A fabric hug for the frontline

The Karuna Quilt Movement uses crowdsourced blocks to make patchwork quilts that will be distributed to essential workers

Taruna Gandotra-Sethi is glad that she has been able to reach the target of acquiring the blocks needed to make 100 quilts by November 15, three months after she launched the Karuna Quilt Movement in mid August. “We want to make 1,000 quilts by August 2021, coinciding with India’s 75th Independence Day, and distribute them to frontline workers,” she says.

Taruna Gandotra-Sethi  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The idea came up in late July, as an offshoot of helping people affected by COVID-19 lockdown. “Anyone who works at the frontline to protect our lives can be a benefactor,” she says. The process is on to identify these frontline workers who are often overlooked: “For example the drivers who ferry supplies to the Armed Forces or hospital workers who sanitise the operation theatres before doctors step in. This project is to show gratitude to everyone who protects our lives,” she says, explaining why she decided to call this social quilt movement as the karuna (empathy) movement.

But why patchwork quilts? A few years ago when Taruna lived in Florida, USA, she learnt that quilting was both a social movement and a hobby. She cites the examples of NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and World Trade Center Memorial Quilt projects, where people contributed blocks that were used to make large patchwork quilts which became artistic installations.

“In India, during the lockdown, many of us helped migrant workers and others in need by donating essentials or contributing funds. To further ring in positivity and encourage quilting as a hobby, I started this social quilt movement,” she says.

“Anyone can donate a quilt block (12.5-inch x 12.5-inch square); it can be painted, knitted, crochet or embroidered squares,” she explains.

Malika Rehman, a contributor, shows off the quilt blocks  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Taruna moved from the US to Mumbai in 2015 and set up an enterprise named Simply Beautiful Always in 2016, focussing on quilting. It began as an exercise where she taught her domestic help how to quilt during their spare time. “Some were good with thread and needle while others were good at using the sewing machine. As they learnt, they were keen to do more. I then hired a few tailors and today we are 22, including a few who are hearing and speech impaired,” she says.

Neelam Sharma, a contributor, shows off the quilt square | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The quilt blocks and fabrics they have received so far as part of the Karuna Quilt Movement are worked upon by the staff to make 54-inch x 84-inch quilts. “Indians living abroad who are familiar with quilting have contributed blocks. In India, some have contributed blocks while others have donated a sum. A few creative squares with embroidery and tie-and-dye have come in,” says Taruna.

She says 1,500 blocks will make 100 quilts and 15,000 blocks will make 1,000 quilts. “We started our first pilot project in Ballah village in Dharbhanga district of Bihar this year, where we are training a few villagers to make the complete patchwork quilt tops,” says Taruna. The pilot project began after one of her staff who hails from Bihar, got others in his village to train in quilting.

At the quilt workshop  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Taruna has also been talking to garment companies to source surplus fabric. “At the moment, the cost incurred to make the final quilts is borne by me. So far, the movement has been carried forward by word of mouth and I am open to anyone wanting to help,” she adds.

For further details and on collection centres for quilt blocks in different cities, check indiaskarunaquilt.com

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