"Before the advent of the Industrial Revolution,
when cloth was not as abundant as it is now, the recycling of old and used
textiles was a common tradition in many cultures across the world, and especially
in the Indian subcontinent. The North Indian 'gudri', the Pakistani 'ralli' and the 'kantha' from
Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh, are examples of this tradition."
"The Art of Kantha Embroidery"
Kantha of West Bengal was a traditional home craft. The word Kantha signifies both the object as well as the style of embroidery. Women spend months, sometimes even years, working on a single piece. Traditionally, several layers of old fabric - usually saris - were stitched together, with intricate and elaborate stitches. The technique of layering and stitching together cloth significantly extended its life and made a durable and warm textile, appropriate for bedding or cover. The thread used for the stitches was usually pulled out of the sari itself. The meticulous artistry that was then applied transformed worn-out rags into extraordinarily beautiful creations.
Cotton Bed spread showing Gudri type Kantha embroidery
"Kanthas are an integral part of the village life in Murshidabad.
Kanthas of the softest old cloths are made to wrap the newborn, they are offered during ritual and festive occasions.."
".. often as covers to protect precious objects, and at marriage
every bride receives a Kantha that
her mother would have worked on over many years.
..Kantha is used also at the end of a life, to cover the dead body."
"Traditionally, the lep kantha involved
poor village women sewing together layers of old cloth, mostly saris, with elaborate and intricate
stitches. Layering not only extended the life of the cloth but also ensured
that it could be made into durable bedding, depending on the number of layers
of fabric stitched together. The thread used for the stitches was pulled out of
the sari itself and this meticulous artistry transformed worn out rags into
extraordinarily beautiful creations that could withstand further usage. The
intricate geometry of their design and the near absence of folk motifs continue
to be a notable feature of Muslim kantha-making traditions of
Murshidabad, West Bengal"
Cotton Bed spread showing Gudri type Kantha embroidery.
"In the transition of Kantha from home craft to a source of income, certain design
interventions have been critical."
"New colour combinations have been developed
and kanthas are now made to
standardized sizes and thickness, and with fabrics and threads which are colour
Silk Shawl (wrap) depicting new work Kantha embroidery
"KANTHA OF BENGAL"
Traditionally, the size of a kantha would be either for a single bed or for a baby. The actual measurement and the number of layers depended on the amount of fabric available. The commercial success of kantha however has led to more and standardised sizes. Kanthas are now produced in a baby size, a single cover size and a double cover size, using two or three layers of cloth.
Cotton bed spread showing patch work style Kantha embroidery
Cotton bed spread depicting new gudri style Kantha embroidery
"In recent years, increasing awareness and
appreciation of the craft have led to
an incredible growth of demand for kantha
textiles. A traditional leisure pastime has been given new life and become an
income generating activity, supporting the livelihoods of thousands of women. Stepping
out from their homes into the world with their skills and hard work, the lives
of the women have been radically transformed, their dignity and self worth
vastly enhanced, by kantha."
Exhibition at Crafts Museum: 2013 —Dr Ruchira Ghose, Mushtak Khan