The Original Hand Embroidery

kantha art: from humble origin to high fashion

During my last trip to Kolkata, I spent an enlightening evening at the " Eye of the Needle" , an exhibition of Kantha art organised by the Crafts Council of West Bengal. Not everyday do you get to see exquisite hand-embroidered artefacts from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as modern creations by super skilled craftsmen ( mostly women ) , showcasing an elevated art that has the humblest of origins and is the ultimate in recycled and repurposed fashion. 

Women stitching  Kantha  garments in a village in West Bengal, India. Pic courtesy: Google Arts & Culture

Women stitching Kantha garments in a village in West Bengal, India. Pic courtesy: Google Arts & Culture

The ultimate in thrift and creativity

For centuries, rural housewives in Bengal have recycled old saris by stacking them together and covering them with running stitches to make quilts for the family, swaddling clothes for babies and personal garments for themselves. They often incorporated embroidered motifs acting as protective or talismanic symbols or floral or figurative imagery and even commentary on the social issues of the day. This hereditary craft has traditionally been passed from mother to daughter and has long been a source of income for rural women.

This " domestic craft " that once reached high levels of artistry and enjoyed wide patronage , fell on hard times for a long period and was later revived in the 1980s by noted craft experts and used as a tool to empower and generate income for rural women. Interestingly Kantha which literally means " rags " , has now caught the attention of many Indian and international fashion designers who are working with Indian artisans to create beautiful garments, furnishings and accessories with Kantha

 

Gormei India Craft Week hopes to shine a spotlight on the revival of this elevated , sustainable craft with humble origins from Bengal, India