A region of rich artistry, Southeast Asia is home to a wide range of beautiful textiles. One of the most famous styles of textiles is known as kantha.
What is Kantha?
Kantha (pronounced kahn-taa) refers to a method of embroidery. It derives from modern-day Bangladesh as well as the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha. But kantha also refers to a style of fabrication. Here, a simple running stitch is used to piece together old saris and fabric scraps to create something entirely new. Using kantha embroidery, women transform rags into quilts, blankets, mats, pillow covers, and even wrappers for clothing. Several layers of cloth are sometimes stacked in order to make a single blanket or mat.
The History of Kantha
A centuries-old textile tradition, kantha quilts were originally crafted out of sheer practicality. Using rags to make blankets was an economical way for low-income families to stay warm. Over time, it evolved into a veritable art form and a means of expressing cultural identity. Some kanthas, known as nakshi kantha, feature beautiful motifs or intricate scenes with people and animals. They might also contain embellishments or design features unique to the woman who made it. In this way, nakshi kantha are both a means of storytelling and a mark of individuality: this is especially important in an area where women often lack the literacy skills to communicate through reading or writing.
Kantha Textiles Today
A beautiful token of Bengali heritage, kantha textiles are now cherished all over the world. Many are drawn to their vibrant colors, their patchwork aesthetic, and the ingenuity behind each design. Not surprisingly, kanthas have spread to the worldwide market and have found their way into people’s homes: you can purchase kantha blankets, scarves, and household goods made by women artisans. This demand for kantha textiles has not only created a livelihood for women artisans but also ensures that this art form stays alive for all to enjoy.