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Papa’s Map of India

I wanted to share my uplifting experiences of memorial crafting using my father’s clothing. I shared pictures of the items I had made with friends with the gentle invitation that I would be willing to make something for them. One of my friends took me up on this offer. She had wanted to have something made from her father’s belongings, who had died a few years ago, but had not found anyone to do this. I agreed to make something and asked her to think about what she would want. Her response surprised me: a map of India. Her father was born in Patna, situated on the river Ganges, and had immigrated to the UK from India to work as a doctor in the 1960s.

I soon became obsessed with this project. Even before receiving the items to be reused I started thinking about how I could do this. I decided to make a patchwork quilt and cut out a map of India from this quilt. I asked my friend to select brightly coloured fabrics from her father’s belongings.

The clothing she selected were ideally suited to my design idea: two ties, a shirt, dressing gown and pyjamas. I put the pyjamas aside for the background cloth and made the quilt out of the other items. The quilt was fiddly. I should have interfaced the material I cut from the ties as this fabric did not lend itself to the structure of a quilt. However I reassured myself that a few wonky seams made the quilt more authentic. I cut out a template of a map of India and made the quilt to fit over this. It has been pointed out to me that the version of the map I use includes the disputed territories in Kashmir, as this is the outline most readily available on Google. My focus on making the map initially forgot about geopolitics. Though as I came to make the quilt to fit the detail of North East India I did reflect on the complexity of the partition of India.

Once I had made the quilt to fit over the map, I fused bondaweb to the back. This adhesive web was used to stick the quilt to the background cloth and stabilise it for cutting out. I then pinned the map template to the quilt and carefully cut around this. I had recently been gifted a pair of 8” Wilkinson Black Sewing Sidebent shears, made by William Whitely of Sheffield, and appreciated having a fine quality pair of scissors to cut around the template. Once the map was cut out, I fused it to the backing cloth and machine-sewed it in place using blanket stitch.

Now I could have some fun. I soon realised that the map was not recognisable. I showed it to colleagues (who are all geographers) and most could not identify it as India. The map needed a title and a little explanation. My friend had asked for Patna, her father’s birthplace, to be indicated on the map. I machine embroidered the outline of the River Ganges and used the alphabet function of my machine to indicate Patna. I machine-sewed a silhouette of an elephant on the map and a lotus flower in the Bay of Bengal. I used Golden Threads’ quilting paper to transfer the elephant silhouette, lotus flower and title. This was a new skill for me and required some practice (as well as learning how to print mirror images using Word). I decorated the lotus flower with buttons from the shirt and also used a button to locate Patna.

The map was finished in time for Christmas. I had thoroughly enjoyed making it. The challenge of working out how to realise my friend’s request had consumed me for over a month. Once I had the overall design in my head, I then had to work out how to put it together. I relished the opportunity for bookmarked creativity. I had no say in the choice of fabrics (other than requesting items in different colours) or the goal of what I was attempting to make. I only had to think about the stages in between.

I was excited to gift the map. We arranged to have a cup of tea in my garden, conforming to lockdown rules in December 2020. I was not fully prepared for the emotion of gifting this item. I had gifted items made from my father’s belongings but my relationship with these was different. Papa’s Map of India was a creative challenge for me, I was more detached from its emotional significance. My friend cried when she opened her present. Despite the cold we sat and talked about her father. Gifting the map reminded me that benefits for me through its making were less important than the map’s significance for my friend.

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