Kantha is a style of embroidery that originates from Bolpur in the Birbhum district of West Bengal. Traditionally used in adorning quilts, this embroidery is now popular on sarees, dupattas, kurtas and even furnishings such as bedcovers and cushions.
The word “kantha” in Bengali means an embroidered quilt. Quilts used to be made from recycled sarees and dhotis by women in rural Bengal by layering 3-4 pieces of old sarees or dhotis and using coloured threads from the border of one of the sarees to stitch the layers together by embroidering patterns on them. The running stitch was typically used in the embroidery, thus giving it the name ‘kantha stitch’. The resulting quilts were very light and comfortable, easily washable, and ideal for wrapping new-born babies during winter. The colourful patterns that were embroidered on the quilts resulted in the name “nakshi kantha”, derived from the Bengali word ‘naksha’ meaning artistic patterns. Today, nakshi kantha refers to very intricately embroidered kantha patterns. These patterns are now used on sarees, giving rise to the hugely popular kantha sarees of Bengal.
Sarees with kantha embroidery are typically made of pure silk, tussar silk or cotton. These sarees are produced on a commercial scale today involving various stakeholders such as fabric wholesalers, trained designers and merchandisers, but the embroidery continues to be done by the rural craftswomen of Bolpur, with the art being passed down through the generations over several centuries. Each saree takes weeks or sometimes even months to prepare, depending on the intricacy of the embroidered patterns. This in turn, determines the final price of a kantha saree.
Kantha. In Wikipedia. Retrieved 15 September 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kantha
Nakshi kantha. In Wikipedia. Retrieved 15 September 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nakshi_kantha
Roy, Paramita and Sattwick Dey Biswas (2011). Opportunities and Constraints of the Kantha-stitch craftswomen in Santiniketan: a value chain analysis. Journal of Social Work and Social Development (ISSN 2229-6468). pp. 5-9.