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Independence Day Special: Kantha Embroidery, The Emerging Craft From Bengal

The ancient craft of kantha embroidery has come a long way from rural Bengal to the global stage

The tale of Kantha embroideries in the recent fashion trends

With #vocalforlocal in the buzz these days, it's great to witness the revival of handloom crafts to not only represent Indian craftsmanship on the global platform but also draw support to millions of artisans and weavers in rural villages. Bengal is one such region that is known for its age-old crafts such as kantha. A form of embroidery, it's even mentioned in Vedic literature and in modern times is emerging like a bloom in sustainable fashion. So what is kantha embroidery and how did it gain popularity?

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Kolkata based designer Neha Roy, who is the founder of POTT-POURRI - the revival of indigenous crafts, says, "The origin of kantha dates back to the time when its purpose was not only for aesthetics but also, functional. It is a kind of embroidery, popular in eastern regions of India and in Bangladesh particularly. The threads for Kantha were drawn out of the borders of used saris and dhotis, and were further used for mending those making beautiful designs with simple motifs. Kantha is an indigenous household craft, made by the rural women in West Bengal; it is a specialty of Bolpur-Santiniketan and also remains the most creative of all embroidery styles in this part of India."

2tdla0eoKantha embroidery from the house of POTT-POURRI

The Journey Of Kantha From Quilts To Garments

Renowned fashion designer Anavila Misra, who's label Anavila stands for sustainable fashion, shares, "Mostly old saris and other fabrics were traditionally put together to either make a quilt or covering for the bed. It was a need-based daily utility item which every woman in the villages made for her household. Slowly this developed into a craft as they started making other daily utility items and doing small decorative work with the stitches, and inspired many designers to work with the same."

Where other stunning thread embroideries are dominating the fashion industry in terms of wedding and festive wear, kantha is typically used in domestic beautification. Neha Roy adds, "The making of kantha was not only a personal expression but it was also a mark of religious ceremonies, something more specific to weddings and births, and this gave the art its place as a representation of significant cultural importance. Different patterns like lotus, fishes, birds, kalka, mandala and mythological stories formed a great source of inspiration for kantha. The colours used originally were blue, green, yellow, red and black."

ulstff4Kantha Embroidered folk saree designed by Anavila Misra

The Difference Between Kantha And Other Embroidery Styles

For Anavila Misra, working on a collection inspired by the Indus Valley Civilisation, made kantha an easy choice as it is one of the most basic and expressive embroideries. Anavila says, "Kantha is very versatile; its simplicity makes it adaptable to many expressions. The application of stitches, how they are spread, the size and the interplay of yarn and colour can lead to very different products. Kantha can be seen in very modern, geometric applications and detailed traditional works too."

Similarly, for POTT-POURRI, kantha became "the main fabric of the journey which has always been a step towards sustainability. Kantha was a great pick to rejoin our waste fabric swatches into fresh fabrics for linings; it also redefined our handloom scarves, adding a hint of subtle colours and surface interest to it."

l0ou2csoKantha embroidered scarf designed by Neha Roy

Home Décor And Kantha Embroidery

Sunali Singh Ranaa, founder of Alhaiyaah - Indian design house and social enterprise, says, "Kantha for me is a one-of-a-kind textile-based craft, simple yet unique and stylish. It is a vibrant craftwork comprising layers of patterned fabrics, bold colours and a rich history which is woven together with each stitch. It makes for an exceptionally beautiful art piece to uplift a room. Perfect in their imperfection, I think these features provide a refreshing contrast to the monotony of a living space."

Sunali adds, "I love experimenting with prints and patterns and exploring different regional crafts when it comes to home decor. I am constantly trying to put together a concoction of colours, styles, textures and patterns to create the right vibe in an interior space. Kantha craft checks in with all of the above-mentioned criteria. So, we decided to reintroduce Kantha bedlinen as a mainstream product."

Alhaiyaah uses pure cotton materials in kantha home décor pieces like bedcovers, bed sheets, table clothes etc. that are "hand block printed with natural dyes and then hand-stitched by our exceptionally skilled women artisans. It's is an absolutely sustainable product."

Peacock Kantha Bedcover Rs. 2500+shipping ???? You all must be wondering what makes kantha so special. ???? Kantha is a vibrant craftwork of layers upon layers of patterned fabrics, bold colours and a rich history which is woven together with each stitch, handblock print and stretch of beautiful fabric. ???? Kantha Bedcover makes for a exceptionally beautiful art piece to uplift a rooms spirit. ???? DM to purchase

A post shared by ALHAIYAAH (@alhaiyaah) on

Kantha Embroidery In Our Fashion Wardrobe

"The work of the Kantha artisans is mostly narrative. A kantha sari, jacket or even a blouse is a good addition to one's wardrobe," suggests Anavila. "A well-cut kantha jacket can travel with you anywhere in the world. A detailed kantha stole is a wardrobe essential. Delicate kantha embroidery on a sari can lend it a classic style," adds Anavila.

h3oodfe8Kantha embroidered Mohenjadaro blouse designed by Anavila Misra

Bengal-based designer Neha says, "It not only helps you highlight your daily wardrobe but also enriches them with an indigenous technique. The addition of kantha embroidery does not make the outfits only specific to occasion wear, which is why the garments look simple and graceful for your day to day outings. The process of making Kantha is relatively simpler and it doesn't add an enormous amount to your budget for daily clothing."

She goes on to add, "My personal favourite incorporation of kantha is in terms of scarves. I feel even the simplest of ensembles look beautiful when paired with kantha scarves. Kantha jackets are another great example of wardrobe staples. Similar tone fabrics patched together to make upcycled jackets and tops, stitched using a contrasting kantha embroidery. This method not only adds variety to your wardrobe but is also a green way of reusing old fabric scraps to create something extraordinary."

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(Also read: The Brilliance Of Block Prints And Their Amazing Rise In Popularity Even Today)

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