17 March 2018

Kenya: Quilts Come Off the Beds and Onto the Walls

Quilts have historically been used to keep people warm and as wedding gifts.

And now, at the annual Kenya Quilt Show at the Nairobi National Museum, "Quilts have come off the beds and onto the walls. They are artistic and creative," says Dorothy Stockell, chairperson of the Kenya Quilt Guild that is organising the show.

The quilts on exhibition range from large bed-sized pieces to panels the size of placemats, in both traditional and modern styles.

Formed in 1999, the guild teaches quilting techniques from around the world. They generally incorporate three layers of material.

The bottom layer is called the backing, the soft middle is the batting, and the top layer is made of pieces of fabric sewn together. In the past, everything was done by hand; but now parts or even all of the quilt can be stitched by machine.

There are several methods of making a quilt. In the applique method, supplementary pieces are attached to the top, introducing different shapes and artistic forms.

An example of its use is in Awesome Threesome, by Rajminder Kaur, which has three zebras with their individual stripes appliqued by machine.

Embroidery is another technique, seen in Christine Kibuka's quilts with embroidery of birds and animals. Beyond the customary squares and rectangles, quilters cut unusual shapes like the curvy, earth-coloured patches in the panel African Pots, by Gill Rebelo.

There is large blue quilt made by the Salama Mamas self-help group of low-income women. It is too big for a bed and the combination of African fabrics makes it an attractive wall hanging.

Salama Mama's work their quilts from the outside to the middle. They adopted this uncommon technique from quilts of the Siddi community, descendants of Africans living in India and Pakistan.

Some quilts have abstract motifs, like the circles in Bubbles III, by Dena Dain Craig. Some modern pieces feature more blank space, like Stockell's quilt called Modern African. It is a grid of colourful leaf-like shapes appliqued onto a black background.

The show ends on March 26, and some of the quilts are for sale.


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