From what started as a simple running stitch to join 2 old pieces of cloth together, today Kantha Stitch carries cultural significance for many women in West Bengal.
It is well known that this stitch originated in Birbhum District, Near Shantiniketan of West Bengal and carries the GI tag for kantha stitch.
Originally meant to be a household necessity, soon people realised the beauty of this stitch and it was used on Sarees, Dresses, Dupattas, Bags etc.
This art is important as a source of employment to men and women of the Shantiniketan and nearby villages as the traditional skill runs through generations. Many women in these villages cannot seek employment as they are primarily responsible for managing household. The art of kantha stitch enables these women to work in their free time and earn additional income. This small yet significant step towards empowerment is what makes the craft appealing across the globe.
The designs used to be free hand and inspired by Nature or things that the artisans would see around them. The most common designs being Pakhi/Bird motifs, Fish Motifs, Kolka/Paisley motif, Mandala design, Lotus design, Floral vine design and warli style village depictions, Reverse kantha. Due to high demand, many professional designers are now introducing more contemporary designs of Kantha stitch.
Traditionally, the base fabric used for Kantha embroidery included, un-dyed tusser silk. Because of its light color, the Multi-coloured kantha embroidery work would be more prominently visible. To help reduce costs, artisans also used cotton fabric for embroidery. Eventually, the art transformed and today we find the Kantha embroidery done on multiple types of fabrics, such as, Khesh Cotton Sarees, Crepe Silk, Chiffon, Bangalore Silk, Bishnupuri Katan Silk etc.
Although, many would claim that use of other fabrics is not really traditional kantha, it is important for art forms to undergo these changes to suit the changing times. These changes not only help artists in re-discovering these art forms but also help in defining the art for new generation.