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A Very Abraded and Beautiful Pakistani Ralli: Textile Archaeology

November 1, 2012

Today I’m showing a super-amazing, large Pakistani ralli.   Although some rallis show a surface that is highly abraded–and beautiful–this one is just fascinating for HOW it’s been abraded.You can see that through a worn-away brown figured surface there is the suggestion of  another layer of patterning.What this is is fascinating: the original surface of this ralli was piece constructed like the rallis seen here.  Obviously, a solid layer of cloth was stitched entirely over this piece constructed top, and over time this solid layer of cloth was worn away to expose bits of the multi-colored layer underneath.Feast your eyes.  This is wonderful.

And the back is certainly a surprise.   Again we have leftover pieces of cotton that are pieced together to form one, complete surface.  And included in these pieces are what appear to be some kind of Pakistani cotton grain sacks.

This piece probably dates to the mid twentieth century.  It measures 86″ x 52″ or 218.5 cm x 132 cm.

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A Wonderful, Very Large Ralli

October 26, 2011

When I choose a ralli, the quilted cotton patchworks of Sindh, I choose them not for their proper front, but for what is meant to be their back.  I’m showing a smashing one here today.To me, this arrangement of color and form is really sophisticated and marvelous, and I prefer the “wrong side” of a ralli to its intricately patchworked and appliqued side, shown here.Here’s another in my collection with a really unbelievably beautiful “wrong” side.Rallis come in all sizes and shapes and, therefore, they are used differently according to their size: large ones such as the one shown here are bedcovers; smaller ones like this, could have been a sitting cushion or perhaps a dowry bag that has been opened.This one measures 78″ x 66″ or 198 cm x 168 cm.  It was most likely made in the mid-twentieth century.  And of course it’s completely hand stitched.

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A Huge and Fabulous Ralli

April 1, 2011

This is an instance where scale is important.   Below is a shot of a huge, exceptionally good Pakistani ralli quilt which I’m trying to show in the context of a room to give a sense of its large size.  You really have to be standing in front of the piece to be  wowed by it, but stay with me.
Shown in these photos is its back: its fantastic, glorious back, a smattering of pale colors, abraded surfaces, soft floral patterns and the rich patina of lots of wear.Again, as I look at the real thing, then compare it to these photos, the impact of scale–which is important to truly appreciate this piece–is lost.  But even in miniature, I think this ralli has a lot to say.

The cloth is very soft from wear.  The colors are very soft, too.  And the arrangement of the colors, patterns and size of the patches is, well–these are the reasons I’m posting images.  I think you see what I see.

This piece measures 82″ x 62″ or 208 cm x 157.5 cm.Finding this rare and beautiful ralli quilt was a thrill.  Now I want to find it the right home.And if you’d like to sign up for my weekly emailing announcing new items posted on our webshop (coming soon–I promise!), please drop me a line at stephen@srithreads.com

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A Faded, Abraded and Beautifully Colored Layered Ralli

November 8, 2010

Today I am showing a magnificently worn, off-square, stitched and appliqued cotton ralli which was made in the Sindh region of Pakistan. A ralli is a quilted textile made from layers of discarded cloth; rallis are sewn into various sizes for various purposes.  This piece measures 29″ x 29″ or 73.5 cm x 73.5 cm and was most likely used as a seating cushion of sorts.The name ralli is derived from the local Sindhi word ralanna which means to mix or to connect. Rallis can be used as dowry items as well as symbol of a family’s wealth.This ralli is magnificently destroyed by wear; the layers of this quilted cloth are all exposed by years of abrasion and use, so colors that were once hidden are now revealed through the action of usage and wear.


The strong diagonal composition of this ralli is dynamic–and unusual.  The soft colors are just gorgeous.

Those of you familiar with the Japanese resist dye technique, shibori, will see similarities between the areas of abrasion on this ralli, below, and the shibori technique called mokumeMokume shibori is achieved by sewing a running stitch, bundling and pulling tight the stitched cloth and dyeing it, the result being a motif that suggests wood grain.

This strange and wonderful ralli most likely dates to the middle of the twentieth century.

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An Explosion of Pakistani Ralli Quilts

December 21, 2009

A client stopped by to look at my collection of ralli quilts from Sindh, a region that straddles the Pakistan/India border.  I pulled out all the quilts so we could look at them, and they ended up in a big pile–and I thought this haphazard arrangement showed off their diverse colors and patterns really nicely.
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These rallis all happen to be bedcovers, but using the same technique of piecing and quilting, the ladies of Sindh would also fashion bags, saddle blankets and other household items.

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The photos shown on this post show the proper fronts of the rallis, which are always based on a kind of repeat-pattern geometric design using scraps of  cotton cloth as the medium.  Very often, however, the backs of rallis employ a more expressionistic and less formalized piecing of repurposed cloth— and the backs are generally more to my liking.

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Notice the tremendous amount of piecing, applique work and hand stitching that make up each of these rallis.

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This Wednesday, on my website, I’ll be offering one of these beauties for sale.  I selected to show a ralli with a beautifully composed “front” and a back that is stylistically very different from the formalized design of the front.

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Stay tuned.

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Two Lahariya “Tie Dyed” Indian Turbans, a Sindhi Ralli and an Afghani Embroidered Bag

November 11, 2008

How about a blast of saturated, bright color today?  Here are two lahariya turbans: lahariya is a kind of wrap resist (or tie-dye or shibori) dyeing process, usually resulting in ‘wavy’ stripes or zigzags.  Lahariya dyeing is the province of Jaipur, India and these two examples are done of gossamer-thin cotton muslin and probably date to the middle of the last century.  The book “Tie-dyed Textiles of India: Tradition and Trade” published by the Victoria and Albert Museum shows many examples of lahariya turbans.  I’ve shown similar examples on my website, here.

The small, envelope-shaped embroidered cotton bag is from Afghanistan and is lined in a kind of block print cotton, whose curved and floral print is a wonderful contrast to the intricate, interlocking geometries of the counted thread embroidery of the exterior.

And please note the gorgeous textile which these others sit on; this is a ralli, or a heavily layered and stitched quilt which comes from the area called Sindh, which now extends across the border between Gujarat/Rajasthan/Punjab, India and Pakistan.  I love this ralli for its wear: note the abrasion to the surface of the quilt which reveals the multi-colored layers beneath. 

Rallis can be made from left over cloth, and they can assume a variety of forms, from bedcovers to cushion covers, to saddle blankets and the like.  The word ralli comes from the local word ralanna, which means to connect or to mix.  I have some really nice rallis on my website, and in time, I will be offering for sale on my website all the textiles shown here on this post–  feel free to e mail me if you’re interested.

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Some Indian Textiles

October 18, 2011

I really like the square-shaped Sindhi ralli hanging on the wall above the Japanese tansu.  To me, it’s wonderfully empty: the decorative border around a central void is kind of sophisticated.There is a stack of four Bengali kanthas on the right of the photo, above.But back to the cotton ralli–it’s probably a sitting mat.  It’s about four layers thick and its densely, intensely stitched.  The border is printed with banners that read “makuja nipokee.”  Does anyone know what that means?And standing here are two Rajasthani cotton turbans, dyed by pleating and twisting and called mothara.   I really like some of India’s folk textiles and I try to find those that talk to Japanese folk cloth.   I think these do.

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Better with Age

February 5, 2010

It seems with folk art–or with certain old textiles–it’s not just its age that burnishes the piece with a rich luster, it’s also the wear to the piece by its former owners or its maker that lends it character.  It’s this warmth from human contact that endows a piece its soulfulness.SquareRalliBlog1Today I am showing a piece that exemplifies this idea.  It’s a Pakistani ralli, it measures 27″ x 26″/ 68.5 cm x 66 cm, it most likely dates to mid-last-century, and it’s probably a sitting mat.  It is stitched together from old, cotton cloth which has been layered and secured with many tight rows of running stitches.  The face of the cloth, seen in the fifth photo below, shows applique and some fancy embroidery work.SquareRalliBlog1aFor me, the beauty of this piece is in its abrasion and fading,  both qualities working in concert and leaving behind some kind of  strange and beautiful delicacy.SquareRalliBlog1cYears and years of soft and steady wear have created a kind of translucency to these layers that is inimitable.SquareRalliBlog1d

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SquareRalliBlog1gNotice how the fancy embroidery stitches remain very much intact as the cloth around them has sloughed off over time.  It’s almost like we are seeing soft, geometric fossils.SquareRalliBlog1h

SquareRalliBlog1iThe color palette we see here today was never meant to be seen: how could the maker know that in fifty years time the cloth would reveal its layers in a tight spectrum of pale hues?  What we see today is not what she saw when she stitched and composed this ralli.SquareRalliBlog1k

SquareRalliBlog1lI can’t imagine that this piece looked better when it was new.  I am sure that the many hands that touched this piece and the flow of decades that have nourished it have elevated this piece from a simple sitting mat to a textile eloquent in subtlety and resonant with new beauty.SquareRalliBlog1m

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A Collection of Shape Resist and Tie-Dyed Indian Turbans: Lahariya, Mothara and Bandhani

March 19, 2009

The flinty light of today’s rainy spring day makes for a subdued atmosphere to present a collection of exuberantly colored Indian turbans that were dyed and worn in the bright desert sun of Rajasthan.

This is a tight little group of mothara, lahariya and bandhani turbans: generally speaking you can characterize the shape resist techniques as such: mothara , very simply put is pleated and twisted on two diagonals and can yield a  complex and dazzling criss-cross effect.  Lahariya–which literally means “waves”– shows an intricate chevron-like pattern, and bandhani is what is called tie-dye.

Three madder-dyed bandhani turbans are positioned on the right side of the group: do they seem familiar in design?  Through a circuitous history of trade and travel, bandhani morphed into the present-day bandanna.

The group of turbans sits in a mended wooden trough from Gilgit, Pakistan; the trough sits on a collection of ralli quilts from Sindh, an area that traverses Pakistan and India.

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A Large, Signed and Dated Kantha

March 12, 2009

Today I am showing some Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi textiles.  The tall, red-figured cloth is a phulkari from Punjab in Pakistan and/or India, and the horizontally positioned cloth is a kantha which has the unusual attribute of being signed by the maker and dated in English: usually such inscription would be stitched in Bengali, the native language of West Bengal and Bangladesh, the areas which have produced kanthas for centuries.

The wide border on the kantha is not embroidered as is the case with many.  Instead, it is a border which has been borrowed from what is said to be a Jamdani saree and machine stitched on to the piece.  Jamdani sarees are revered in Bangladesh for their high quality and the best examples could only be bought by the very rich or aristocratic.   Jamdani is said to be a hybrid of traditional Bangladeshi weaving fused with the gorgeous cotton muslin weaving brought by Muslims to Bangladesh around the 14th century.

The center of this kantha is stitched in a fanciful manner by a Hindu lady: we know this because of the central, stylized lotus, a Hindu symbol of the universe which is a standard kantha design motif.  Surrounding the lotus are swirling forms called shostir chinho, an iteration of the swastika, which in India is a sacred symbol which suggests the motion of God’s universe.

We also see butterflies, what seem to be hobby horses, and fish; fish play a large role in Bengali daily, symbolic and ritual life, and the utilization of the fish motif is not surprising as it can convey a wish for fertility, among other things.

This kantha, as can be seen by the inscription, was stitched by Nani Baia Debi and was finished in 1934.  For more images of kantha, please click here for a view onto some in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Seen below is a stack of other kanthas in my collection as well as a selection of rallis from Sindh, an area which traverses Pakistan and India.

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