My husband came in the house a few weeks ago and declared rather matter-of-factly that we were going to India at the end a January. The daughter of a long-time business associate of his was getting married and we had been invited to the wedding. I know the family too and they are wonderful people, so I was delighted to attend.
If you've never been to an Indian wedding and have the chance to do so, you should definitely go. The Indians take weddings pretty seriously and they are usually three-day (or longer) affairs that involve hundreds, sometimes thousands, of guests from the extended family and friends as well as marching bands, grooms riding live elephants, henna “tattoos” for the ladies and many other customs and rituals that are hard to describe.
Knowing that we were going to be in northern India during the winter and always interested in furthering my knowledge of sewing and textiles whenever I have the opportunity to travel, I set about doing some research on what was the specialty of the region and I discovered the wonderful tradition of the Jaipuri razai –which are locally-produced quilts made using thick cotton batting. They resemble American comforters and some European duvets and are loosely quilted so that they can be disassembled annually to card and re-fluff the cotton.
This style of quilt originates from the Indian state of Rajasthan and a city called Jaipur which is home to fantastical, almost fairytale, castles and villas as you can see below. I love the romanticism of it all and I can't wait to see first-hand how these wonderful quilts are made. I think it's always fun to link a textile with a place, especially one so beautiful and picturesque as Jaipur. I know many readers share my passion for new and exotic textiles, so I thought I'd share my research with you all.
Prepare for Winter with a Warm, Snuggly Jaipuri Razai
The Indian state of Rajasthan has given us a gift to face winter with – a warm, snuggly, lightweight quilt called a “Jaipuri razai.” Soft as a cloud, light as air, warm as toast, this very comfortable handmade comforter inspires all manner of similes to describe it. Although the name seems exotically foreign to Anglophones, the translation is fairly straightforward. “Jaipuri” means “coming from Jaipur,” the capital city of Rajasthan, and “razai” simply means “quilt.” Jaipuri razais are available online and in stores in the United States and are often available as fair trade comforters.
A jaipuri razai is special both for its artisanry and for its functionality. First, in handmaking these beautiful quilts, razai artisans use the traditional textile-making skills of cotton carding, cotton voile-making and quilting. Cotton carding is the process of preparing cotton to use as cotton fill in a quilt. A worker uses two carders. The carders are convex paddles covered with small, fine teeth. The worker charges the carders by placing cotton fibers onto one of the carders. Then the worker gently draws the other carder across the face of the first one several times, changing position of the carders from horizontal to vertical. In the process of carding, the cotton dross is exposed and removed. “Dross” is simply waste material. Removing the dross leaves soft, fine, delicate cotton fibers. In a typical Jaipuri razai, the worker starts with a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cotton and works at carding it for a full week. After fully carding the cotton, the worker is left with a mere 100 grams (approximately 3.5 ounces) of cotton to use to fill the comforter. The lighter and fluffier the cotton fill, the warmer and cozier the quilt will be.
Once the fill is prepared, the artisans go on to make the quilts. It is important to layer the cotton evenly throughout the quilt. This is another characteristic of the handmade quilt that gives it its warmth. The shell of the Jaipuri razai is usually a high-quality soft cotton voile. Cotton voile is a lightweight, gauzy cotton fabric with a soft, smooth surface. The softness of the voile adds to the very snuggly, cozy nature of the Jaipuri razai. Sometimes the quilter uses a velvet covering instead of cotton voile.
After being filled, the quilt is stitched together. Of course, in times gone by, the quilt-makers did all the stitching with a hand-held needle. Modernly, however, quilt-makers use a sewing machine to stitch the sides of the quilt together. The machine-stitched sides increase the durability of the quilt. Quilters then use a running stitch on the interior of the quilt panels to hold the fill in place and add to the beauty of the quilt. All this work, from the carding to the filling to the quilting, is typically done by artisans whose families have been practicing these skills for generations.
The functionality of the Jaipuri razai is as important as the artisanry that goes into making it. Although a Jaipuri razai is handmade, soft and snuggly, one should not get the impression that it is delicate. These quilts are, in fact, quite durable. This is not surprising when one considers the history and geography of the region that the Jaipuri razai originated in. Rajasthan is located in northwestern India. Bordering on Pakistan, Rajasthan encompasses the Aravalli Mountain Range and the Thar (Great Indian) Desert. Throughout Rajasthan, the terrain is inhospitable and the weather can get bitterly cold, especially at night. Traditionally, Rajasthanis were often on the move. Shepherds, traders, soldiers and warriors, itinerant bards, and others traveling by camel caravan were in need of a covering to carry with them that would keep them warm in the cold desert nights and yet be easy to carry. So the Jaipuri razai by necessity had to be as long-lasting and convenient to carry as it was warm and comfortable to use. It is as functional in a modern household as it is out in the Indian desert. Of course, these quilts are perfect for use as bed comforters. But they can just as easily be packed up and sent off to a college dorm room, folded away for use as needed in a guest room or stored in a chest to bring out when lounging on the couch.
Of course, Jaipuri razais are available for sale in small, family-owned shops in Jaipur. But fortunately for all of us, we can find them in the United States, too. Many times, Jaipuri razais are available as fair trade comforters and can be purchased online or in stores that carry fair trade items. By purchasing a Jaipuri razai as a fair trade comforter, you not only enhance your home decor and get a warm, comforting bed covering, but, as for all your fair trade purchases, you also provide a living wage for a traditional Indian artisan working to rise above poverty, support a participatory work environment with humane working conditions and ensure environmental sustainability.
Since they are made of 100% cotton, Jaipuri razais are an excellent choice for those allergic to, or just don't like, down or feathers. They are also well suited for people who don't like the look, feel or idea of polyester. Anyone who dislikes having a heavy cover over them while they sleep should consider a Jaipuri razai.
There are many benefits to the Jaipuri razai, that Rajasthani gift to those of us facing winter. And, just think . . . These benefits can easily be yours.
Summary: The Indian state of Rajasthan has given us a gift to face winter with – a warm, snuggly, lightweight quilt called a “Jaipuri razai.” Soft as a cloud, light as air, warm as toast, a Jaipuri razai is special both for its artisanry and for its functionality. In handmaking these beautiful quilts, the artisans use the traditional textile-making skills of cotton carding, cotton voile-making, and quilting.