- Kantha refers to a distinct style of Bengal embroidery applied to the creation of coverlets. Traditionally the Lep Kantha of old, involved poor village women sewing together layers of old cloth, mostly saris, with intricate stitches. The thread used for the purpose was pulled out of the sari itself. Their meticulous artistry transformed worn out rags into extraordinarily beautiful creations that could withstand further usage. Till today, this combination of thrift and aesthetics is not mass produced and is usually not for sale. 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.
- The Kantha holds a very special place within the village life in Katna. Making Kanthas is a ritual activity as they are used to wrap and protect precious objects. Baby Kanthas are prepared for the newborn. At her marriage every girl receives an intricate Kantha that her mother would have worked on for years. A Kantha is also used during cremation ceremony to cover the dead.
- Kantha work done on a saree gives it a wrinkled and wavy look and transforms old clothes into new eye-catching offerings. Bengali women used to mend their old clothes by making designs from a strand of thread off the colorful border of their saris. This led to an art practiced by rural women securing them a respectable means of earning a modest income for their extraordinarily new creations.
- Though the running stitch is most popular for its ease, other forms of stitch such as darning stitch, satin stitch and loop stitch are also used.
- Kantha stitching is also employed in the making of quilts, known as Nakshi Kantha. Women use old saris and other cloth, layering them with the Kantha stitch to make small blankets and bedspreads, for children.
- Kantha embellishes a wide range of garments, such as sarees, dupattas, shirts, bedding and a variety of other fabrics in cotton and silk. Old saris and dhotis are transformed by Kantha work to serve as gifts for beloved ones.
- Based on the use of the fabric, Kantha is divided into seven different types, of which Lep Kantha and Sujani Kantha are famous.
- Kantha is a way of life; a tradition that is still followed meticulously. Kanthas are prepared for small babies to lie on, wedding Kanthas are made by mothers and gifted to their daugthers and Kantha is also present on the ceremonial cloth meant for funeral rites.
- Traditionally this embroidery was used for quilts, dhotis and sarees, but over a period of time it has evolved and made its way right into the heart of Indian fashion. The yarn is taken from old saree borders; the design is then traced and finally covered `with running stitches. Today this kind of embroidery can be found on shawls, pillow covers, dupattas, and home furnishings as well.
Traditional pastime to modern-day fashion
Kantha is perhaps the oldest forms of Indian embroidery as it can be traced back to the first and second A.D. The thought behind this needlework was to reuse old clothes and materials and turn them into something new. This is what makes Kantha embroidery only one of its kind.
Kantha work is approximately 500 years old, and there is a myth surrounding it which points out that Lord Buddha and his disciples used old rags with different kinds of patch work to cover themselves with at night, and this gave the Kantha embroidery its origin. Traditionally women would take 4 to 5 sarees, layer them together and create different running stitches on them which they then used as blankets to cover their children with. However, what started as a way to make life more comfortable went on to become a big trend in clothes and furniture as well.