Thursday, January 22, 2009

RALLI – Blending one’s soul and self into a piece of textile



by Nayyar Hashmey

What’s the true sense of beauty? Does it lie in the eyes of the beholder; or is it manifest in the crafted object itself or is it a coming together of kindred spirits – that of the maker and the beholder, the magical moment when a common chord is struck across the barriers of time and space. Just such chemistry ripples through the articulated patchwork of traditional homemade products crafted by the rural feminina of Sindh in Pakistan.

This fascinating product called Ralli or Rilli is a remarkable textile artwork converted into quilts, table runners and cushion covers. Thousands of women are involved mostly in Sindh, partly in some parts of Cholistan in Bahawalpur distt. of Punjab and in some areas of Balochistan.

A normal ralli whether a quilt, a cushion cover or a table runner, is a textile jewel finished with physical and spiritual labor done with hand and mind putting in almost 180 hours of an artisan woman doing this job. Women start making ralli in early ages as part of their dowry. In other cases, the poor artisans offer these products as gifts to elite families of Sindh on occasion of marriages or births and in return get an animal like cow, buffalo or a goat (locally called as khir piyarina i.e. to provide a regular source of milk for the artisan’s family).
Ralli, the beautiful handicraft from Sindh in Pakistan exhibits the wide array of cultural beauty. Its intricate patterns show the creativity, the skill and dexterity of the Sindhi artisans which places the area among the culturally rich lands of the world.

Sindhi rallis are very beautiful and colorful. They are cluster of patchwork and or embroidery. Used also as bed linen Sindhi ralli is made with multicolored pieces of cloth stitched together in attractive designs. The color combinations and unique patterns speak for the aesthetic sense of its creator. The designs vary from floral motifs, waves and images of animals or trees. Many handicrafts of great beauty like cushion covers, embroidered shirts; wall hangers and mirror worked handbags are also made in ralli style mainly in Umarkot and Tharparkar area of Sindh.

Patricia Stoddard, an American author, teacher and expert writes in her book “The Ralli Quilts” Ralli textiles are very traditional made by women in the areas of Sindh, Pakistan, Western India and Gujarat. Ralli textiles are just gaining international recognition, even though women have been making these quilts for hundreds, may be thousands of years. The levels of the people, who make these 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 woman who creates them. Every ralli tells the story of the strength of tradition and motifs of rallis which have been passed from mother to daughter and woman-to-woman may be for thousands of years.

Cecilia Eddy, a British author and too a teacher of quilts has a deep study on ralli quilts. She in her book “Quilted Planet” says “The pattern and colors of ralli quilts embody all the romance and exoticism of the East. Did you know that in the Indus region of Pakistan where many rallis are made to this day for dowries, the word ralli means to mix or connect”. One of the ralli quilts pictured in her book looks like a bar quilt of flying geese, surrounded by a saw tooth border and a wider border of square-in-a-square on point.

Ironically, this fascinating cultural product, gaining recognition abroad, is loosing its importance back home. Textile market trends are changing as do the changes in ultra fashioned home textiles which influence the purchasing priorities of the buyers. A major reason involved in decline of usage of the cultured goods is also the poverty of the inhabitants of Sindh.
A lot of skilled artisans are leaving their profession because of a lack of patronage. This work of art is exclusively handmade and cannot be duplicated. The skill travels from generation to generation but due to dearth of proper avenues for young artisans, new generation has not much interest in learning the trade of their forefathers. Their priorities too have changed.  Which’s why this centuries old art is on decline. For a revival and preservation of the handicrafts support is needed from the concerned quarters of the society. New markets need to be explored within the country as well as internationally.

AHAN steps in…

To solve the problems and to tackle on-ground issues, credits do go to AHAN (Aik Hunar Aik Nagar) project of the Ministry of Industries, Govt. of Pakistan, who With a three pronged strategy initiated a pilot project for the craftswomen of Sukkur  (Sindh).

During first phase of this pilot, a large number of designs were reviewed by the designers. They observed that different geographic locations have different ralli designs having their own history and tradition, hence different geographic clusters and craftswomen were identified by AHAN. They were then trained as master trainers. About five clusters of 12 master craftswomen were given one month on-job training at designers’ training centres in Karachi.
The training course provided skills in product development with different themes and tones. The object of this pilot project is that by training the ‘masters’ they will then work further at their villages to train more women.
Renowned Pakistani designer Deepak Perwani was involved to provide his expertise in product development and training. He has now trained a group of female artisans at his factory in Karachi.

The idea behind such trainings is to add value to this village craft by turning out different ralli products like fashion apparel, handbags, embellishments on shawls  and bedroom accessories that include table lamps shades, cushions and toys. The women participants were also trained on modern designs and guided on different marketing channels. Their products were also displayed at a women expo to get the market feedback.
In embroidery and patchwork ralli, Ms. Shehnaz Ismail, Head of the Textile Deptt., of the Indus Valley School was engaged to design and develop a tailor made course for the artisans engaged in embroidery and patchwork.

The first training of the groups was conducted by the craftswomen who were already familiarized with design, measurements and pattern making, improvement of aesthetic- ability / sense and quality aspects of the product. During trainings they were also introduced with different markets for purchase of good quality raw material and sale of their products.

Once the training programs scheduled by the AHAN are completed, we can see some chances for the womenfolk indulged in this rural craft; that their economic lot will be improved and their products will be sold not only in their traditional markets but also in modern, trendy fashion boutiques of the world as well.

Note: This post as well as the pictures included, are based on different internet sources.

Image Source: Image of a ralli quilt [middle] Fiber Focus




  1. Tharparker, a desert area of Pakistan is a good good place for visiting in rainy seasone. We are a group of artisans from drought-hit and world's 7th largest desert Tharparker in Pakistan. We produce some of the world's oldest-surviving quilt making traditions. Our colourful handmade Ralli Quilt, Table Runner and hand-embroidered cushion and pillow case designs could be viewed at
    Please visit our website as we think some of our artisans quilts could of interest. Our main aim is to fight stark poverty from the rural folk arts of the desert of Tharparker.

    Ours is a juried folk artisans' group whose Ralli Quilts, Table Runners and Ralli Squares were displayed at the 3rd International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 8-9, 2006 also our artwork has been approved for 4th International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, New Mexico on July 2007 represented by Patricia Stoddard http;//

  2. Thanks for informing WOP readers about your artisans' group. I do recommend everybody who reads this blog, to please visit their site



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