The International Quilt Study Center & Museum (IQSCM) in Lincoln, Nebraska, is partnering with American Patchwork & Quilting to share information on quilting traditions from around the world.

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Global Perspective: Ralli Quilts

Written by Linzee Kull McCray

In this age of global awareness, it's surprising that little-known textile traditions still exist. Yet in some countries, textile traditions can vary from region to region and even from village to village. So perhaps it's not surprising that American quilters are just beginning to learn of ralli quilts, which are produced in the southern provinces of Pakistan and in India, where they're stitched by hand.

This style of quilting was little known outside its home countries until five or six years ago, according to Carolyn Ducey, curator at the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska. Today, the IQSCM has a fine collection of ralli quilts, helping to fulfill its mission of collecting and preserving quiltmaking traditions of many cultures and countries.

Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006.001.0001.

Uses for Ralli Quilts

Ralli quilts are used as bedding, floor coverings, tent walls, wrappings, and even as bags for carrying snakes. This quilt combines the three techniques typically found in ralli quilts: piecing, appliqué, and embroidery. While ralli quilts are used for everyday events, a quilt such as this, with its fringe and beadwork trim, was likely made for a special event, perhaps a wedding. Ralli quilts are also an important part of a girl's marriage dowry and owning many quilts is a sign of prosperity. (Remember that the next time someone suggests you have too many quilts!)

Fabric in ralli quilts is typically cotton and often recycled. "When we have access to so much fabric, it's sometimes hard to remember that fabric is still very valuable and therefore reused in many cultures," Ducey says. These quilts have no batting: instead layers of fabric are held together with large stitches and thick threads, similar to Japanese sashiko stitching. The colors of this quilt, made between 1950 and 1960, are typical of many ralli quilts.

Photo courtesy of International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006.001.0001.

More About Ralli Quilts

According to Patricia Stoddard, the author of Ralli Quilts: Traditional Textiles from Pakistan and India, the IQSCM has one of the most significant collections of ralli quilts outside of India and Pakistan. This greatly pleases Ducey, who notes that because quilts are such a part of American history we often have an insular view of quilting, forgetting that this textile tradition is ancient and practiced in countries around the globe. The IQSCM collection preserves quilts for future generations and makes information and images of quilts available worldwide through its website. Many more ralli quilts can be found by searching the IQSCM database.

For more information on ralli quilts, visit www.ralliquilt.com and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum Web site.