Kantha embroidery is a form of personal expression, like a personal diary or a letter written to a particular person. It is not meant to be read and understood by all. A real Kantha should be able to narrate a story, and is made out of used materials.
The name ‘Kantha’, meaning throat, alludes to a name given to Lord Shiva, Nilakanth. According to Hindu mythology, the name Nilakanth was given to Lord Shiva after he swallowed the poison that was made as a result of churning the ocean. Goddess Parvati was so shocked by his actions that she strangled him to stop the poison in his throat, rather than allowing it to drop to the universe that was said to be held in his stomach. The potency of the poison caused Lord Shiva’s neck and throat to turn blue, therefore giving him the name, Nilakantha; ‘nila’ meaning ‘blue’.
Kantha embroidery began, and gained popularity, in the homes of rural West Bengal, India. It is one of the oldest forms of Indian embroidery, and can be traced back to the first and second A.D. Kantha was also, perhaps, one of the earliest forms of up-cycling, where the women in Bengali households used old clothes to create something new.
It was customary for the rural women to make use of Kantha’s widely popular running stitch and embroidery designs to create quilts for their families, as well as adorn personal fabrics and garments such as sarees, dhotis and handkerchiefs with simple stitches. For centuries, the techniques of this craft have been passed down from mother to daughter, like ‘dowry’.
(Sourced from StyleTuck)
Kantha Embroidery designs can be simple as well as intricate. Themes from day-to-day activities are a common subject for the embroidery. These include beautiful folk motifs, animal and birds figures, and geometrical shapes.
Ideally, traditional artisans first create embroidery designs and copy them on the cloth, before the craftswomen (usually) hand stitch the designs. The stitching is simple but the embroidery designs can be complex.
Kantha embroidery was originally used for household items like quilts, covers, sarees, and more, but have evolved and can now be found on shawls, stoles, curtains, and more.
Kantha embroidery has taken the fashion industry by storm. Sharbari Datta, an Indian fashion designer, displayed beautiful ensembles of Kantha work by taking the traditional Kantha embroidery and including it on dhotis, kurtas, sherwanis and even hot pants!
The demand for traditional Kantha embroidery is not limited to India alone. Designers in UK and Japan have also reached out to local sellers to incorporate this embroidery in their designs.
Kantha embroidery craftsmanship has become a viable means of livelihood today and yet maintains itself as a household craft in many ways. Many of the women engaged in this craft continue to practice it from the sanctity of their homes.