Friday, 21 September 2012

Mekong Quilts Designer


Liz Reece, an Australian designer, has worked with Mekong Creations for these past two years.  I had done some collaboration work with her in Vietnam and Cambodia.  She is now going back to Australia, after doing  a major training session for communicating with Cambodians through a set of dictionary of terms, mostly as a customer communication tool and inter departmental tool.  Our initial work in March was the core for the final edition and the general response was very good.

Liz designed the Vietnamese Schoolgirls quilt, shown above, of schoolgirls in their graceful white ao dais.

All the best Liz, to your future endeavours.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Nepal: Quilts for Kids

In November and December 2011, Quits for Kids Nepal arranged a working visit for me at Boudha, Kathmandu.  Groups of women, at a beggar camp near the Boudha stupa, were selected, to improve their skills in quilt making.  They already make quilts for the purpose of floor and wall coverings for their bamboo huts as protection against the cold Himalayan weather.  The better, heirloom quality ones are used as decorative bedcovers and to keep their families warm.  Quilts for Kids Nepal buys their best quilts, and are sold to support their children through school.  

Two groups were formed: one, those producing Classical Quilts, the traditional ones, and the other group was trained to produce the new Fancy Quilts. These are reversible, filled with polyester batting, and of different designs and borders.

The women already had quilting skills, which were handed to them by their female relatives.  Most of them originated from the Rajasthan – Punjab area, and so they also brought with them the traditional warm colors of orange, red, purple, and hues in between.  They tend to marry at an early age, so that most of the women had very young children, who need medical care, and are of school age.  The alternative, if they do not have support, is for these children to go out and beg in the streets.

Flashback to the eighties:  David and I were married at the CDO for a civil ceremony, and Protestant rites at the Parsonage, near Rabi Bhavan, in Kathmandu.  Pema was born at Patan Hospital, at Jawalakhel.  This was my first visit back to Nepal, since we left in 1988.  My Nepali language skills suddenly all came flooding back.  That plus some essential Hindi words made communication somehow  possible, although I depended a lot on Ravina, a high school girl and daughter/ sister of quilters at the camp.

Quits for Kids Nepal built a Sewing House, in a record 24 hours!  The men helped to flatten the ground, place bricks, put up stout bamboo support, split bamboo for walls and roof, covered with a tarp, and we were ready to roll.  James the founder and director selected the linoleum, tarp, and other needs.  James also selected the quilts to cover the walls.  The location is quite strategic, next to the Worship House, and Guru-ji’s house.  The Sewing House was blessed by Guru-ji and a small altar installed near the entry, followed by music and dancing to celebrate the beginnings of the Sewing House.

Trips to Indira Chawk brought back lots of memories of our ten years’ residence in Kathmandu.  Things have drastically changed but it was still heartening to see still a few standing wooden Newari style houses with the decorative eaves, windows, lintels, and roofs.  Some of the popular temples and ponds were “hidden” from view, since the building boom has taken prominence in this city.  The sewing machine lane is still there, and thank goodness it is close to the taxi stand at Ratna Park.   An Usha foot pedal (treadle) machine was purchased from there, together with a table.  The machine was not too difficult to carry, and Karma, one of the quilters, took it upon herself to coil her shawl upon her head and heaved up the table, perfectly balancing it and walking with a regular gait till we got to the taxi stand.  It was not so difficult to find a sewing and stationary store for our rulers, paper, thread, needles, pins and other needs.  It was the polyester batting which proved to be a bit more difficult, and after a couple of tries I was almost ready to fly down to Calcutta to do batting shopping.  However, a kind gentleman from a drapery shop told us about his cousin who runs a pillow and stuffing business, sort of midway between the camp and town.  It was such a relief to find batting sold at that place, but they sold it only in 100 meter rolls, which was fine for us.  Again, Karma and her shawl-coil did the trick to have the roll carried all the way to another taxi stand.

Pincushions were novelties, and even the children came by to inspect these newfangled things: we used fruit juice cartons, filled them with scrap cloth and batting.  We devised dances, to represent the pace of hand stitching and other steps being introduced (all hold hands, go three paces forward, three steps back to the beginning line, regular steps to the finishing edge, three steps back, and cut!).  It was important that actions, instead of words, were imparted to make a better impact on them.  Empty boxes to store work-in-progress and tools, were labeled with Bollywood actress faces, to identify the owners:  none of the women can read nor write save for one who when through high school, The face was used as a pieced quilt top:  the chin was approximately 5 inches wide (outermost border), the lips 3 inches (pieced border), the nose 3 inches (inner border) and the eyes 58 x 78  inches (center).  Stitches which turned south were chided as “going to Jorpati” and the really bad stitching, “the thread has gone to Bombay”.  We had other games, all with the aim of improving their quilting methods.  It was great fun!

Here is the webside of Q4KN, and some info about its founder, James Hopkins.

Cambodia: More on Rumdoul

Work in Rundoul continues.  In March 2011, the designer for Mekong Quilts, Liz Reece, and I completed writing a set of definitions used in quilting work.  A common “language” is necessary, for use of the quilters, trainers, organizers, and supporters of the program.   The quilters come from the village areas and most of them finished only a few years of schooling.  The trainers come from different parts of the world and cultures,  including USA, Australia, Belgium, France, Vietnam and other places.  Some terms are not well-understood because of differences in the terms themselves.  For example,  “batting:” in the USA is called  “wadding” in other countries especially in Europe and Australia/New Zealand.   

A workbook for the kampong (village) Group Leaders was prepared, in text and image format, to show the steps needed from preparation to finishing of the quilts.  Another workbook for program officers, assistants and support staff was also prepared, to make their respective functions clear and documented.   The group leaders were called in, and the Production Manager, Miss Hieu, in one of her numerous follow up visits from Ho Chih Minh, helped to shape up the definitions and workbooks.

The KSB quilt model is now in full production.  “KSB” means Khmer Sunbonnet Sue, and Sunbonnet Sam.  These two are highly popular appliqué designs since the early twentieth century.  “VSB”  or Vietnam Sunbonnet Sue and Sam, have been in the main production design of Vietnam Quilts, the forerunner of Mekong Quilts.  KSB depicts the everyday wear of Khmer people, including a checked hand-woven head scarf.  VSB designs include the conical straw hat which is distinctly Vietnamese.

After the Rumdoul visit, I took a van ride headed for Phnom Penh, and David joined me for a few days’ stay.  We enjoyed the city very much: its temples, colonial architecture which in some cases were well preserved, the museum and palace.  This visit included a fabric hunting exercise at the Olympic Market with the Phnom Penh sales staff.  We sampled some fine Khmer cuisine, and also took in the French menus offered by good bistros and cafes.

Here is the link to a Mekong Quilts catalog, produced in April of this year.  A well-made browsable catalog!

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Kathmandu: Happy, Happy Quilts!

Kathmandu: Classic quilt designs


Kathmandu: Fancy quilts blocks

These are 12 blocks for the village quilters to make the new series called Fancy Quilts.  Each finished block measures 10 by 10 inches.  The pieces blocks, 4 x 6 or 40 by 60 inches, are at the center.  These are framed with three borders so that the finished quilt measures about 80 x 100 inches. We tried to stick to Rajasthan/ Sind /Punjab popular colors such as red, yellow, orange, black and white but somehow they were inclined to add a lot of blues and greens... The inner border should be about 2 inches wide, the "ralli" pieced border (called "frame") is 3 inches, and the outer border is 5 inches wide.  It is finished with a "flower" edge, or "prairie points" a sawtooth edge result.