In one of my recent posts, I briefly mentioned a humongous project that I’m working on that overwhelms me from time to time. Are you curious about knowing what it is and how big it really is?
P.S. This is just 1/3rd of the entire project!!!
Before I delve into the details of the quilt, I’d like to say something about the subject. The quilt depicts the scene of the coronation of Shrimant Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
According to Wikipedia: Born as Shivaji Bhonsle in 1627/1630 – his year and date of birth are disputed, he was an Indian warrior king and a member of the Bhonsle Maratha clan. Shivaji carved out an enclave from the declining Adilshahi sultanate of Bijapur that formed the genesis of the Maratha Empire. In 1674, he was formally crowned as the Chhatrapati (monarch) of his realm at Raigad.
Over the course of his life, Shivaji engaged in both alliances and hostilities with the Mughal Empire, Sultanate of Golkonda, and Sultanate of Bijapur, as well as the English, Portuguese, and French colonial powers. Shivaji's military forces expanded the Maratha sphere of influence, capturing and building forts, and forming a Maratha navy. Shivaji established a competent and progressive civil rule with well-structured administrative organisations. He revived ancient Hindu political traditions and court conventions and promoted the usage of Marathi and Sanskrit, rather than Persian, in court and administration.
Shivaji's legacy was to vary by observer and time but he began to take on increased importance with the emergence of the Indian independence movement, as many elevated him as a proto-nationalist and hero of the Hindus. Particularly in Maharashtra, debates over his history and role have engendered great passion and sometimes even violence as disparate groups have sought to characterise him and his legacy.
Shivaji was crowned king of the Marathas in a lavish ceremony at Raigad on 6 June 1674. In the Hindu calendar it was on the 13th day (trayodashi) of the first fortnight of the month of Jyeshtha in the year 1596. Gaga Bhatt officiated, holding a gold vessel filled with the seven sacred waters of the rivers Yamuna, Indus, Ganges, Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri over Shivaji's head, and chanted the Vedic coronation mantras. After the ablution, Shivaji bowed before Jijabai and touched her feet. Nearly fifty thousand people gathered at Raigad for the ceremonies. Shivaji was entitled Shakakarta ("founder of an era") and Chhatrapati ("paramount sovereign"). He also took the title of Haindava Dharmodhhaarak (protector of the Hindu faith).
Being a native of the land that was once under his rule, and growing up hiking to one of his forts – Ajinkyatara - at every possible opportunity, I have always respected him. There was just so much to learn from him and to be inspired by! When I started quilting, and especially making portrait quilts, I wanted to make one that will pay tribute to the mighty king that he was. Especially today, when the nation is in a state of unrest, communal tensions on the rise and a general state of apathy and intolerance around us, we all need to be reminded of the glorious and righteous past that we have had.
Many artists have made an effort to pay their tributes through their art be it films, songs, poetry, literature, painting or even rangoli! It was 3 years back that the idea started taking form in my mind. I wanted to make a portrait of Shivaji Maharaj. But every idea that came, did not feel right. It did not feel BIG enough to do justice to the hero.
I decided to make the scene of his coronation. It had everything, grandeur, glamour and grace. I thought I would make the quilt at a HUGE 96” x 40”. But still, the size was too small for all the details I wanted to put in it. I knew I could not make it larger, not on my Bernina 710 – Ross!
In February when we (me and my wonderful friend Devangi) got Big B (The awesome Bernian Q24 long arm with the frame) my mind started going back to the idea. And I knew this was my chance! I wanted to make the quilt. Larger than anyone had ever thought.
I only knew that the shorter side could be a maximum of 120”. Looking at the proportions of the image, I knew that then the quilt would be about 320” wide!!! I had no idea how I was going to make something that big. I needed a full sized print to create a pattern and the idea of printing out God-knows-how-many prints on my meagre A4 printer and then taping them together was not at all appealing. There would be just too much area for errors. Also, the images I had did not have a good enough resolution to be printed that big. Plus how was the paper going to survive being a reference point for the quilt?
I remember exactly when I found the solution. And no it was not in the shower (where I get the most brilliant ideas). I was on my bike, coming back after dropping Aadi to the swimming pool and was waiting for the signal to turn green. As I looked at a HUGE billboard I remembered seeing one with the exact same painting on it. I had an hour to spare that I had planned on spending grocery shopping. I just ditched my plans and drove to Eagle Arts – the place I knew printed billboards. I was simply overjoyed that they were actually the ones who had printed that billboards and YES(!) they still had the image saved on their computer. They could print it to 256” x 96” (that was as big as their printer could print). I immediately placed an order for the print. Added advantage – the billboard material would be durable enough to survive whatever I put it through while working on the quilt!
The next day I received my print and I was roaring to go. But first, of course, fabric shopping! I laid the print on the floor opened only the first 60” – There is no space ANYWHERE in my house / studio where I could open the print completely so I’m always looking at it 40-60” at a time. I had made swatch cards from the Moda shade card during Bella Parade last year. I got those and just flung the colours I could see on the quilt. Then I gathered them all, went to the local market and matched the shades and bout over 75 meters of fabric!!! Since then, I have had to buy about 20 meters more.
I am making the quilt in 3 parts of about 85” width. First, I got two large MDF boards and 2 foam boards. Both were 4’ x 8’ in size. I used an adhesive to glue each foam board to an MDf board and set them upright side-by-side to use as my design wall (bad idea – why? Will come there later)
I laid the print on the floor and covered it with a non-tearing tracing paper film (known as Garware film here). It is more transparent than the usual tracing paper and does not tear unless cut with a blade. It comes as a roll that is about 40” wide. I manually posterized the image as I went and made a pattern. I then planned on tracing it onto the background fabric, but could not find a big enough space to trace it. So I traced it onto a lightweight iron on interfacing that was also 40” wide. I then ironed that onto the fabric and stitched through it at every 9” to hold it in place.
Then I covered it with freezer paper and traced the entire pattern – AGAIN! That is when the actual work began! Now, I cut each shape from the freezer paper first. I use the original billboard print to identify the colour of the piece and iron the freezer paper on to the required fabric. Then I cut the fabric piece and then use glue (regular white glue, nothing fancy) to stick it to the interfacing.
This is how I work. Can you see something in the picture? Yes, I actually take naps in my studio and my intern thought it would be funny to cover me with fabric and take pictures!!!
Like I said before, I earlier had my boards leaning against the wall as I worked on the quilt. This was a good way to photograph my progress and compare it. Here is a video I made of all the progress I made.
The boards tuned out to be too thin to bear the weight and they caved it. No, I realized it before they actually toppled on me and now I have changed the arrangement a little. Here’s what my Shivaji room (because this room now has nothing but the quilt) looks like right now!
Untill now I have spent close to 180 hours on this quilt. I have glued 5028 pieces of fabric in 92 shades. I’m estimating that by the end of the project, I will have worked on it for about 600 hours, stitching down more than 20000 pieces of fabrics in more than 200 shades!!!
Do you want to follow my progress as I share it? Just follow me on Instagram (@TheBigQuilt) or use this link to join my exclusive group on Facebook. I do FB lives and post exclusive behind the scene videos in the group!
This quilt will debut at the first ever India Quilt Festival in Chennai in January! And I’m also attempting to enter it into the Guinness Book of World Records at the same time for the Largest Pictorial Quilt. There is no such category yet, so I won’t be breaking a record but I’m hoping they will accept my category. I will update you when I hear back from the GWR guys.
What do you think of my humongous project? Have I bitten off more than I can chew? I am chewing it one bite at a time, but it is still overwhelming and I could definitely use some pick-me-up to cheer me. So will I see you in my Facebook group or my Instagram stream?