May 17, 2013

Kantha Embroidery

Kantha hails from the regions of erstwhile East Bengal, present day West Bengal and Bihar. Essentially a woman's art, it is a form of patched, quilted and vividly embroidered textile made entirely out of used cloth.

It originated from the way in which Bengali housewives mended old clothes by taking out a strand of thread from the colorful border of their saris and making simple designs with them. Old saris and dhotis are used to make handmade gifts for family and friends.
Picture Credit: Katna's Katha

The Sanskrit word ‘kontha’ means 'rags.' One of the many stories regarding the origin of the craft links it to Lord Buddha and his disciples, who used to cover themselves with garments made from discarded rags that were patched and sewn together. The oldest extant Kantha date from the early 19th century and is embroidered with blue, black and red threads that were unraveled from sari borders. Because they were salvaged from used garments that had been frequently laundered, the colors tend to be muted.

The original craft process involves layering worn clothes together and binding them with variations of the simple running stitch. This process is called Kantha quilting. Even though the craft uses only one kind of stitch, it is the numerous variations and intricacy with which it is executed that make the art beautiful. Motifs used in embroidery may be geometric or very elaborate in nature. Flowers, tress, gods and goddesses make for the more popular motifs used.

Picture credit:

Often Kantha tells a story through its embroidery of different tales using symbolic motifs, thereby receiving its name from the Hindi word 'Katha' or story.

Contemporary Katha doesn’t necessarily follow this process. The embroidery has been used on various products like saris, cloth, bed sheets, cushion covers etc. primarily on cotton or silk.

Picture credit: The Color Caravan

 The Color Caravan has worked to co-create Kantha cushion covers with the women of our partner NGO in Uttarakhand who are 'exceptionally' good with Kantha embroidery, patchwork & applique work.

Craftswomen at our partner NGO.

Craftswomen at our partner NGO.

Craftswoman at our partner NGO.

Our creation has adapted the traditional Kantha stitch in a more contemporary form, using  Bhagalpur silk and cotton cloth. 

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 (The Color Caravan the copyrights for all the photographs in this post unless otherwise mentioned.)

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