Frayed Fabric Reimagined: The Story of Kantha

Frayed Fabric Reimagined: The Story of Kantha

A reflection of joy, sorrows, and aspirations, a story of successes and failures, a tale written while escaping everyday life; that is the origin story of Kantha. A tradition that saw its birth over 500 centuries ago, Kantha began as community home craft when women would come together in their free time to chat while giving old pieces of frayed rags or ‘Kontha’ a new lease of life.

Threads pulled out of old sarees to embroider motifs and designs across the fabric, meticulous, detailed artistry, and simple running stitch became the cornerstones of Kantha, a process of rebirthing beautiful creations that could be used again, for years to come.

The Story of the Past

A traditional embroidery style native to eastern South Asia, Kantha can be traced to Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, emerging from the impoverishment and austerity in the then-Bengali region of the sub-continent.

Patched, quilted, and meticulously embroidered, Kantha was essentially a woman’s art. In each creation, you could find a voice narrating dreams and musings, a story of their joys and sorrows. Each creation was also a reflection of home-grown artistry and an imagination that allowed them to see discarded fabric and materials in new light and reinvent them.

A Kantha quilt from Bengal
Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Kantha, over the years, became a generational skill, passed on from mothers to daughters. It was entwined with rituals. Kanthas were created to wrap and protect anything valuable. They were designed for births, marriages, and even deaths. Mothers often worked on intricate Kantha pieces for years as wedding gifts for daughters. 

The Technique

The uniqueness of Kantha embroidery lies in its extensive use of one of the most basic hand-stitching techniques, the running stitch. Threading the needle up from the back and down again, the stitch creates a wavy, wrinkled feel and look that is today synonymous with Kantha embroidery.

To make a Kantha cloth, the fabric is cut to shape, and layered to achieve the desired dimensions and thickness. Once ironed together, loose stitches are made around the edges to hold the layers together. Then the artists start with the finer Kantha running stitch, starting one corner, making parallel running lines.

While the basic Kantha stitch is the simple straight running stitch, the Nakshi Kantha is the creation of more intricate and detailed patterns which echoes themes showcasing mythological figures, geometric designs, human beings, animals, and flowers.

An example of a typical Kantha theme featuring animals and birds

Kantha was traditionally categorized as per the object it was used to create. From Lep Kantha to create quilts, Sujani Kantha for blankets, Baiton Kantha for covers of valuable objects, Oar Kantha for pillow covers, to Archilata for mirror covers, Durjani for wallets, and Rumal for plate covers. Contemporary Kantha is used for a wider range of garments such as sarees, stoles, shirts, jackets, beddings, and furnishings.

At VLiving, we are inspired by this traditional technique, reimagining this heritage craft for the homes of today. We give Kantha a contemporary twist with modern patterns such as hexagons, prints like Ikat, and the use of vibrant, solid bright colours.

We are unshackling Kantha from the confines of what is expected, and bring to life our own dreams and imagination, in a way a reflection of the women who left us this beautiful art form.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.