Kantha, the 500 years old thread work is the pride of West Bengal.
What had been no more than the pastime of rural Bengali women to give a new leash of life to old clothes is now a part of burgeoning fashion industry. Kantha embroidery can be found not only in high end stores nationally but also has made its mark internationally.
Kantha embroidery tutorial- it’s easy yet intricate
Running stitches in vibrant shades on preferable light colored soft fabrics of cotton or silk is what this traditional art of India all about. The kantha stitch design is etched on fabrics traditionally by wooden blocks so that the print can be outlined but now patterns are put in place through tracing papers too. The general way to begin is to stitch the outline first and then fill the motif with close running stitches. It is much like a brush of stroke upwards only to bring it back down filling a portion but with a needle and thread. The final effect gives a slight wrinkled look.
Elusive Kantha Motifs- depicting everyday life
Kantha designs often involve very colorful designs involving figures; hence they are referred to as the Nakshi Kantha. This type of kantha begins with a focal point and then spreads to cover the article. The other kantha designs involve geometric forms or patterns which forms the borders. Among the nakshi then, there are vivid scenery or motifs. The simple running stitch is improvised to be either ‘lahori’ implicating waves or ‘soja’ meaning straight.
There are attractive motifs like birds, animals or flowers. There could be designs depicting rural scenery with trees, fishes and houses or the geometrical patterned ones which is essentially used in borders.
The utility items made of kantha
• Lep Kantha (quilting)
• Sujni Kantha (bedspreads)
• Ason (worship floor mat)
• Batwa /thoiley (wallet)
• Galicha (carpets)
• Dhakni (coverings of cloth)
• Balisher chapa (pillow covers)
• Rumaal (handkerchief)
Nowadays, Kantha is popular in sarees and the ones from Bolpur and Shantiniketan are most sought. Then there are dupattas made of kantha and even men’s shirts. The Kantha of West Bengal is no longer an engaging activity of the rural women to spend their lazy afternoons. But under the patronage of Bengal based designers like Shamlu Dudeja who are self proclaimed revivalists of the traditional art, it gives employment to more than 800 women in Bengal.
Kantha and its soaring popularity
Interestingly, the origin of Kantha had been to recycle old clothes by stitching layers of rags together to form quilts. It is also rumored to have been used by Buddha and his disciples. Its journey from ancient times to today’s fashion ramp has been phenomenal and continues to have a dedicated fan-following. The fact that it brings employment to countless women giving them a reason to hold their heads high is another achievement.
Do not judge it by its humility but judge kantha with its utility!