Armchair Travels of a Textile Lover: Chris Jurd goes to India

Well-known Australian quilter, regular Quilters Companion contributor and textile lover, Chris Jurd was the guest leader of the 2019 Quilters’ Tour of India. Organised by Quilters Companion and Travelrite Australia, the group set off from Sydney mid November and returned 16 days later – after a trip of a lifetime. We asked Chris to share some of their favourite experiences …


QC: Can you describe the colours, smells, tastes, and sounds of the markets?
Chris: Crazy loud, not too smelly despite all predictions. We didn’t ever eat any street food in the interests of our tummies! All vehicles toot their horn constantly.
Our visit to the Chandni Chowk Bazaar was a procession of 11 tuk tuks, pedalled by as many quite-small men in the steamy heat – we felt sorry for them all! They negotiated narrow alleys with great skill and we saw a multitude of shops and stalls. A highlight was walking through the braid and bead alleys. ‘Wedding’ shops were everywhere.

QC: Can you describe some of the architecture you saw?
Chris: Palaces, forts, ruins and a step well – you name it, we saw it. Forts dating back to the 1500s and earlier and of course the Taj Mahal. No photos prepare you for its grandeur and sheer beauty!


QC: Did you and your group have a chance to do any hands-on workshops?
Chris: In Bhuj we all had a chance to try our hand at block printing – it is more difficult than it looks!

QC: Which was your favourite city, and why?
Chris: For me it was Udaipur – the city on the lake. We had a twilight lake cruise which was just beautiful. There was lots of greenery in the city.

Make your own Jaipur Elephant Embroidery

QC: What was the favourite textile experience, and why?
Chris: There were so many – for me it was the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum in Delhi, which has a large collection of quilts. We saw and tried block printing, we saw pit loom weaving in action, indigo dyeing and quiltmaking, from cutting the squares with scissors, sewing them on a treadle machine and then quilting by hand. I even put my few stitches into one using a darning needle and a metre-long piece of thread.


QC: What was the group’s most popular experience?
Chris: We all really enjoyed a cooking demonstration then dinner in the home of a celebrated Indian cook from the Sankotra family. Her foster children then entertained us with a demonstration of Bollywood dancing and a birthday cake and present for one of our passengers!

 Create this exquisite botanical embroidery pattern designed by Irene Junkuhn

QC: You visited a couple of not-for-profit organisations that work with Kutch craftswomen revitalising the ancient craft of hand embroidery – what were those experiences like?
Chris: It was amazing to see the fine embroidery they do! Only after all their household duties can they sit outside and stitch. We had the chance to buy items such as wall hangings and door frames from one of the prize-winning embroiderers and wow did some of our girls buy up!


QC: How many textile museums did you take the group to visit?
Chris: We visited five different textile museums and the group’s favourite was the National Handicrafts and Handloom Museum in Delhi because of the quilts in its collection. The Calico Museum in Ahmedabad also had a large display of patchwork styles and quilts.

QC: Of the artisans you met, who was the most impressive?
Chris: The women embroiderers of Kutch. Their work is exquisite and it is carried out under difficult circumstances – outside in the hot sun, sitting on the ground or on a rope couch.
They were more than happy to share their work with our group and it was amazing to be able to talk thread, needles and scissors with them via our local guide.


QC: What are your most significant, lasting memories
Chris: Definitely the people! India is a land of contrasts and we saw only a tiny part of it. Everywhere we went the style of dress was different and you could tell where someone came from by how they were dressed. We were greeted with constant smiles and I think our group was as interesting to the locals as they were to us. I’ll always remember the image of a woman in a colourful sari working on the side of the freeway, mixing cement by hand! The food from each area was different and so delicious – we ate really well during our visit. It is noisy, dirty and oh-so-busy, it is also a feast of visual and culinary delights. I’d go back in a flash!

Chris’ Top Ten – in no particular order:

  1. Chandni Chowk Bazaar Delhi
  2. National Handicrafts and Handlooms Museum in Delhi
  3. Kachhpura village in the shadows of the Taj Mahal
  4. Taj Mahal Agra
  5. Lunch in the City Palace restaurant in Jaipur
  6. Block printing workshop in Bhuj
  7. Visit a tailor and have something made
  8. Cruise on Lake Pichola in Udaipur
  9. Shop in the local markets for fabric and amazing trims
  10. Go with an open mind and take it all in!
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