Darjeeling and Sikkim.
We started our adventures in India by travelling to the hill station of Darjeeling and then over to Gangtok in Sikkim. It felt like a combination of the British Raj and Tibet rather than India. This square is from fabric bought in Gangtok, where all the women’s clothing stores were actually fabric shops where you chose your fabric and the outfit (tight pants and long over tunic) was custom made in a few days. The fabric is green with bamboo to remind me of the lush jungle greenery. You see a four sided box that is going to become a spiderweb when I get home where I have the perfect thread. Spiders make the most marvellous webs in India and I have a number of photos. The outside frame is actually jute from a shirt I bought on the streets of Calcutta. We had watched the very labour intensive harvesting of jute over the days travelling south through West Bengal.
The other activity we had watched as we travelled into Calcutta was the hand printing of large pieces of silk fabric for saris. Imagine placing a large tarp on your front lawn and placing 7 meters of fabric down then using natural dyes to print designs. Murshidabad (where we spent two nights, but unfortunately on the Independence day long weekend) is the center of hand weaving silk fabric and then hand dying it for saris. Everywhere else in India the process is mechanized to some extent.
To my delight, next door to where I bought a notebook computer was the shop where they were selling this fabric. The perfect colours of this very expensive silk sari (about $ 40.00 CAD) just sang to me. What am I going to do with 7 meters (less the piece on this quilt) of exquisite fabric? Touch it and enjoy it.... Maybe make an art quilt.... Who knows.
This fabric actually travelled with me from Canada. It’s the last bit of a printed Thai panel that I bought in Calgary many years ago. Pieces of this black and white fabric have been used in a number of quilts over the years as well. Bringing the last bit back home just seemed the right thing to do. The interesting heart shaped wooden pieces are hand made earrings that I found in Bangkok. At the moment, this picture is the only evidence that I did have a Thai coin on the square – somewhere in the wear and tear of travel it fell out of its case with only the thread circle remaining. Not to worry. I have the coin and it just needs to be replaced. Part of the charm of this quilt is that it is becoming a bit travel worn.
In Luang Prabang, I spent a day learning hand weaving and dying of silk threads. This is a small piece of the weaving I made. The colours are teak leaves (off white) and lemongrass (my favourite colour of green). There is an interesting Vietnamese connection to this square as it was at a tailor shop in Hoi An that I got a bit of stitching done so that the pieces wouldn’t unravel. Hand stitching a tight seam was a bit of a challenge and there are plans to do a bit more to the seam lines when I get home. I begged a spool of the two colours so I could do the stitching, and these threads are showing up in other squares as well. Another creative way to acquire silk thread!
I had two shirts hand made in Hoi An and this square includes samples of each. The ladies at the tailor shop were fascinated with my discussion about quilting and wanting to honour the experience of their friendliness. If you look carefully, you will see where I embroidered in black silk the signature of the owner. Around the outside is a bit of found rope – from Jungle Beach – with the original knot. And the embellishments are actually a pair of earrings found in the main Saigon post office. Quilling (taking narrow strips of paper and rolling them to make designs) seems to be one of the many hand crafts to be found in Vietnam and the Yin yang design is common in Vietnamese history.
It took a lot of thinking about what would be the square for Cambodia. The killing fields and Angkor Wat.... hmmm. This square is actually a rubbing of stones in Angkor Wat and Preah Kahn. It seemed even more fitting when I bought an actual temple rubbing on rice paper from a young artist outside Preah Kahn. The plan when I get home is to add some words to the square with off white thread – adding texture but being just subtly there.
Most of the items for this square came from an interesting store in Bangkok which was a little more upscale than Koh San Road. I’d been looking for an elephant, which is so significant to the Thai culture (and to remind me of the Elephant Nature Park in Chaing Mai) and this little fellow seemed so cheerful. The ribbon in his trunk is actually one of the ribbons on our bags as we travelled from Bangkok to Koh Tao via plane, bus and ferry (without getting lost). The buttons in the corner are hand carved cocoanut and the background is a hand woven silk coaster.
We didn’t have many days in Malaysia and it also felt like we were focusing more on moving on to Australia than on enjoying the moment. A piece of hand batik silk (an art card that I found on Pulau Perhentian Besar ) is bordered by a piece of hand dyed cotton. The little jungle hut felt just like the place we were staying in on the island. Malaysian coffee, which is delicious and has beans fried in butter rather than roasted, was used to colour white cotton. As I was doing this, it felt right that I started our trip with fabric hand dyed with Turkish coffee and finished it with fabric hand dyed with Malaysian coffee!
Next step: onward to Australia.