Inside the India International Quilt Festival
The second edition of the India International Quilt Festival will open in January 2023. We spoke to Varsha Sundararajan, one of the three founders, about the festival’s origins, India’s age-old quilting tradition and what we can look forward to.
ECT: Tell us a bit about the founders of the India International Quilt Festival
VS: There are three of us – Tina Katwal, Deepa Vasudevan and me. We met at India’s first ever quilting studio, 'The Square Inch', which Tina started several years ago with the aim of nurturing a community of quilters in this country. Tina is self-taught and loves working with all types of fabric, fibre arts and crafts. She is a natural teacher and fostered Deepa’s interest in quilting. I leant to quilt while I was living in Australia.
ECT: And what inspired you to start a quilt festival?
VS: When we met for classes at The Square Inch, we would share our experiences of quilt festivals we had been to in other countries and that started us wondering whether we should organise one in India. The idea took about 16 months to execute, but in all honesty, the first festival [which took place in 2019] was definitely seven to eight years in the making, with Tina playing a significant role in nurturing the community of quilters in India.
ECT: Why choose to locate the festival in Chennai in January?
VS: The city is India’s cultural capital. ‘Chennaivaasis’, as we locals call ourselves, are known for their keen interest and deep appreciation of traditional music, dance and fine arts, and the season from October to February, when the weather is cool, is filled with festivals celebrating the fine arts. Chennai is filled with textile and fabric shopping opportunities too – there’s even have a street so filled with shops selling cotton fabric that we call it ‘Cotton Street’. Everyone’s forgotten its proper name!
ECT: India has one of the oldest traditions of quilting in the world, with the earliest found examples dating back to between 2600 and 1900 BCE. Can you give us a brief over view of the importance of quilting as a craft form in the country?
VS: Quilting styles, methods, colours and motifs differ from region to region, but Indian society has always supported the recycling and upcycling of clothes and fabrics, and traditional quilting is done at home using old fabrics and hand-me-downs. The Kantha quilts of Bengal, for example, grew out of an attempt to sew and repair torn clothing (the word ‘Kantha’ in Sanskrit also means rags). Over the years, quilting has evolved into a serious art form. The first India Quilt Festival saw at least a dozen quilts which qualify as art of a high level and the emotive appeal certainly transcends the definition of quilting as craft.
ECT: Was the desire to spread that message one of the motivations for the founding of the India International Quilt Festival?
VS: Yes! One of the core objectives of The Quilt India Foundation, which curates the India Quilt Festival, was to promote quilting as an art form and a commercially viable pursuit. The first festival certainly provided a robust platform for practitioners and connoisseurs of the art, attracting 290 competition entries from 161 quilters from 11 different countries.
ECT: And what can we look forward to for the 2023 edition?
VS: The festival has various components, including special exhibits, workshops, a maker’s market, vendor booths and, of course, competitions. The will be seven competition categories next year - Traditional Quilts, Contemporary Quilts, Indian Quilts, Pictorial Art Quilts, Gen Nxt for young quilters, Miniature Quilts and Theme Quilts. 2023's theme is Building Bridges. We have lots more plans in the pipeline and we really hope this second in-person edition tempts more people to the shores of Chennai. Look forward to seeing you here!
Read about our tour programmes to the India International Quilt Festival here