
“To me, sashiko is a technique of transformation that honors the impulse to re-use waste and use materials efficiently. A long, sharp sashiko needle is a magic wand, a tool of salvage that produces style as well as economy. Its beauty demands the question: why just ‘mend and make do’ when you can mend with gorgeous graphic patterns? (https://www.seamwork.com/issues/2016/04/sashiko)
The story behind the tradition of kantha is similar. In Sanskrit, the word kantha means rags. I learnt this from the website of Hand & Cloth, a collective that supports and promotes this beautiful handwork.
“For centuries, poor Bengali women have taken their discarded cloth and sewn them together with a simple running stitch to create something new. It is no easy task to create a functional quilt out of old, worn rags! The functional kantha dorokha (“two-sided quilt”) was not a work of art, but simply what the poorest families used to keep warm… For generations of Bengali women, kantha has been a form of quiet expression. Even the most practical kantha is creative and spontaneous in nature.”+ (https://handandcloth.org/pages/the-kantha-tradition)