The Kantha, a form of embroidery, is a tradition that continues in 21st century India. Pushing the boundaries of this historic craft are approximately 50,000 women embroiderers who describe their work as “ghore bosa kaaj” or home-based work.
Here, the lotus and other auspicious motifs are symbolized, without the use of words, the feelings, blessings and wishes of the embroiderer.
The foundational allover embroidery is executed in the Kantha phor stitch that employs a single-ply thread in a colour that is similar to the base fabric - usually cream or white. This stitch creates a texture that though it appears indistinguishable from the base material it adds the Kantha's unmistakable rippled, three-dimensional look and feel.
Two-ply threads are used for the embroidered patterns with variations in stitches and their deployment to create forms and motifs. The threads were traditionally pulled out of the borders of saris and dhotis and thus availability, rather than a predefined color palette, appeared to have determined the colours with red, black, blue and white palette being most common. However many of the kanthas use a variety of colors leading to the possibility that new yarn must have been used to either supplement or substitute the old.
The fundamental vocabulary of the Kantha is built on the basic Kantha phor, the running stitch that lends itself to innumerable variants. Variations within a stitch are created by introducing or removing spaces, lengthening and shortening stitches, adding a stitch and other creative approaches. The nomenclature used for stitches is self-explanatory – from the box-stitch, the ant-stitch, bend-stitch, mat-stitch and others. This embroidery vocabulary continues to be expanded with words that refer to everyday objects in the embroiderers surroundings.
Text by Ritu Sethi
Photo credits:'Embroidering Futures - Repurposing the Kantha', edited by Ritu Sethi, published by India Foundation for the Arts, Bengaluru, India with support from Infosys Foundation