Bengal – State of Vintage Kantha Quilts

Kantha has become a very famous name in the world of handlooms and textiles today. However, not many people know that this pattern of embroidery has its root in the ancient India where it was considered to be a major craft among the household women of Bengal.

Kantha is a kind of embroidery craft that hails from the eastern regions of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in the areas of Bangladesh as well as the Indian states of Tripura, West Bengal and Odisha. In the state of Odisha, all the old saris are stacked on to each-other and are later hand-stitched in order to make thin pieces of cushions and various other decors. Kantha saris are further worn by the women throughout the region of Bengal in the Indian subcontinent.

Kantha embroidery derives its name from the word Kantha which means rags in Sanskrit. Thus, this fact reflects that this embroidery has been made out of the discarded clothes and garments. This form of embroidery is considered to be the oldest forms of embroidery that hails from India. To talk more about the origin of this form of embroidery, Kantha’s inception has been traced back to the ancient pre Vedic ages. The Kantha as we have seen today was found as a mention in the 500-year old book, Chaitanya Charitamrita by Krishnadas Kaviraj. All the motifs that are found in Kantha embroidery are mostly the symbols which were derived from the beautiful ancient art. All these symbols are reflective of the natural beauty present in the universe such as the sun, the tree or life, etc.
Earlier, the embroidery included the symbols depicting the natural creations, however, soon the same was used as a medium of religious and cultural significance. The credit of the revival of Kantha throughout the country goes to all the rural housewives of West Bengal who are known to be playing a significant part in the evolution of the Kantha embroidery. It was considered to be customary for al lthese women to make the use of this embroidery in running stitches along the edges. For centuries, the techniques of this art were passed down from mother to daughter and hence the art of Kantha continue to prevail.

Kantha embroidery was continued to be practiced among the rural women of West Bengal, but soon the craft began to fade with the time. It was until the year 1940 that this craft was revived by the renowned Kala Bhavana Institute of Fine Arts which was a part of Vishwa Bharti University in Shanti Niketan. This art was again revived by Shamlu Dudeja in the 1980s when the lady founded Self-Help Enterprise (SHE) that helped to empower women as well as their livelihood by the way of Kantha embroidery.

Today, this form of embroidery has become very popular not only locally, but globally as well. Kantha embroidery has been popularizing itself in the textile and handloom industry. Not only this, the fashion industry, too, has adopted the idea of this embroidery and as a result a number of fashion designers are working under various projects involving the use of Kantha. All credits to the rural women of West Bengal.

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Waves Fine Stitched Vintage Kantha Quilt Queen

Waves and floral Vintage Kantha Quilt Queen

Reasons to Get Addicted to Kantha Quilts

The best thing about Kantha is these can be used throughout your home — on beds, as upholstery and as wall hangings.

Kantha quilts originate from eastern state of India and are made from vintage/old saris, layered on top of each other and stitched together. They have vibrant and unexpected colors, intricate patterns and an abundance of embroidered running stitches. It is quite easy to get yourself addicted to kantha quilts. If you would have managed to collect a few over the years, a big congratulations on your wise investment. These are so unique, one must have. Here are 15 places to integrate them into your decor.

1. This exciting and exotic sleep space: By far my best-loved thing to do with kantha quilts is to layer them on top of one other as bedding, as their lightweight nature makes these flawless for the job. Just like layering your clothes, this technique adds physical warmth, but also a relaxed elegance that seems like you haven’t tried too hard. For instance; make your bedroom with this and see the mixture of colorful embroidery draws the eye to the focal point of the room, the sleep space, but also the valuable light coming from the window.

2. This understated and dignified sleep space: These vintage kantha quilts are double sided, means reversible in nature – so they’re great for introducing an instant mixing and matching of patterns to add notice to a neutral bedroom scheme. To make this look, use a crisp white bedcover and layer your multi-color kantha quilts over the top (turn down the top of your blankets for a peek at the pattern underneath). Make sure you stumble them, so that one quilt sits higher than the other —this way both quilts are on unevil. Find accessories like books, plates or cushions that echo some of the colors in the quilt to tie the look together.

3. As a table runner: Why didn’t I think of this sooner? Kantha quilts make stunning tablecloths and runner! There is no need for any fancy cutlery or crockery here, because all eyes will be focused on the beautiful Kantha table cover. I’ll also let you in on a little secret: This patchwork Kantha table runner is the ultimate disguise for spills and drips at dinnertime.

4. This upholstered chaise: Like a knight in shining armor, this beautiful kantha cotton fabric has been draped across the seating area of this stunning black velvet antique sofa.

5. This show stopping scalloped chair: The vivid colors and patterns found in these Kantha blankets are so versatile that whatever the combination, these seem to work together. Here, a cheerful scalloped chair has been upholstered in a kaleidoscope of kantha fabric made from vintage saris.

6. As a colourful ottomans: Resting your feet has never been so contemporary with ottomans and footstools covered in godly kantha fabric. These are such an affirmation piece even when not in use. Plus, they’re practical — you’ll thank yourself for these handy seats when you’re lurch around with your shoelaces. If you aren’t feeling confident enough to slice up your quilts, hire a professional to upholster the seats for you.

7. As winter warmers: Searching for a lap blanket or something to take the edge off the cold when dining outdoors? Lightweight and available in various sizes, these kantha blankets are perfect for popping on your lap. Hang over the back of chairs; they can be obtained with ease.

8. As headboard: Attaching a multi-colored kantha quilt to a headboard is a creative way to preserve and display a precious blanket. As most kantha quilts are double sided, I would suggest a semi-permanent method of attachment — such as safety pins or Velcro — so that you have the option to flip the quilt and show off the reverse side as well. Easy to switch as per your mood.

9. As cushion Cover: When shopping for kantha quilts, it is sometimes hard to choose which one or two that you should buy. All of these are so gracious. Keep in mind that they can be made into kantha cushion covers, which means with a mix of colors and patterns available, you can take advantage of having a lot in same piece.

10. As a boho-chic kids’ chair: If you are searching for an everlasting way to make over a chair, you may like to consider using a kantha blanket. It’s astounding how versatile kantha is for different decorating styles. It seems to adjunct almost any setting by adding just a touch of color and pattern — not so much that it overtakes other sections in a room.

11. As a Wall Hanging: Each kantha quilt is like an original and unique piece of art and deserves to be treated as such. No piece is alike. Hang your kanthas on the wall and they will be treasured by all. And the bonus of a kantha wall hanging is that you can turn it over because of their reversible nature to reveal the pattern on the other side whenever you’re ready for a new look.

12. Over a bench: Over the back of a chair, on a bench, as a table runner or even as a picnic blanket, There are so many alternatives of using your kantha quilts.

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Connection with Vintage Kantha Quilts

It started simply with a stitch, and ends with a story.

I remember the day when I received my first quilt, progressed down to me from my mother, hand-stitched by my grandmother. It was filled up with life; her favourite colors, curved lines, witless patterns but a very fine stitch.

It was worn, assembled around the edges but kept its motherly warmth. My grandmother collected all of the quilts she made, and gave these to family members when she left us. I’ve adore mine, knowing that I’ll never get same like it, but still wanting to search something that I could start to collect, just like she did.

I found my halfway when I was first instigate to a few quilts that were labeled as “Kantha from bengal” at my husband’s shop with website https://www.vintagekanthaquilt.com.I fall in love, It was simply love at first sight; I wanted to grasp anything and everything about these beautiful kantha. Kantha refers to the kind of stitch used in the craft of this peculiar type of embroidery. The tradition began in India, where old sari is mixed and layered with worn recycled fabrics and stitched together, creating a vintage quilt. This distinct stitch gives the sari quilts and various fabrics a textured, wavy, quality. Each quilt is truly unique, and I love how each one feels like it has a unlike story.

So, I’m hooked. Here I am today, gathering and loving each vintage kantha quilt I can get my hands on. It may be the variety of pattern on each quilt that draws me in; how I can link to each stitch, after all, I’ve always been a bit all over the place, a rambling soul, a bit of everything. I fall in love with these kantha quilts, new for a new reason. I feel amazed seeing one side has Ruby red paisley prints with a vibrant patch of yellow florals, and the other has a winter snowy feel. They’re so bizzare, and so me.

Kantha is more or less like home to me. It’s something what I always wish and  love to collect; it’s what I wanted to keep near and dear to my heart. Each kantha quilt has a different story, and I’m now making these as a part of my story.

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Types and Process of Kantha Embroidery

The Sanskrit word kontha defines ‘rags.’ One legend links their origins to Lord Buddha and other gods like Brahma and Shiva who used to cover themselves with dresses made from discarded rags that were patched and sewn together. Rags unveil at Indian shrines or bind to tree limbs symbolize prayers and wards off the evil eye. The oldest endure kantha date from the early 1800s and is embroidered with blue, black and red threads that were untangle from sari borders. Because they were reinstate from used garments that had been habitually laundered, the colors tend to be muted. Please see types and process of kantha embroidery below –

Types of Kantha – 

Lep kantha are rectangular swaddle heavily padded to make warm coverlets. The whole piece would be stitched in wavy, rippled designs over which elementary embroidery was performed.

Sujani kantha are rectangular pieces of cloth used to make blankets or spreads on ceremonial occasions. It is kind of heavy work done of piece of cloth.

Baiton kantha are square swaddle used for covering books and other valuables. They are carefully patterned with borders of several rows of multi-color designs.

Oaar kantha : In this there are rectangular pillow covers in plain designs with a decorative border sewn throughout the edges.

Archilata kantha : In this there are small, rectangular covers for mirrors or toilet accessories with broad, colorful borders in assorted motifs.

Durjani/thalia kantha : In this there is a small rectangles with a midway lotus design and embroidered borders. Three corners of the rectangle are bending inward to form a wallet.

Rumal kantha : This is used as permeable wipes or plate coverings. These also attribute a central lotus with ornamented borders.

Dorokha or the double-sided kantha : This has either an alike pattern or sometimes a different pattern at the back of the embroidery. So it is veracious a reverse embroidery.

Kantha comprises of the elementary stitch in the language of embroidery – the running stitch. It is the process in which this stitch is used, in divergent arrangements which forms the complex vocabulary of kantha.
Originally it was used to sewn the layers of old saris, to make quilts and was used as a means of showing their thoughts, ideas by both urban and rural women in Bengal.

 Kantha Process and Stitches

The process of making kantha embroidery is quite simple but it allows for a vast range of expression. Now a day’s people have used this embroidery form in several ways from cutting-edge contemporary to classic traditional.

The motif is first drawn on paper by hand.

The outline is then hunt down on to a tracing paper. The edges of the pattern are incised with a needle with a distance of 1 mm between each prick. Colored embroidery threads are chosen in accordance with the pattern. All of the threads have code numbers that are eminent for future reference.Cane frames may be used to lengthen the fabric. Larger plastic frames may also be used.

Usually a simple outline is first made on the pattern.Sometimes the patterns are more abstract and are finished all over the fabric, usually to hold 3 or more layers of cloth. These motif are embroidered free-hand without discover. Artisans are skilled enough to stitch evenly spaced spirals or lines. In kantha embroidery there are numerous patterns for borders as well as ‘butis’ or dots to pervade a fabric.

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