An Introduction to Banjara Quilting

Banjara Embroidery

This is the second article in my mini series on some different quilting and embroidery techniques from around the world. This was another new technique for me – and if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, it’s not one that I personally would ever go back to again. However, you may have far more patience than me and love hand embroidery, in which case this may be right up your street!

Who are the Banajara’s?

The Banjara’s are a semi-nomadic tribe / community across India. They are bonded together by their common language – “Ghorboli” – rather than by the more traditional country borders. They traded in salt, spices, grain and cotton amongst other goods.

Banjara Women
Image courtesy of Google Images

Their costume is where it gets interesting for us. the traditional costume of the Banjara women consist of:

A backless blouse called a ‘kanchali’
A full gathered skirt called a ‘phetia’ or ‘ghagra’
A head mantle called a ‘chhatiya’ (yes, two h’s!)

Image courtesy of Google Images

Bright Colours and Much Embellisment

Their main colour palette is bright yellow, orange, black and red: bold and colourful and heavily embroidered, which makes them immediately identifiable.

They are also heavily embellished with coins, beads, cowrie shells, pom-poms, trims and applique. Plus – if that wasn’t enough – they sewed on mirrors which are considered auspicious as they deflect the evil eye.

Heavily embroidered and embellished Banjara style bags were very common in the 1970’s – perhaps you own one? The Banjara women themselves not only embroider their dress, but also their personal home accessories, such as storage pots, pot rings belts, envelope pouches, coin purses, ceremonial cloth, seat covers and so on, even animal trappings

A Banjara Bag
Image courtesy of Google Images

The stitch usage and placement of these stitches associates the wearer with their respective tribes. Traditionally, the highly coloured applique is laid in bands on a darker brown or navy course cloth, such as linen, which shows off the colours, and is then stitched on with a white cross stitch.

Other stitches that are used in Banjara are chain stitch, herringbone stitch, and chevron stitch.

Have A Go at Banjara Embroidery

I used a stranded embroidery cotton for my sample at the top of this blog, but as it kept knotting and generally putting up a fight, I think a perle cotton would be a lot easier. As with the Kantha sample, I suggest using quite a big embroidery needle with a big eye and a sharp point: if you use Banjara on your quilts, you have three layers to go through.

My 10″ sample was one I designed to try and incorporate brightly coloured applique with white cross stitches, complete with cowrie shells AND mirrors (both available easily on EBay).

My white cross stitching got a bit better with practice, although I didn’t find it easy to keep the crosses even. As I said though, I’m not a natural hand sewer or embroiderer so I was never going to be that good. We all have our own set of skills: this isn’t one of mine šŸ˜€ Sewing on the mirrors was, to say the least, a challenge, but I do think they are quite effective. The cowrie shells come ready drilled with a little hole, so they were easy enough to sew on with a sharp beading needle.

Cowrie Shells

I think if I was going to adapt Banjara Embroidery for a quilt, I would get my machine to add the cross stitching to my applique in a quilting cotton so that it’s neater. I would still have to sew on shells, mirrors, beads and some trims by hand though, so it depends on what I’m making as to whether I would incorporate these into a project. They would finished off a wall-hanging or piece of quilt / textile art beautifully though and add a whole new level of interest.

Mini Mirrors

My struggles aside with it, if you like the look of Banjara embroidery and want to give it a go in your projects, I think it’s definitely worth a try – but do promise me you’ll send me some photos of your samples or add them into the comments below. I would love to see some more expert samples than I’ve managed šŸ™‚

See you next time,