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Kawandi: the contrary quilt

As a North American quilter, to create a kawandi is an exercise in opposites. Found fabric or scraps rather than the latest Tilda or Kaffe Fassett; torn edges rather than precise rotary cutting; hand folded edges rather than accurate ¼” piecing and pressing; haphazardly inserted batting rather than painstaking layering; hand sewing rather than machine piecing and outsourced quilting; tools of needle and scissors rather than patterns, rotary cutter, mat, rulers, sewing machine, iron and board, steam-a-seam, and wonder clips; floppy edges and a “fat” centre (containing rice) rather than a perfectly flat quilt with batting fully filling the binding. But oh, what an addictive pleasure to make!

Kawandi means quilting in India. This style of quilting was brought to India over 800 years ago by Siddi migrants, many of them slaves, from Africa. Their quilts are made from old clothing and fabric scraps. The women work on their quilts between other chores. The techniques of creating a kawandi can result in a bulging centre to which rice is added so that “your belly may always be full.” Intrigued?

Think sustainability: Use your fabric scraps, leftover quilt blocks, recycled clothing or bedding when possible. Use batting remnants pieced to the size you need. Dig into your thread collection - hand quilting thread or embroidery floss work well. A thimble is handy if you have one, or use a small piece of leather bandaged to your finger or thumb. The needles you use for attaching the binding will work well – I use sharps with a large eye.

For the backing, choose a loosely woven fabric such as quilting cotton. While batiks look great, the tight weave makes it harder to hand stitch. Likewise the applied texture of white on white fabric creates increased resistance to your stitch. You will be folding under all four sides by about ½” so you will need to add one inch to your finished quilt length and width. Tear or cut your backing to your measurements and then fold under each raw edge ½”. Allow yourself to be loose rather than exact. Hand press or iron the folded edges.

Next you will start attaching fabric pieces around the outside edges of the backing. The corner pieces need to be folded under about ¼” on 3 sides, and the other pieces on two adjacent sides. With wrong sides together you will start stitching these pieces to the backing along the folded edge. I use hand quilting thread and a running stitch. At times, the thickness of fabric is best met with a stab stitch.

Once you have your pieces completely surrounding the quilt edges, you will insert the batting. You will want to cut the batting about ½” to ¾” smaller than the dimensions of your finished quilt. Smooth the batting into the corners, and underneath all your stitched pieces.

Your second round of stitching will be about a pinky finger width from the first row. Continue to stitch along all edges, working from the outside to the centre and adding fabric patches as needed. I few grains of rice can be added to the centre before you complete the quilt.

A kawandi is finished with phula: fabric folded into flowers which are then stitched to each corner. I don’t add this embellishment – I have a fabric loving cat, and I am sure it would only take her a few minutes to chew the phula off.

The program for Tuesday, January 2nd is “all things scrappy.” I will be demonstrating how to make a kawandi, Deanna C will be showing you the Tracy block, Carolyn M will be demonstrating string quilts, and Carol C will show us how to make quilted cards. I look forward to seeing your there for our first meeting of 2024!

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