Geeta Khandelwal’s book Godharis of Maharashtra tells you how the quilt-making tradition in the region is more about sustenance than style

It’s a heartwarming story. One that unfolds the humble and impoverished lives behind the solid colours and bold designs of godharis, the quilt-sewing tradition in remote villages in western Maharahtra.

From making and supplying stylish quilts to high-end stores in the West to exploring how the cosy creations thread together the lives of people of this region, Geeta Khandelwal’s book is a riveting craft travelogue.

Journeying through heat and dust, the writer makes stopovers to observe how quilts take on various functional roles in small houses and huts and are not used just for protection from cold.

Her detailed documentation also showcases how the tradition has been following the process of recycle and upcycle, the buzz words among a growing number of eco-conscious urbanites. It also reinforces the crucial place of women in rural life.

The godharis are usually made by women from their old saris that are placed upon each other — sometimes there are as many as six layers. Between the layers the quilter adds fillers, most often old clothes that are laid out flat. The layers are bound together with running stitch using a thick cotton thread. Colourful sari borders and pallavs are used to embellish these simple creations. Not just saris, these women keep collecting scraps of material from discarded shirts, blouses, trousers, sacks and even election banners and wedding buntings for the quilts.

During her long chats with these women, Geeta realised most of them are not ready to part with their godharis even for a good sum. They do not look at them as pieces of art since they use godharis as blankets, floor spreads, cradles, saddlebags for their cattle and sometimes as wedding gifts.

Starting at Lonavala, Geeta criss-crosses the region travelling through Wai, Pune, Baramati, Kolhapur, Solapur, Konkan, Chiplun, Sakhartara and Nagpur tracking the changing patterns of the godharis and the influence of culture, lifestyle and Nature in its designs and colours that are passed down generations.

Over the years, women in these far-flung areas too have learnt to turn the godhari-making chore into a creative outlet and a way to socialise. For instance, women in Ratnagiri create special godharis for their children by copying patterns from their picture books. The new palette, patchwork and quirky motifs of many of today’s godharis show a slight departure from tradition and reflect urban influences.

For us the godharis may be representative of an ethnic design heritage, but for the tired hands that create them it’s an extension of their domestic work.

From watching as a child her family tailor Nanalal stitch garments for members of her large family to taking up quilt-making and exporting them, Geeta’s textile expedition comes a full circle with her extensive field work and this well-researched book.