All about Kantha

If you are someone who is into collecting sarees, or even into knowing about the various trends in terms of saree, then you are at the right place because here you are going to learn all about Kantha.

Nowadays, you will find Kantha everywhere, be it shops, households or even on various social media portals. The fabrics of Kantha can be traced back in history with its origins in the country of Bangladesh. Kantha is also said to be found in West Bengal as well as Odisha. Due to major Kantha widespread being on the Indian side, Kantha embroidery is said to be “Bengali”, rather than Bangladeshi.  

The art of practicing Kantha embroidery has been in vogue since historical times. In ordinary terms, the word “Kantha” is used in two-fold:

  • Discarded clothes or rags that can be reused in quilted blankets
  • Also, a specific, small and straight running stitch that is simultaneous to Bengali embroidery

In Bangladesh, any cloth which is old is considered to be of value and utmost importance on account of being reused.

The meaning of Kantha in Sanskrit is rags. Rags don’t necessarily mean rags, but discarded sarees and other pieces of fabrics.

Kantha involves a simple and straight running stitch. The patterns often come out to be creative, spontaneous, original and emotional. There is a sense of emotionality in any Kantha fabric because of the reused and restitched pieces of old fabrics.

Historically, the Bengali Kantha was first mentioned in a book written by Krishnadas Kaviraj. The book was Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita. Also, it has been mentioned by Dr. Stella Karamrisch in one of his writings that kantha was first manufactured in 1875!

The thread used for the purpose of kantha embroidery is pulled out of a saree itself. Traditionally, the Lep Kantha was made involving sewing of old cloth especially sarees. For a village in West Bengal, Katna, the kantha holds a special place because making kanthas is a ritual activity for the people residing in the village. The kantha is made in order to wrap and protect something precious, baby kanthas are made in order to wrap a newborn in it. Similarly, a bride is gifted an intricate kantha that has been worked on by her mother. Even during someone’s death, kantha is used to cover the dead.

The sarees that you see with kantha work on it, you definitely find it attractive and visually appealing, don’t you? The kantha work that you see on a saree gives the saree a completely new look. Bengali women usually mend their old clothes by pulling down few strands of colorful threads from their old sarees, whereby they make good colorful designs and transform their old clothes.

Kantha stitching is also done to make quilts. This is also known as Nakshi Kantha. Here, women use old sarees and clothes, layer them together with the help of kantha stitches and end up making small blankets and bedspreads, especially for children.

Kantha stitches can be found anywhere, including sarees, dupattas, shirts, beddings and some other varieties of fabrics. The transformed sarees and dhotis made from kantha is also used to serve as gifts. Today, kantha stitches are found everywhere apart from the usual saree, dhotis, quilts, etc. kantha works are found on shawls, pillow covers, home furnishings of any kind.

Kantha embroideries also involve motifs, which have been said to be casting a massive influence on Portuguese and European traditions. Lotus is considered to be the most common and prioritized motifs in any kantha work. The primary design of a lotus can be seen in the pattern of a lotus with the petals being alternatively seen as red and black in color.

The designs of kantha are inspired by day-to-day life.  The designs depict folk stories, mythological background, motifs, jewelries, dancing peacock and so on. Some kanthas are even said to be representing the rides of Gods such as bull, elephant, peacock, mouse, cat, eagle, etc.

Now if you want to know of the colors involved in a kantha embroidery, then you must take note of the Bengali women and their white sarees first. You must have observed them wearing white sarees mostly. You must have also seen how they manage to make even a plain white saree look fresh and colorful. Now what basically happens is that in order to overcome the dullness of a white saree, colorful threadwork is done, especially on the border of the saree. The major colors used in this process are white, red deep blue and black.

Since ancient times, the artistic patterns in the art of hand embroidery and needlework has been in practice by the poor women of Bangladesh and Bengal. They have been involved in the production of quilts using discarded and worn-out materials such as sarees, lungis, and dhotis. This type of kantha is also known as “nakshi Kantha.”

Making a kantha embroidery involves too much time and effort. Some expenses are cut down owing to the usage of old cloth materials. The Kantha embroidery is done as a way of preserving traditional embroidery as well as it acts as a source to help the running of a woman’s family. Women are able to achieve livelihood entrepreneurship for the sole reason that the kantha embroidery work can be seen as a source of professionalism.