Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Shivarajyabhishek : My humongous dream project

Last year in January, I completed what was my dream project for a long time now. The Shivarajyabhishek. We are celebrating the 390th birth anniversary of Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj tomorrow (19th February 2020). I just realized that I haven't really shared the story behind the quilt. So here it is.

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 4 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!

I wanted to make it bigger. Like at least 8 feet tall. 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 (the groceries can wait) 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 and opened only the first 60” – There was no space ANYWHERE in my house / studio where I could open the print completely so I was 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 700 meters more.

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 just because I did not trust the glue.

I covered it with freezer paper and traced the entire pattern – AGAIN! That is when the actual work began! I cut each shape from the freezer paper first. I used 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 used glue (regular white glue, nothing fancy) to stick it to the interfacing.

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)

This is how I worked. 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 had nothing but the quilt) looked like after that!

I completed a third of the quilt by Diwali. But the deadline was fast approaching and I still had a long way to go. It was already October and the quilt was supposed to be displayed at the first India Quilt Festival happening in January. Panic stared seeping in through the edges.

I decided I needed to get my game better and plan. So here's a simple method I came up with to track the progress of the quilt.

My method was simple. I just marked the squares as the work progressed. Now I knew how much more was to be done, and the picture was not very promising.

Then came my a family trip to Ahmedabad. This trip was planned long back and by this point I knew I needed a break. So it went really smoothly. But what I did not know that at the end of the trip I would have a BIG surprise.

Aadi had fever on our flight back. The fever soon went super high and a couple of days after we came home, he was diagnosed with Dengue. I knew I could not return to the studio for a while.

I decided to move my quilt into Aadi's room instead. He was sleeping our bed with me by that time. And we had a spare mattress laid on the floor next to our bed. So I decided to shift him into my room and took over his room completely.

After that, this quilt took over my life. For the next 2 months, I woke up at 1.30 in the night and worked on the quilt till 6 am, taking a small break to help Aadi get ready, and then back to work till 11 am. Only then would I bother to take a bath. After having a quick lunch, I would be back at work till 2.30. Then I would take a nap till 4.30. After that, back to the board till 8.30-9 in the evening. I rarely did anything else. I had become a  recluse. Anyone who visited me, had to sit with me in this room and see me work- sometimes even work themselves.

But my patience paid off and on 6th January 2019, it was almost 10.45 pm when I actually stuck the last piece on my quilt. Both my boys had gone out for dinner (yet again without me) and I actually did a little dance when I was done!!!

The next day, I got the quilt top professionally photographed. Volunteers turned up at a really short notice to help me hold the quilt top. Pradeep Sutar did a fabulous job of the photography.

I really love this shot he took of me. I was actually talking to a friend when he clicked this. But it looks perfectly staged!

Then off I went with the quilt top to Pune to start the quilting with Manisha Iyer from Baani Studios. She was really generous. Not only did she do a fabulous job of the quilting, but she gave me the much needed rest. I used to be at her studio the whole day and she made sure I was eating well and taking rest. Those who know her know very well that she is one of the sweetest and the most generous friend one can have.

In 5 days she finished not just quilting the huge quilt, but she squared it up, faced it for me AND added the sleeve!!! This quilt connected us like never before!

Now the quilt was ready to be photographed. But I did not have a place to hang it. Problem was solved by my little brother. We decided to lay the quilt on the ground and use his drone to photograph it.

And to give you an idea of how big the quilt was and how good a quilting job Manisha had done so that the quilt was perfectly squared and lay really flat here's a picture with the quilt, Chaitanya and the drone.

After this came the day of unveiling the quilt! Oh, I forgot to mention, while this was happening, I was not sharing any pictures on social media. I had started a crowdfunding campaign for the quilt and one of the perks of contributing was membership to an exclusive Facebook group where I would share the progress of the quilt. For everyone else, it would be shared on the day of unveiling.

To unveil the quilt, I decided to invite my school art teacher Mrs Bharati Kshirsagar. She was actually the first teacher I ever had in my school. I still remember her standing at the top of a long flight of stairs waiting to welcome me into the school on my first day there. The best part, even she remembers me climbing up those steps.

I looked super tired in the photo - I was! But pure adrenalin is what had kept me going. If you look at the photographs of the event, I dont look as tired there.

The event itself was organized by Abhalmaya Foundation. Ever since I started working on the quilt, Pramod Sir (my mentor) was keen on seeing its progress. So he when it came to organizing the event of the unveiling, he just said, "Leave it to me and you concentrate on finishing the quilt." And I did just that.

Here's the quilt in all its glory.

My entire family was there to cheer me.
From L-R Top row - Rohit, Amol (friend), Parth (nephew), PAppa (Pramod Sir's father), my father, my father-in-law, Dada Dandekar (my Father-in-law's cousin) and Pramod Sir
Lower row - My mother-in-law, Pramod Sir's mother, my mother, my mother-in-law's mother-in-law, Aadi, me and my school teacher Mrs Kshirsagar

Making this quilt taught me a lot of things - patience, consistency, priorities, and skills. It also gave me a glimpse into people’s minds and what they thought about me. I believe after a 10 month effort, I have emerged on the other side as a better person!!!

The quilt rocked at the India Quilt Festival. 

I also taught the technique I used to make this quilt in my "Choose your warrior" workshop. 

It was recently displayed at the Quilt Festival in Houston and was very well received. 

Just this Sunday I had taken it with me to my lecture at the Chicago Modern Quilt Guild and people went crazy over it.

What next? I do wish to display it in a few more places. Let us see where it takes me! If you have a venue in mind or would like to organize a display of the quilt and/or have me come and speak about the making and/or teach the technique at your guild, drop me an email

Did you see this quilt in person? What did you think about it?

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