The term Kantha traces its etymology to the word Kontha in Sanskrit which refers to ‘rags’!
Kantha is one of the oldest forms of embroidery that originated in India. Its origins can be traced back to the ancient pre Vedic ages, however, Kantha embroidery as we know it today was found in Krishnadas Kaviraj’s 500 year old book, Chaitanya Charitamrita.
Motifs found in early Kantha embroidery include many symbols that were derived from ancient art. These symbols depict or are reflective of nature, such as the sun, the tree of life and the universe. The images depicted in this embroidery form draw inspiration from the everyday life and hence the motifs of leaves, flowers, birds, animals and fishes are sewn beautifully into a tapestry on the canvas of cotton, silk or georgette sarees, dhotis, sherwanis, bed sheets and stoles.
There are primarily seven varieties of Kantha stitches:
Lep Kantha– This style is employed in making padded quilts.
Sujani Kantha- This is used for sewing bed sheets during ceremonial occasions.
Baiton Kantha- This style comes to the rescue for making covers used as wrapping for books and other precious objects.
Oaar Kantha- If you are planning to clothe your pillows then Oaar Kantha is the right kind of stitch.
Archilata Kantha– This is used for making mirrors and its highlight lies in its colourful motifs and borders.
Durjani Kantha– If you have wondered all this while what kind of stitches go onto make the interiors of your wallet, then it is Durjani Kantha!
Rumal Kantha- Known for the lotus motif at the epicentre, this variety of Kantha Stitch is all about covering the plates.
Rural housewives in West Bengal played a significant part in the evolution of Kantha embroidery. It was customary for these women to make use of Kantha’s widely used running stitch and embroidery techniques to create quilts for their families, as well as embroider personal fabrics and garments such as sarees, dhotis and handkerchiefs with simple running stitches along the edges. For centuries, the techniques of the hereditary craft were, and still are, passed down from mother to daughter. Though it continued to be practised amongst rural women, recognition of the craft faded over time, until it was revived on a global scale in the 1940s by the renowned Kala Bhavan, Institute of Fine Arts, which was part of the Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan, West Bengal.