The love for quilts begins very early in life for us, as it did also for me, when my mother stitched the very first one to wrap me and keep me warm—her tiny bundle of joy. When I was 13, my father bought a fine Jaipuri quilt. It was the first specimen of the luxe comforters that our tiny urban apartment had seen. And with that commenced the family’s fascination with quilts.
Years later, when Krystyna Holmstrom’s Jaipur Quilts turned up in my study, the book proved to be an eye-opener for someone who, despite all the fascination, still had limited knowledge about quilts.
Debutante Holmstrom’s book is a well-researched piece on Jaipur’s quilts, which, as she has rightly mentioned in the preface, gives ‘a general idea about Jaipur quilts and the tradition of quilting in the world’. In that the book makes for pleasure reading. Even with the simplistic style and content, it actually achieves the complex task of informing readers about various textiles and technicalities with utmost ease.
Holmstrom’s takes us back to her rendezvous with Jaipur’s quilts when she first visited the city about 30 years ago. Though nothing much happened after her visit, she couldn’t stop basking in the warmth of the memories of the city and the beautiful quilts she had seen. It finally led to a dissertation on Jaipuri and Provençal quilts. This had her spend the last three years of her life meeting designers and craftsmen in India—to find out more about quilts and quilting, especially the printing process of the fluffy delights, better known as razais.
Jaipur, or the Pink City, is strongly evocative of a bygone era that has for long been seen as an embodiment of old-world charm. Apart from forts and palatial buildings, the city is a treasure trove of arts and crafts. It boasts a wealth of highly-skilled artists and craftsmen, who have kept alive the legacy of its founder and ruler Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who was a great patron and connoisseur of the arts and science. His interest in these subjects transformed the royal court into a centre for art and intellect, with which Jaipur’s tryst with quilts began, and quilt-makers were brought in to Jaipur from surrounding villages by the maharaja.
As Holmstrom goes tracking the origin of quilting, she stumbles upon Vishnuism (devotion to Lord Vishnu) and the Vaishnavites (his devotees). As the story goes, the Vaishnavites, together with several other religious sects, had banned the use of leather and wool. This led to the genesis of the art of quilting. Layers of cloth were used to make coverlets to protect themselves and their animals from the cold. Subsequently, the practice was extended to making bedcovers, floor spreads and blinds as well, to either preserve or cut out the heat.
In her book, Holmstrom also speaks at length about some of the best quilt dealers of Jaipur. This creates an unusual interaction for readers and is valuable information for buyers. There are for example stories of traditional, family-run businesses such as Magic Quilts and new-age quilt makers Rasa. Apart from being informative, these stories make the narrative more interesting. Run by Ahmed Mansoor and his family, Magic Quilts started out by using cotton as a filling for quilts. They now produce about 100–125 quilts a day. Rasa, on the other hand, is one of the finest boutiques for contemporary block-printed textiles, whose forte is light and contemporary designs.
Designing quilts in India is a unique combination of experience, traditional values and art, as it turns out from Holmstrom’s book. The Jaipuri razai is a perfect example of the impeccable craftsmanship and aesthetic value that characterises this art form. The razai, therefore, is not just any cotton-wool stuffed coverlet or an add-on to your bedding. It is instead a rich tradition passed down by generations of highly artistic people, whose story comes alive in Holmstrom’s Jaipur Quilts.
Krystyna Holmstrom was born in Poland and currently resides in Stockholm, Sweden.