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Kantha Stitch: Traditional Embroidery of South East Asia

blankets

We have piles of these brilliantly patterned blankets. They are warm, but the floral motifs are perfect to get you ready for spring. Prices range from $95-$175.

Adding to our collection of beloved Indian furniture, rugs and textiles, we have packed our show room with all things Kantha. These chairs, benches, pillows and quilts are brightly colored and add a pow effect to any decor. Simultaneously, the often worn, faded fabric and white stitching tone down the bold factor, so these pieces are not overbearing, but have a soft, easy quality.

Kantha is a popular type of embroidery in eastern South Asia, particularly Bangladesh, West Bengal and Odisha. Sometimes the stitching is simple and sparse, creating only a border. In some of the most mesmerizing examples, running stitches cover the whole of the fabric, creating exquisite motifs of animals, birds, flowers, geometric shapes, and themes from every day life activities. The stitching makes the cloth appears slightly wavy and rumpled, creating a “used” effect. There are many forms of Kantha, with differences stemming from region, accessible materials, the use of the textile being created, and weather it is functional or meant for decorative purposes.

Nakshi Kantha is the term used for simple quilts which are made using Kantha stitching. In Bengal, women usually layer old saris and cloth with kantha stitch to create blankets and bedspreads. These are very popular among tourists in Bengal. In Odisha, women traditionally wear “Kantha Saris”. These saris are recycled when old to create bed cushions or to be used on top of cushions. They are layered on top of each other and stitched together.

quilt

An example of Nakshi Kantha found in our store.

In rural areas, Kantha has remained the most common form of embroidery. Traditionally, Kantha cloth was made by using soft dhotis and saris and placing a running stitch along the edges. These were known either as Lepkantha or Sujni Kantha, depending on the use of the cloth. Some of these possible uses are women’s shawls, and covers for mirrors, boxes, and pillows. In modern times, Kantha stitch is used in wider variation, such as on shirts for both men and women, bedding and other furniture fabrics.

pillow_cabinet_

We have so many fluffy, soft pillows!

There is a book called Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, by Krishnadas Kaviraj written about 500 years ago. In this book is the first mention of a homemade Kantha, made by a mother for her son. However, Kanthas are believed to have existed for at least 1,000 years. This quote tells of the personal and often spiritual creation process of Kanthas:

“Kantha is like a personal diary, a letter one writes to a particular person, and is not meant to be ready by all. In East Bengal the Kantha was a personal expression, an art-craft that was made spontaneously, even whimsically. It was never commissioned by rulers, nor ordered by the landed gentry. No two pieces are the same. It was craft that was practiced by women of all rural classes, the rich landlord’s wife making her own elaborate embroidered quilt in her leisure time, and the tenant farmer’s wife making her own thrifty, coverlet, equal in beauty and skill. The Kantha is an invocation to the gods and spirits for the prosperity and protection of the family. A real Kantha is able to narrate a story, and is much more compact in design and it is made out of used materials. It has been passed on for generations, from mothers to daughters and is largely a “dowry” tradition.” – Krishnadas Kaviraj
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Types of Kantha

The Running Stitch Kantha is the traditional form. These are subdivided into “Nakshi-figured” and “par tola- patterned”. Nakshi Kanthas are further divided into either motif or scenic kanthas.

Lohori Kantha comes from the Persian word “lehr”, which means wave. These are further divided into “soja-straight or simple”. “Kautar khupi-triangle or pigeon coop”, or “borfi-diamond”. Lohori Kantha are especially popular in Rajshahi.

Lik or anarasi Kantha means Pineapple are found in the chapainawabgonj and Jessore areas. Variations are “lik tan, lik tile, lik jhumka, and lik lohori”.

Cross Stitch or Carpet Kanthas were brought to India by the English during the British Rule. The stitch used in these Kanthas is the cross stitch.

Sujni Kantha uses a popular motif of undulating floral and vine.4161541615-back

One really unique aspect of kantha is the combination of multiple fabrics, pulled together into one cohesive piece. The above images show the backside and front side of the same chair. Click here to view this chair in our online store.

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These two images demonstrate another chair with different fabrics on the front and back sides. This is a swivel chair and the exposed metal base and scoop shape give it a fresh, modern look, while maintaining vintage apeal through the Kantha fabric. Click here to view this chair in our online store.

Stitches

The most traditional stitch used in Kanthas is the running stitch, often called “phor” or “kantha stitch”. Other types of stitches used in Kanthas are The “Chatai” or pattern darning, “Kaitya” or bending stitch, weave running stitch, darning stitch, “Jessore” stitch, Threaded running stitch, Lik phor or anarasi or ghar hasia stitches.  The modern day Kantha stitches are the Kasmiri Stitch and the arrow head stitch. Occasionally, stitches such as the herringbone, satin, back and cross are used.

pillow

Uses of Kanthas

Quilt (lep in Bengali)

Large spread (Naksi Kantha in Bengali)
An embellished quilt embroidered in traditional motifs and innovative style

Puja floor spread (Ason in Bengali)

Cosmetic wrapper (Arshilota in Bengali)
A narrow embroidered wrapper to roll and store away a woman’s comb, mirror, eye kohl, vermilion, sandal paste, oil bottle, etc. Often, a tying string is used to bind the wrap, as in later day satches.

Wallet (Batwa thoiley in Bengali)

Cover for Quran (ghilaf in Arabic and Bengali)

Prayer mats (Jainamaz in Bengali)

Cover (Dhakni in Bengali)
Covering cloths of various shapes and sizes.

Ceremonial meal spread (Daster khan in Bengali)

Pillow cover (Balisher chapa or oshar in Bengali)

Handkerchief (Rumal)

Modern day articles
Today newer uses are found for nakshi kanthas, such as bedspreads, wall hangings, cushion covers, ladies purses, place mats, jewelry boxes, dress fronts, skirts border, shawls and sharees.

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Kantha Stitch Cushion. Click here to view this in our online store.