For those who haven’t encountered the raw, indigenous simplicity of Kantha – a speciality of the Bolpur Santiniketan region in West Bengal in India, hailed as one among the more creative styles of desi embroidery – let this writer be the first to tell you, that to start collecting it, is to be indeterminately hooked to procuring more and more.
The humble running stitch can be seen today, effortlessly gracing ramps, working its way into haute couture labels, and for some, is the crown jewel in their personal collection of beautiful textiles. To think, that it all began when housewives in Bengal decided to mend a tear, upcycle old or worn fabric by embroidering traditional motifs over it, and padding together patchwork, layering and quilting to create warm rajais for the winter months, boggles the mind. And yet, those are in fact, its origins.
A Runaway Success Story
The association of women with textiles and threadwork is as old as time: Penelope who spent her days weaving her husband Odysseus’ shroud only to unravel the day’s work by night, to keep unwanted suitors at bay; Turkish brides who wove Kilims that were part story, part demonstration of their skills with the needle and part their own dowry; Victorian women whose nimble threadwork adorned everything from curtains to cushions to handkerchiefs, the courtly clothes of the rich and famous or the uniforms of service personnel – you name it – piece after identical piece produced in staggering detail, meeting impeccable standards, yet on an industrial scale… the list is seemingly inexhaustible.
It is from this diverse history of prodigious and firmly feminine craftsmanship, that the chronicling of Kantha too may be culled. Classical Kantha, just like needlework in so many other cultures, is often a deeply personal expression of everyday experience, telling stories using folk motifs, that are as elaborate and complex, or as straightforward and soothing, as the storyteller may choose.
Needles To Say
Today, the best examples of the unassuming running stitch being given a modern day spin – a facelift if you will – until it sits ever so graceful and poised in it’s own unpretentious skin, among the hip, the impossibly elegant and dazzlingly chic, are seen when it’s pared down to its bare bones.
Customary muslin cloth finds itself replaced by soft, pristine white cotton that can be hand washed easily. Colourful embroidery threads or yarn, replace faded gossamer drawn from old sari borders, affording the finished product so much more resilience. Geometric patterns, a mix of vertical and horizontal multi-coloured lines that run parallel while also juxtaposed with each other, simple square patterns nesting in bigger squares, matryoshka doll-like – each and every one of these variants work beautifully to add a little bit of indo-fusion charm to even the most contemporary homes.
Let us help you choose the simplest way to flaunt your love for Indian handlooms and the arts. Do the crafty thing and add subtle décor accents – quilts and cushion covers in a modern, minimal bedroom for instance – make instant and complete sense. This is the stuff that dreams and makeovers are made of.