Handicrafts are more than just art. They are the valuable possessions passed on to generations. The craft was born as soon as the first human being made mark on Earth. Handicraft tradition is as old as the first human being’s mark on this land. As humans evolved crafts were born, modified, underwent several changes and have resulted in what we can see today. Our ancestors initially led a nomadic life. Protecting themselves from the external threats was the major challenge for survival. External threats include other forms of life and Mother Nature herself. With changing weather conditions and varied landscapes, our ancestors had a lot to learn. In the process of overcoming these challenges was born the skill called “CRAFTS”.
The crafts were born and there rose a booming handicraft industry. The traditional and the artistic value of the products were identified with the geographic region associated with them. Sadly, we have lost many crafts today and very few exist. Fortunately, one that still breaths fresh air is the KANTHA Stitch.Kantha is a type of embroidery in Southern Asia, especially in Bangladesh and parts of West Bengal & Odisha, India. There are various discussions about the etymology of the word KANTHA. Few say that there are no proper roots to identify. A possible root is that Keth in Bengali means field and Ketha was the original word, which by years became KANTHA. According to Niaz Zaman, the word “KANTHA” has its origin in Sanskrit – “Kontha” meaning rags.
The craft was not initially a full time job for women of the house hold. Almost all women were experts in this exceptionally beautiful art. Rural women worked on it during their leisure time or before the onset of rainy or winter seasons. Therefore, there is no wonder if it had taken several days, months or years to make it.
This art has been passed on to generations. Mothers to daughters to granddaughters and so on. So every woman made stitches for their beloved ones – kids, husband, father, siblings, friends etc. It was never a material of business instead a feel love, responsibility, care etc. They etched the daily lives, their names, daily activities, generations, stories, message they wanted to convey with their stitches. The art was initially born with the help of available material, needs, wants, geographic conditions, threats and safety. Traditionally KANTHAs were made from old sarees, lungi, worn out cloths etc. to protect themselves from cold climates. Usually 6-7 layers of cloth were used to withstand the climate.
Now, let's see how a Kantha is made – for that, we need an old cloth and thread. Kanthas that were used to make simple quilts were called Nakshi Kantha – Naksha in Bengali meaning artistic patterns. The running stitch called Kantha stitch is the main stitch that runs all along.When a KANTHA is made sarees or cloth pieces are joined so that we get a required size. The cloths are widely spread on the floor and made sure there is no fold at the all over. This is to avoid any uneven portions in the blanket that is being made. Then a normal hand stitch is given between layers. The wavy nature or the wrinkled effect is due to this handmade stitch.
We must be thankful to all those passionate, hardworking and creative minds that keep this craft still alive and making it spread all over the world.
While designing the motifs, initially the outlines are made with needle and thread. Once the outlines are finalized the filling of the etched designs are completed. First, the center design is done, followed by corners and at last the inner details in a leisurely manner.
In some type of Kanthas like the blankets, carpets etc.., wooden blocks were used to print the outlines. These are replaced by various pattern involving modern technologies in textile industry today. The earlier day’s rags are today replaced with layers of good cotton fabric. Originally, the KANTHAs were made for the family use and in the present days, they are widely used for commercial purpose. Generally, KANTHA refers to quilts made with such running stitches. Now a days it has a wide range of use such as pillow covers, bed spreads, blankets, hand towels, kerchiefs and the like.
We must be thankful to all those passionate, hardworking and creative minds that keep this craft still alive and making it spread all over the world