Back to blog
Preserving Tradition, Embracing Sustainability: The Art of Handcrafted Quilts from Karnataka

Preserving Tradition, Embracing Sustainability: The Art of Handcrafted Quilts from Karnataka

This month, we are excited to launch a beautiful capsule collection featuring eleven one-of-a-kind quilts from India that are not only visually stunning, but also 100% biodegradable and handcrafted by skilled women artisans who are pioneers in sustainable practices.

Quilting: A Centuries-Old Tradition in Karnataka, India

Situated in southwestern India, Karnataka is a flourishing agricultural hub. As the nation's top producer of coffee, raw silk, sandalwood, ragi, sunflower, and tomato, and the second-largest for maize, grapes, pomegranate, and onions, it also holds the position of the fifth-largest horticultural region in India. Despite its agricultural success, Karnataka faces the challenge of inconsistent farming wages as a result of global climate change.

North Karnataka credit Maud Lerayer\

North Karnataka, 2008. Credit: Behind the Hill (Maud Lerayer)

 During the off-farm work months of January to April, women with inherited sewing skills help sustain their villages financially by transforming colorful fabric scraps into stunning patchwork quilts for sale. Traveling on foot or by public transport, they collect old saris and worn clothes from nearby and distant villages, gathering used garments with pleasantly faded pastels and wonderfully rugged textures. After returning to their villages, they repurpose these fabric remnants into colorful quilts. In some cases, the upcycled quilt is returned to the original owner, becoming a treasured part of the home as it comprises pieces of clothing that embody the family's personal memories.

Women wearing saris. Tim Graham

Women wearing saris in India. Courtesy of Tim Graham

In Karnataka, quilts serve various practical purposes, such as blankets, curtains, mattresses, or baby swaddles. A woman takes about two to three weeks to finish a large quilt, which in turn provides financial support for her family. The designs emerge organically, with women making creative choices based on available colors and textures. As the quilts take shape, each geometric patch conveys a story, intention, and emotion from the woman who stitches them together. Crafted from leftover fabric or repurposed garments, these one-of-a-kind quilts each tell a unique story.

Thoughtful Intentions

As a gesture of prosperity for the quilt's owner, some women place a few grains of rice beneath the final layer before sewing the last stitches, as a nod to the Kannada Indian saying "hotte thumbisodu" ("May your belly be full").

Women quilting. Nandi Arts

Women Quilting. Courtesy of Nandi Arts

 Leading the Way in Recycling Practices for Generations 

Women in Karnataka have mastered the art of upcycling fabric. Worn garments and fabric scraps, cut into geometric shapes, are repurposed into practical quilts. The thread used to stitch these pieces is also recycled, typically gathered from weavers and small spinning mills as leftover material.

By preserving this ancient craft, women in Karnataka not only maintain a cherished tradition, but also contribute to their village economies. Skillful and imaginative, these women lead the way in recycling and repurposing, supporting their families with sustainable methods that are increasingly essential in today's world.

Our Capsule Collection of quilted blankets

In 2022, we began collaborating with master artisans from Karnataka, who weave our Landscape Collection using native brown cotton called Kandu and locally sourced natural dyes such as pomegranate skin, indigo, and madder roots. Heirloom Kandu cotton is produced with utmost economic and environmental responsibility, being rain-fed, pesticide-free, and ensuring fair wages for everyone involved in the production process.

Rain-fed Kandu cotton in its natural color. Courtesy of Kandu India.

At Behind the Hill, we create collections in collaboration with skilled cotton growers and weavers from Mexico, Guatemala, and India, where heirloom cotton thrives in its natural colors. While we offer design suggestions, we ultimately celebrate the creativity of our artisan partners. Discovering the unique and stunning quilts from this region, crafted using time-honored sustainable practices, filled our hearts with joy. Eager to incorporate our most loved materials— heirloom colored cotton and natural dyes—into a new collection, we commissioned these artisans to work their magic. After an eight-month creative process, we received the news in February—a small collection of quilts was complete. Eleven distinct, exquisite, and truly one-of-a-kind pieces of art. 

For our specific capsule collection, we use new fabric—composed of leftover handwoven Kandu cotton, and natural dyes from the sewing studio in India. Located near Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka, this studio spins and weaves Kandu cotton into our lightweight throws.

A Three-Step Process

  1. Leftover pieces of handwoven fabric are collected and gathered, never discarded.
  2. These pieces are sewn together in the studio to create new large, earth-toned patches. For our collection, three sizes of quilted blankets were crafted: Small blankets measuring 40" x 40", Twin bed covers at 60" x 90", and King size covers spanning 90" x 108".
  3. Lastly, the thin blankets are sent from Bangalore to Dambal in northern Karnataka, home to the expert quilters. These artisans meticulously hand-stitch the patched piece (top layer) with a 100% handwoven Kandu textile in a beautiful camel color (bottom layer) to create the final quilt, one stitch at a time.

Artisan quilter in Dambal, finishing a quilt made of heirloom Kandu cotton and natural dyes

 Impeccable Quilted Blankets Crafted Exclusively from Plant Materials

Our quilts are crafted from rain-fed brown cotton and plant-derived dyes, ensuring they are chemical-free and dye-free. Composed of 100% natural materials, these quilts are also 100% biodegradable. Traditionally passed down from mother to daughter, these quilts can be cherished from generation to generation. However, if you ever choose to discard your quilt or leave it exposed outdoors, it will simply disintegrate without any negative impact on the environment.

This capsule collection of quilted blankets not only showcases the exceptional artistry and creativity of the women artisans from Karnataka, but also highlights the importance of sustainable and environmentally friendly practices in today's world. These one-of-a-kind, exquisitely crafted quilts carry within them the stories and emotions of their creators, while serving as a testament to the rich cultural heritage and innovative spirit of the region. We invite you to explore and appreciate these magnificent quilted masterpieces, as they truly embody the essence of sustainable craftsmanship and the power of human connection.

Shop our Capsule Collection of quilted blankets