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.