A kawandi quilt is a hand-stitched patchwork quilt made by the Siddis, descendants of African immigrants and brought to India by the Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, and Americans. The kawandi quilt is made from pieces of old and worn-out clothing collected from family members and friends.
The Siddis use thick, white cotton thread and needles to sew these patches of clothing onto a cotton sari that serves as the backing for the quilt.
Compared to the traditional quilt, one unique quality of a kawandi quilt is that the pieces of fabric are assembled from the outside going in, usually in a counterclockwise direction.
The patches are stitched using running or back stitches in a spiral form towards the center, covering the patchwork top and the sari backing.
Another distinct characteristic of the kawandi quilt; the patches are sewn together and stitched to the sari backing at the same time instead of stitching the patches of clothing together first before attaching the whole top quilt to the backing fabric.
Some Siddi quilters like their stitches close to each other, while others stitch them farther apart. The distances of the stitches show a Siddi quilter’s characteristic rhythm.
You can see the artistic element of the kawandi quilt in the Siddi quilter’s use of colors, sizes, shapes, and arrangement of the patches of clothing.
Kawandi Quilt and Siddi Quilters
The kawandi quilts are usually made during the Siddi women’s downtime when they are not cleaning, cooking, or taking care of the kids. Siddi women quilt alone or in groups, usually accompanied by singing various songs passed on from generation to generation.
Siddi people commonly use Kawandi quilts as mattress covers or blankets. You can find smaller-sized and brightly colored kawandi quilts on cribs and wooden cradles.
Some Siddi quilters include uncut parts of clothing, such as the neckline of a child’s blouse. Some Siddis adorn their Kawandi quilts with bits of brightly-colored cloths called tikelis.
A kawandi quilt will not be complete without the folded fabrics at the corners Siddis describe as flowers called phulas.
Kawandi quilts come in different sizes that Siddi people measure by a “hand.” The “hand” signifies the length from the elbow to the fingertips of the quilter.
Size categories are specified as large/family (6 by six hands), double (5 by six hands), single (3 by five hands), and baby/crib (2 by three hands).
A good thing about making a kawandi quilt is that you can create a gorgeous quilt by placing your fabric patches randomly from the edges towards the center of your quilt.
The process is unique, giving the kawandi quilt’s characteristic image. It has piqued the interest of many quilters. Many quilting enthusiasts are becoming interested in making this quilt.
Learning Kawandi Quilting
Learning how to make a kawandi quilt is like learning a new craft. It is essentially a new technique for quilting your quilt. Here is a step-by-step process of quilting the kawandi-style.
- Gather the materials you need for kawandi quilting: a crewel embroidery needle, a thimble, thick cotton thread, cotton batting, backing (sari or any piece of fabric), and fabric scraps.
- Put the backing right side up over the batting. It would be best to put these quilt parts together at the start as you will have to sew them together from the beginning to finish kawandi quilting.Note: You can hand-sew your kawandi quilt the traditional way or use a machine to finish your quilt faster.
- Place four fiber scraps right side down at the four corners of your backing. Then, place adjoining scraps on your four corner fabrics.Again, the fabric scraps should face the right side down. Make a 1/4-inch fold on the side of the scrap fabric under the corner. Pin the fabric pieces in place along the edges.
- When you reach the next corner, fold the ¼-inch on both sides of the fabric scrap as it will go under two pieces of scrap fabric. Continue folding and underlapping patches. Pin them along the outer edge until you fill the entire perimeter. You can either sew at the edges by hand or use a sewing machine. Note that the sizes of your fabric scraps do not matter.
- Remove one of the pins as you come across them while sewing. Stitch a ¼-inch seam along the edges. Cut the four corners close to the sewn seam to avoid clipping the stitches. Then, turn them right side out by overturning each fabric scrap over the seam.Press the outer edge of your kawandi quilt. Make sure not to press the batting as it may burn from the heat of the iron.
- Next, top stitch close to the edge to secure all the folded parts under the edges of each scrap. When you have reached the 4th side and near the beginning of your stitch line, turn the corner about ¼ inch before you start the spiral stitches towards the center. Stitch as you would hand stitch a kawandi quilt. But you can do the stitching using a sewing machine.
- To place the next piece, fold under two edges. Then, overlap the unfinished edges of previous scraps. Finger press or iron as needed.Note the following when sewing your fabric scraps.
– You must fold under three edges when placing a different-colored fabric scrap onto a long strip of fabric. Know where to put another scrap fabric to overlap.
– You can use long tweezers to keep a small scrap straight while sewing along the edge.
– The distance between the stitch lines for kawandi quilts is usually a finger width apart.
- Continue placing scraps and sewing along concentric rectangles towards the center. When you get to the final patch of fabric for sewing, fold under the four sides before stitching it onto your kawandi quilt.A traditional kawandi quilt is considered ‘naked’ without the flowers, so stitch the “phula” at each corner of your quilt to match a conventional kawandi quilt.Many quilters find kawandi quilts more relaxing since there are no restrictions in putting your fabric scraps together as long as you stitch them the kawandi way. So, to veer away from traditional quilting, try the kawandi technique for a fun and practical way to use your scrap fabrics.
What is the difference between Kantha and Kawandi?
The difference between Kantha and Kawandi quilts is that Kantha stitches are quilted in parallel lines with raw edges, while Kawandi is a quilting style where fabric patches are sewn from the outer side towards the middle using running stitches.
There are a few similarities and differences between Kantha and Kawandi quilts. Read on below to know one from the other.
- The Siddis of West India traditionally make Kawandi quilts. They are descendants of the early African immigrants, and enslaved Africans brought to India by the Portuguese.
- Kawandi is a bright and colorful patchwork quilt made by Siddi women and used as a mattress, quilt, and cover.
- Kawandi quilts are made of pieces of fabric from old and worn-out garments collected from family and friends or bought from the local used-clothing stores. Siddi women quilters usually use a cotton sari as backing for the quilt.
- Some Siddi women cut bright-colored clothing into small squares or rectangles called ‘tikeli’ and sew on top of large patches to create layers of contrasting colors. Other Siddi quilters include parts of clothing like a neckline or buttons.
- Kawandi quilting has a specific technique where you start the quilt at one corner of the sari; then, the fabric patches are worked towards the center with running or back stitches in a spiral manner.
- The kawandi quilt has a distinct design of four flowers at each corner of the quilt called ‘phulas.’ The kawandi quilt is considered ‘naked’ or unfinished without these ‘phulas.’
- Kantha refers to the tradition of making unique quilted blankets by creating something beautiful and practical out of old discarded fabrics. The term also denotes the craft and the stitch used on the quilt, a small, straight running stitch.
- Kantha quilt is a traditional form of embroidery commonly practiced by Bengali women in East Asia, especially in India and Bangladesh, along the Bay of Bengal.
- Kantha is a Sanskrit word for ‘rags,’ and old cloth is believed to give protection from harm.
- Quilters usually make Kantha quilts from 2 to 3 layers of recycled Indian vintage saris of either cotton fabric or silk. They normally cover them in running stitches with beautiful animals, flowers, birds, and other designs that show day-to-day activities.
- Kantha cloth is made into bags, scarves, pillow covers, and tablecloths, aside from warm quilt blankets or bed covers.
- Traditional and authentic Kantha quilts are handmade. They vary in size, pattern, and color.
- Both sides of a Kantha quilt are similarly embellished but not identical.
What are the different kinds of quilting styles?
The most familiar style of quilting is patchwork or piecing. But there are several styles of quilting, each with their distinctive looks, such as applique, English paper piecing, and excellent memory quilts, to name a few.
Below are some of the most popular styles of quilting that have been passed on for generations.
Probably the most familiar among the quilt styles, the patchwork or piecing quilt style is the most popular to quilters (and non-quilters). You make a quilt by simply sewing pieces of fabric together.
Pieced quilts use any size, shape, or construction method. Anything goes with the patchwork style, so newbie quilters adapt this technique before moving on to more advanced quilting processes.
The applique method is another fundamental way to quilt. Start by drawing the design or shape on the fabric you want, cut it out, and sew it on your chosen background fabric. You can sew your design either by hand or with a sewing machine.
You can use a solid, light-colored background to make your design pop out. You can also use a printed or dark-colored background if it works for your quilt design.
English Paper Piecing
English Paper Piecing is one of the traditional quilting styles that date back to the 18th Century but is still practiced.
With English Paper Piecing, you need to cut individual paper templates to the exact size and shape. Wrap fabric around the paper templates, baste, then press. The paper template gives form to the material. Use a whipstitch to sew the shapes together.
Paper Pieced Quilts
The paper piecing style is also called Foundation Paper Piecing (FPP). This technique is simple yet unique from the other kinds of quilting. You stitch your fabrics onto a quilt pattern with lines and numbers that will guide you on how to construct your quilt.
The FPP technique allows you to create more complex shapes and designs on your quilts.
Art quilts were created when quilters thought of making their quilts works of art. No art quilts are identical. You can make art quilts as an expression of your emotions or to tell your story. This quilting style is not meant to create quilts for its primary purpose of keeping you warm.
Making a memory quilt is a quilting style that can help you celebrate a momentous occasion for you and your family or friends.
Memory quilts are usually made from any piece of clothing or fabric of a loved one and immortalized in a quilt that you can use repeatedly. Making a memory quilt is a great way to celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed on or a loving gift for a growing family.
Making a rag quilt might be your style if you want to break away from conventional quilting techniques and design. This technique is excellent for using old textiles and clothing to make a practical yet hip item. With rag quilts, you can use any fabric you wish, like denim, flannel, silk, fleece, etc.
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