CULTURE: HOW TO MAKE A SINDHI QUILT

Sajja Devi was taught how to make the ralli by her late mother and she passed on the art to her daughter Radha, who taught her daughter Reena. “This is how our rich traditions are passed down from generation to generation,” says Sajja Devi. Her 17-year-old granddaughter, Reena, sits next to her in a dark blue dress with appliqué work that she did herself.

“The making requires a lot of time and much patience. Its stitch needs love and care,” says the grandmother, “which Reena here needs to learn also.” The granddaughter starts giggling upon hearing that. She makes shirt bodices, sleeves, bags, cushion covers but there is no entire quilt that she can claim to have made all by herself as yet. “I’m getting there, I’m getting there,” she smiles giving a sideways glance to her grandmother.

“Each free moment is spent in making ralli. We tend to the housework, cooking, cleaning, take care of the children, fields, to come back to our needlework,” says Sajja Devi. “But today’s children waste time on so many other things that they take their culture for granted,” she says shaking her head.


The Mohatta Palace Museum recently hosted a three-day exhibition of Sindh’s traditional patchwork ralli, whose artistic worth is now being recognised


The ralli is traditionally made putting old fabric, including old ajrak, to good use. It is a way of recycling the fabric. The layers of old material are stitched together first and then to hide it’s imperfections there is the patchwork on top of bright coloured pieces of fabric. Still not every ralli is made like that. These days they also use motifs in the form of fancy embroidery while including glasswork or beadwork. It just depends on how creative one is. It is also something that may require teamwork where the women can be seen sitting on a floor in a circle with the ralli spread out between them as they chat or hum while they go about their work. Still some women just like doing it all by themselves.

There was a time when the ralli with its bright-coloured geometric designs pieced together by delicate stitches could be bought for a few thousand rupees here. But it is very expensive now, which may be because the craftsmen and artisan have become aware of their skill and importance. Ralli-making, which is usually done by womenfolk in the villages of Sindh, was taken for granted for a very long time but not anymore.

“It took my wife Nainoo nine years and her health in making this ralli,” Sonu Meghwar from Mithi tells a customer, who tries to bargain with him for a quilt with glasswork and orange, pink, purple and white motifs. Sonu was asking for 2,000,000 rupees for the ralli. The yarn used in making the ralli, he said, wasn’t used as it is. He demonstrated how they stretched it before rubbing a needle over it to remove the lint first. “Initially we had two kilogrammes of yarn but after removing the lint we were left with half of that,” he shares. “Twenty lakh rupees is the final price. Fixed!”


“Each free moment is spent in making ralli. We tend to the housework, cooking, cleaning, take care of the children, fields, to come back to our needlework,” says Sajja Devi. “But today’s children waste time on so many other things that they take their culture for granted,” she says shaking her head.


“If I had that much money to buy a ralli, I wouldn’t have used it as a quilt. I would have framed it in glass and hung it on my drawing room wall,” says the customer, finally giving up arguing with the man.

“We don’t always use the ralli as a quilt for winter,” says Zarina Bibi from Nawabshah, who proudly shows off her handiwork, a luxurious shiny black and silver ralli with intricate glasswork. “We also make them to be gifted to our relatives on their wedding day. From there it is passed down from generation to generation. I still have my great-great-grand aunt’s ralli, passed down in my husband’s family for generations. It is a piece of treasure.”

Zarina’s own creation, she says, she will gift to her daughter-in-law-to-be at her son’s wedding. “Something that is made with so much love should stay in the family. Besides, the more ralli a bride has in her dowry, the more she is respected in our circles,” she says. The only other person she was willing to gift the ralli to was Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. “We are from Benazirabad after all. He is also a son, our sister Bibi Shaheed’s only son. We will love his bride as we love our own daughters-in-law,” she says.

“As the women, who have this gift, grew aware of their talent and how much they can earn through it, they turned their focus to making ralli and such handicrafts only,” says Marvi Abida Samo, chairman of Sormy Development Society for Women, an organisation in Badin which provides training in handicrafts to rural women as well as markets their work in the big cities and abroad. “We don’t profit from their hard work and everything earned goes to the artisan,” she adds.

“Earlier, so many women who used to work in the fields have left that work to the men in their family. Now they come to our organisation and other centres such as ours to utilise their time in creating beautiful handicrafts, especially the ralli,” says Samo. “Of all the handicrafts and needlework in the country, Sindhi work is the most complicated. But these women inherit it so it comes naturally to them,” she says.

Above (clockwise from top): beads are used here to cover the patchwork; a camel-motif ralli for Rs3,000,000; removing lint from the yarn; traditional geometric designs Bottom (clockwise from below): Mohatta Palace Museum exhibition sign; Zarina Bibi wants to give this exquisite ralli to her future daughter-in-law; intricate embroidery and glasswork; ralli-making is an art passed down through generations

The writer is a member of staff.
She tweets @HasanShazia

Published in Dawn, EOS, May 7th, 2017

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