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Kantha – an intro

Kantha work is embroidery on used or discarded apparel, transforming them into extraordinarily renewed creations with extended life. A unique traditional art from Murshidabad, Kantha Work is embroidery work done on old sarees, dhotis and other apparel, is popular and is practised in Bengal, especially in Bholpur, and Bihar. It consists generally a running stitch on the sarees in the form of motifs such as animals, birds, flowers, simple geometrical shapes and scenes from everyday life.

It has been instrumental in empowering rural women with a supplemental source of income. Kantha originated from the way in which Bengali women mended their old clothes from a strand of thread from the colorful border of their saris and made designs with them. Any work in which Kantha embroidery is done is sometimes referred to as ‘a Kantha’. A craft of skill widely practised by women in rural Bengal, it knows no boundaries of class or status. Be it a woman in a small village or a rich landlady, both devote their skills and talents to use Kantha for their clothing, either out of need or just out of interest.

Kantha in today’s times

Kantha gives the saree a wrinkled and wavy look and transforms old clothes into extraordinarily new creations. 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. Contemporary Kantha is applied to a wider range of garments such as sarees, dupatta, shirts for men and women, bedding and other furnishing fabrics, mostly using cotton and silk.

Saree is the most preferred attire during Indian wedding. Kantha is embroidery work popular in West Bengal and Bihar. It is a simple running stitch done on sarees. Running stitch, darning stitch, satin and loop stitches are commonly used in Kantha work. Price range of Kantha sarees are based on expensive fabric and intricate patterns used in Kantha embroidery.

The embroidered cloth has many uses including women's shawls and covers for mirrors, boxes, and pillows. In the best examples, the entire cloth is covered with running stitches, employing beautiful motifs of flowers, animals, birds and geometrical shapes, as well as themes from everyday activities.

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.

In today’s times, it is economic activity for rural women to supplement the meagre income of their households. Many do a lot of Kantha work for traders in Kolkata.The price of Kantha embroidered sarees depends on the cost of the fabric and the patterns used to decorate them. Borders and Pallus of Sarees especially are well-adorned by exquisite Kantha work.

The stitching on the cloth gives it a slight wrinkled, wavy effect.

In a village called Katna, 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 present on the ceremonial cloth meant for funeral rites.

Often Kantha tells a story through its embroidery of different tales using symbolic motifs, thereby receiving its name from the Hindi word 'Katha' or story. Contemporary Katha doesn’t necessarily follow this process. The Color Caravan has worked to co-create Kantha cushion covers with the women of our partner NGO in Uttarakhand who are 'exceptionally' good with Kantha embroidery, patchwork & applique work.

The creation has adapted the traditional Kantha stitch in a more contemporary form, using Bhagalpur silk and cotton cloth.