Both the domestic and professional craft of hand-quilting in India extends across many living genres. This includes the visually detailed kantha and satgaon quilts of West Bengal, the woven sujani of Bharuch, the palampores of Andhra, the traditions of the nomadic Banjara gypsies of Andhra, the Rabari pastoralists of Kutch and the sujni-kanthas of Bihar. They use techniques specific to different traditions that include appliqué, patchwork, embroidery, layering and weaving. Quilting genres are distinguished by distinct stitch directories, color palettes and textile embellishments. Among these living and continually evolving traditions is that of the quilted Jaipur razai from Rajasthan.
It was in the sixteenth century that the Mansoor community of quilters was settled in Jaipur by the ruler Maharaja Sawai Man Singh. Eponymously named after the capital city, the Jaipur razai continues to combine quilting with the other well-known craft of the city, hand-block printing on textiles. Recognised for their quality, their fresh colors and the wide range of motifs block-prints are specially hand printed for the razai onto mulmul, a gossamer cotton fabric.
The secret of the Jaipur razai lies in its carding or dhunai. The process takes a minimum of seven days. In the finest razais, a kilo of cotton wool is sifted down to just 100 grams of handpicked fibre soft fluffing. Paradoxically, it is believed that the lighter the quilt the greater its warmth. The filling of the quilt is a task handled by male quilters. The cotton is evenly distributed by repeated pounding with the chhappa, a broom shaped beater. The women quilters then hand sew down the batting in a variety of patterns from floral, leaf to geometric shapes. The quilting continues as an oral tradition, passed down through generations. It remains a vibrant practice that continues to fulfill utilitarian needs, while it is still aesthetically pleasing.