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Growing up in Bengal and being a true-blue Bengali has enabled me to witness the profuse handloom and handicraft of Bengal. Ranging from the ornate Baluchari of Bankura-Bishnupur to the drapes of taant and the rustic sensuality of terracotta to the paper-like texture of Dhakai-jamdani. Kantha embroidery on fabrics is one such manifestation of the rich cultural legacy of Bengal. The term Kantha traces its etymology to the word Kontha in Sanskrit which refers to rags.
The history of Kantha is as old as 500 years. It is touted to be women’s art where women would make use of 4 to 5 sarees and use running stitch to layer them into blanket that is utilized for covering their children during winter. Traditionally the stitch has been embroidered on sarees, dhotis and quilts. The highlight of this embroidery lies in its simplicity of running stitch made on the edges. The thread used in this art form is derived from the borders of the used cloth. The outer layers of the cloth include white or pastel-hued clothes which rendered the embroidery a perceptible quality. The philosophy of deploying old and used clothes (in other words the goal of reprocessing) to creatively transform it into a work of artistic value makes Kantha a beckon of hope in the arena of sustainable fashion!
The images depicted in this embroidery form draw inspiration from the everyday life and hence the motifs of leaves, flowers, birds, animals and fishes are sewn beautifully into a tapestry on the canvas of cotton, silk or georgette sarees, dhotis, sherwanis, bed sheets and stoles. But Kantha in its modern avatar is not confined to solely these images- Egyptian murals, depictions of Hindu mythology and psychedelic pop-art has made its way to the Pictionary of this brand of tapestry!
There are primarily seven varieties of Kantha stitches-
Lep Kantha- This style is employed in making padded quilts.
Sujani Kantha- This is used for sewing bedsheets during ceremonial occasions.
Baiton Kantha- This style comes to the rescue for making covers used as wrapping for books and other precious objects.
Oaar Kantha- If you are planning to clothe your pillows then Oaar Kantha is the right kind of stitch!
Archilata Kantha- This is used for making mirrors and its highlight lies in its colourful motifs and borders.
Durjani Kantha- If you have wondered all this while what kind of stitches go onto make the interiors of your wallet, then it is Durjani Kantha!
Rumal Kantha- Known for the lotus motif at the epicentre, this variety of Kantha Stitch is all about covering the plates.
The world of fashion took notice of this unique and elegant embroidery when Sharbani Dutta tapped her expertise and passion for this art and let her designs remain a bespoke paragon of Bengal’s rich cultural cornucopia. With the aim to widen the option of men’s apparel choices through ethnic wear, Sharbani Dutta’s designs found admirers in Kapil Dev and Amitabh Bachchan to Hillary Clinton. Agnimitra Paul who has mesmerized the fashion critics with her range of Madhubani has also taken up the cause of kantha embroidery on the fashion podium. Master designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee known for celebrating the exquisiteness of Indian handloom and heritage embroidery through his sartorial magnum opus, spun magic at the India Couture Week 2014 by presenting the weave of Kantha stitch in pastel hues on Benarasi silk! Shon Randhawa’s collection at the Lakme Summer-Resort 2015 was about integrating retro silhouettes from the 70s with Chikankari, kantha and gara embroidery weaved on shirtdresses, shorts and billowing kaftans.
Shamlu Dudeja, a teacher and Kantha revivalist was the cardinal force behind giving the traditional art of Kantha a commercial leverage.
So my fashionistas embrace this beautiful art form and turn heads the ethic way! Stay in style and don’t forget to wear your smile.
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