Kantha, what is it?
You probably see us writing about kantha a lot on our website, because it’s one of our favourite techniques. It’s also quintessentially Bengali, and a very important part of Bengali culture.
Kantha (ˈkɑːnθə) is a form of embroidery from Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. Kantha means ‘patched cloth’ in Sanskrit. Bengali women use their old saris and sew several together with the kantha stitch, a delicate running stitch, to create something new, as they have done for centuries. They use the kantha technique to create beautiful two sided quilts, meant to keep their family warm. These quilts are often made by mothers, as heirlooms for their daughter’s dowry.
These blankets are often very colourful made from fabrics with beautiful designs. Each is unique and carries a story, told by small patches where they have been repaired. This makes them really special to us, and hopefully to you as well.
The kantha stitch can also be used to embroider more decorative patterns. Traditionally this was dome more often than the straight running stitch. Figurative depictions were often embroidered. Geometric patterns often also have a special meaning. The hourglass shape on the black scarf below for instance, is a depiction of a ‘mura’, or stool.
When we visited Bangladesh, wanting to start with Tulsi Crafts, we specifically looked for organisation to cooperate with who could make these products for us. That wasn’t very easy at the time, because a lot of women do this work for their family at home. It’s not really something you see for sale in Bangladesh. Luckily this is changing now, as we think it’s important to keep this tradition. Not only does it have cultural value, but it’s starting to get economic value too. Because if this it becomes a way for women to earn money. And interestingly enough it often is a technique poorer women posses, because then often don’t have the means to buy something new. They make do and mend and at the same time give us a wonderful product with a very special story. I do hope their heirlooms will become yours too.
If you’d like to read more about the women who make our kantha blankets and scarves, read more here: kantha quilts and scarves: meet the makers.