Obsessions : Kantha (Part 1)

Recently, in my trawls through the internet to find colourful patchwork scarves and shawls for a blog post, I noticed a common thread (excuse the pun 😉) running through several of the images I’d selected. By this I mean the scarves in question had a soft, crinkly effect created by having rows of simple running stitches embroidered through them.

I loved the effect, and wished to recreate it myself. So, a bit more digging around on Google and its pictorial equivalent, Pinterest, and I found out the look/technique is named “Kantha”.

So, what is “Kantha”? Wikipedia describes it as : 

Kantha is a type of embroidery popular in eastern South Asia, especially Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha. In Odisha old saris are stacked on each other and hand-stitched to make a thin piece of cushion. This is normally used above a bed cushion or instead of a cushion. The use of kantha is popular in “Kantha saris” traditionally worn by women in Bengal. Kantha stitching is also used to make simple quilts, commonly known as Nakshi Kantha. Women in Bengal typically use old saris and cloth and layer them with kantha stitch to make a light blanket, throw or bedspread, especially for children. 

Essentially, Kantha is a form of creative upcycling and recycling of Indian saris and fabrics. Old, plain fabric is folded and sandwiched between 2 layers of colourful sari, and simply stitched in place using a simple running stitch. It’s hand quilting at its most basic. 

Stemming from this basic running stitch, other stitches are sometimes created, to make intricate patterns such as stars, swirls, spirals etc. Below are some images I found on Pinterest that show some derivative stitches that can be found in Kantha quilts, scarves, baby blankets and other ptoducts.

Quilting as a tradition exists in many different cultures across many continents of the world. Some forms, such as Western Quilting, are more well-known to us mainly due to the influence of their country of origin on others, as a result of colonisation or trade. 

The Indian form of quilting, Kantha, is traditionally done in villages by sewing circles of women, and until fairly recently stayed a well-kept secret from the Western world. But, again, with the explosion of the Internet and with trading between countries becoming easier thanks to online shopping, eBay and Etsy, Kantha has found its way out of the Indian continent and into the homes of many First World countries. A large part in this is played by entrepreunial collectives or collaborative business partners, who hire those Indian women to keep sewing their quilts in their villages, and then import the final products into their own countries, where they then make their way into retail stores or online, and from there into our homes. 

I found this video on YouTube, which shows Indian women sewing running stitches on saris and creating Kantha. 

4 thoughts on “Obsessions : Kantha (Part 1)

  1. You should check out house of wandering silk. A fabulous example of kantha work curated by Katherine who started the business in Delhi India about 10 years ago.

  2. Just sat down to check emails for today. What a treat to see this video. Seeing the Indian women’s hands at work quilting such repetative stitches was such a wonderful inspiration . The beautiful threads and patterns they created was awesome. The frosting on the cake were the guests learning the art. What a thrilling experience . A great way to spread peace and love around the world. Thank you so much for sharing.

    On Mon, Oct 17, 2016 at 9:20 AM, AlyZen Moonshadow wrote:

    > AlyZen Moonshadow posted: “Recently, in my trawls through the internet to > find colourful patchwork scarves and shawls for a blog post, I noticed a > common thread (excuse the pun [image: 😉]) running through several of the > images I’d selected. By this I mean the scarves in question had a soft,” >

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