On Thursday night, the brilliant Dr. Tricia Stoddard came to Harmony to share her research on ralli quilts from Pakistan. I have quilted, but not intensely, and I knew basically nothing about Pakistani culture. But I felt like this was an evening I wanted to be a part of, and it did not disappoint.
One of my last college classes I ever took was on folklore. I remember the magic I felt during the lectures, as cheesy as that sounds. Whether it was a telling of an urban legend or a scratchy audio recording of a mountain man singing a song his grandmother used to sing to him, I was always filled with an awe and reverence at these pieces of everyday lives.
Stoddard told of the white shell bracelets that some Pakistani women wear on their arms. Married women wore these bracelets up their entire arm, while unmarried women only wore them on their forearms. Skeletons have been found in the region– thousands of years old– with the remnants of these shell bracelets. They are an important part of the culture, a tradition that has been handed down from mother to daughter for hundreds of generations.
The handmaking techniques of ralli quilts have likewise been handed down through generations of Pakistani women. But the patterns on these quilts go back much farther than the quilts themselves: pottery fragments from 4,000 years ago reveal patterns identical to those found in modern day ralli quilts. What significance these patterns must have had to these people to have been passed down through so many generations! Stoddard has found over three dozen examples of this.
The women use basic tools to create these quilts: needle, thread, and whatever fabric they have on hand (the backs of quilts are usually old shawls that have been worn out). Oftentimes four women will work on a single quilt together, each beginning at one of the four sides of the quilt and working inward. (Stoddard said she has seen quilts where one side is perfectly stitched, and another is a little less steady, perhaps a skilled mother and her student daughter working on a quilt together). The quilts represent families, communities, and an enduring and vibrant culture. There is no written pattern. The women simply work from memory, from the things their own mothers had once taught them.
So I ask, what are we remembering from our mothers, fathers, grandmothers, and grandfathers? What are we saving, savoring, treasuring, and gifting to our children and future children? Are we learning, are we teaching? How are we preserving the work of our people, and how are you preserving the work of yours?