05 April 2010

Kantha embroidery....the simplest of stitch used to create the most complex of designs!!!!

In sewing, the first thing that we learn from our elders, is the 'running stitch' used when we have to darn or mend clothes. It is a common form of embroidery in Bangladesh & India in every household. Although I have been using this stitch for years to sew clothes, I was'nt aware that the very plain & insipid running stitch could be used to create such beautiful patterns, called as Kantha embroidery. Just goes to show my ignorance but one I am more than happy to admit!!!!

Any cloth/ garment can be embellished with kantha stitch/ embroidery since it is the most simplest of stitches in the language of embroidery. The way in which the stitch is filled inside a design in different arrangements, forms the complex vocabulary of kantha. It can enhance the most simplest of sarees or cloth materials.

It is said to have originated in the early 1800's & is derived from the Sanskrit word 'kontha' meaning rags probably originating from the legend of Lord Buddha & his disciples who used hand stitched, discarded rags to cover themselves!!!  The traditional seat of kantha embroidery was Bengal (Shantiniketan) where Bengali housewives used the colourful saree threads from the borders to mend old clothes. Gradually with experimentation, they began to hand embroider sarees & use the cloth material as a canvas to try out different patterns as a means of self expression. The patterns can also be machine stitched but the beauty of it is in its imperfections that can only be revealed by hand stitching the cloth.

Different motifs of sceneries, geometrical patterns & designs can be created with this stitch. It is also used with sequins & beads to create applique work & different accessories, thereby increasing the variety of its application. There are about 7 known types of kantha work & although it is a time consuming process, it is an immensely creative & satisfying activity!!!

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