Ralli Quilts are remarkable, very traditional quilts made by women in the areas of Sindh, Pakistan, western India, and in surrounding areas. They are just now gaining international recognition, even though women have been making these quilts for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. The lives of the people who make the textiles are woven into each piece. The symbols of flowers and animals used in the decoration and colors are imaginative and exotic.
Every ralli quilt tells a story. It tells of the natural creativity and love of color and design of the women who create them. Every ralli tells the story of the strength of tradition. The basic designs and motifs of rallis have been passed from mother to daughter and woman-to-woman for maybe thousands of years.
Asia has been known throughout history as a place that produced beautiful textiles. The art of producing cotton fabric was first perfected by the ancient South Asians as well as the processes of dying and printing fabric. The Romans even sent traders to ancient India to get fine fabrics for their togas.
Women in the Indus Region of the Indian subcontinent make beautiful quilts with bright colors and bold patterns. The quilts are called “Ralli” (or rilli, rilly, rallee or rehli) derived from the local word ralanna meaning to mix or connect. Rallis are made in the southern provinces of Pakistan including Sindh, Baluchistan and in the Cholistan desert on the southern border of Punjab as well as in the adjoining states of Gujarat and Rajasthan in India. Muslim and Hindu women from a variety of tribes and castes in towns, villages and also nomadic settings make rallis. Quilt making is an old tradition in the region perhaps dating back to the fourth millennium BC judging by similar patterns found on ancient pottery.
Rallis are commonly used as a covering for wooden sleeping cots, as a floor covering, storage bag, or padding for workers or animals. In the villages, ralli quilts are an important part of a girl’s dowry. Owning many ralli quilts is a measure of wealth.
Rallis are made from scraps of cotton fabric dyed to the desired color. The most common colors are white, black, red and yellow or orange with green, dark blue or purple. For the bottoms of the rallis, the women use old pieces of tie-dye, ajrak or other shawl fabric. Ralli quilts have a few layers of worn fabric or cotton fibers between the top and bottom layers. The layers are held together by thick colored thread stitched in straight lines. The women sit on the ground and do not use a quilting frame.
The number of patterns used on ralli quilts seems to be almost endless, as there is much individual expression and spontaneity in color within the traditional patterns. The three basic styles of rallis are:
1) patchwork made from pieces of cloth torn into squares and triangles and then stitched together,
2) applique made from intricate cut out patterns in a variety of shapes and
3) embroidered quilts where the embroidery stitches form patterns on solid colored fabric.
A distinguishing feature of ralli patterning in patchwork and applique quilts is the diagonal placement of similar blocks as well as a variety of embellishments including mirrors, tassels, shells and embroidery.