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Kantha history

Celeste asked about the origin of the word kantha. Here is a bit of an explanation that I found here:

"Scholars believe the word kantha originated from the word ketha, which describes quilts made from old saris (traditional Bangladeshi dresses) and dhotis (traditional Bangladeshi skirts). Eventually, artists began to add nakshi (embroidered designs) to the ketha as a form of both individual and cultural expression.

The embroidered designs of Nakshi Kantha originated in the traditional art of making ritualistic floor drawings made for worship and celebration. These motifs blend symbols derived from past and present Bangladeshi religions and scenes from everyday life, such as fishing boats, rivers, flowers, trees, and people. Some Nakshi Kantha artists tell a personal story through their unique imagery.

Artisans of all social classes originally practiced Nakshi Kantha, but today primarily women of low-income practice the art form. Producing and selling Nakshi Kantha allows women to contribute to their household income while working at home where they can care for their children".

A few years ago I took a class on kantha at the annual Surface Design Symposium in Columbus Ohio. The instructor, from Canada, had been studying kantha, its history and current resurgence in rural and urban areas. She told of urban women, homeless prostitutes, who were being offered housing and food in return for learning this ancient craft and who were becoming self-sufficient.

Examples of large kantha quilts were shown that depicted scenes from everyday life often highlighting the role of women. One showed widow's home on the outskirts of the community as she was no longer a functional member of the community: she had lost her 'place'. Other quilts showed the horror of dowry murders when the bridegroom's families were dissatisfied with the 'payment' the bride's family had made.

Kantha stitching on hand-dyed fabric
dyed with herbs and flowers
from my garden.

Here is yarrow, marigold and woad.

Patches of fabric are laid end to end
a sandwich is made with batting
between the top and bottom
layers of cotton. Bridal veil is laid
over top.


20th Century Woman said...

I just found your blog, and I love the quilts. I have a quilt, made in India that is not quite the same but seems to have the same kind of stitchery. It has elephants on it and I love it.

Celeste Maia said...

I enjoyed the explanation of the origin of kantha stiching very much. I love going to India and all things Indian, but I had never heard of kantha embroidery, so next time I go there I will be attentive. It is so beautiful and fluffy and makes me think of the love the women must feel to make those beautiful stitches.
Thank you Pat for the lovely lesson.

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