Kantha – craft of yore

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Intricate kantha work

We often admire the lovely landscape and splendor of nature but few are actually inspired to come up with a creative art form. For the people of Bengal and Odisha, the beauty and bounty of nature have acted as a muse and the native folks have, since eras, produced diverse ingenious crafts. Of these, kantha – an embroidery-cum-quilting textile technique – created by embroidering layers of cast-off fabric is as fascinating as it is functional.

Kantha saree

Usually crafted as quilts and shawls, kanthas are also used as covers for tomes, suitcases, bolsters, cushions and pillows. Drawn from a plethora of philosophies, folklore, nature and daily life activities – deities, men and women, incidents from the epics, birds, fish and geometric shapes jostle with each other on kanthas.

 Origin of kantha

The practice of quilting and embroidering old materials to make attractive kanthas is handed down from generations in West Bengal and Odisha.  In Odisha, kantha is created by embroidering layers of recycled fabrics. Rejected by the manufacturers for defects, color disparities, obsolete designs, or was a remnant, sari cloth in silk blend is salvaged to create appealing and useful kantha.

Artisan at work – making kantha quilts and sarees

Durable portions of saris and dhotis are cut in identical measurements, assembled together and smoothed, followed by all the layers being taken together and tacked at the fringes to ensure that they stay unruffled. The amount of layers rests on the ultimate use of the kantha; a quilt could use five or six layers, while a book cover may comprise two. To take the reutilizing grind a step ahead, filaments of yarn are detached from the colorfully woven sari borders, for the embroidery and the base cloth is used for the background quilting.

Kantha saree motif

Motifs are sewn in small running stitches that look like dotted lines on the material. The intricacies are often filled in running stitch while the edges are embellished in borders which secure the stuff as well as offer a significant and ornamental edging for the textile. Small applique pieces may also be worked on the kantha. The unpretentious streaks and darns give the fabric a solid, charming and folk allure.

Nimble-fingered artisans

If you come across a piece of exquisite kantha, the credit goes to the craftsperson’s expertise on the design and arrangement of motifs. Since it is devoid of any restraint on treatments, the needle worker may reprise altered types of similar motif on the kantha. The end product would be an intriguing and extraordinary textile.

Fingers move to create beautiful designs

Once the designs are done, the whole background is completed with running stitches, passing through all the sections, quilting the textile to spring a striking rippled outcome. Pretty and practical, multiple borders combined with fine quilting gives kantha an impeccable texture lending a dash of vim and verve to the fabric.

Modern avatar

Over the years, it has absorbed and reflected changes. It is now worked on new, single-layer fabrics. Motifs are meticulously designed and planned for the body, borders, and pallu (end panel) of saris. Presently, kantha dupattas, garments, cushion covers, and linen embroidered on single-layer fabrics in its traditional context have transformed the craft in a new avatar to cater to the discerning buyers.

Picture courtesy: Pixabay, Jaypore, and Gita Hari

5 COMMENTS

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  1. Well written and very informative. Extensive research has been done. I have not commented. The email Id will confirm that this is my first comment.

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