Kantha- A Pleasant Journey To The Memory Lane

It was the scream of my alarm that woke me up. With my half-open eyes, I fumbled with the sheets desperate to find my phone. I slid my index finger across the screen and made the sound of my alarm stop. Happy two days for the weekend said my mind before I looked through the window. The golden sunshine invaded through and had in it the warm air which was particularly pleasing as it still had the freshness of morning frost. As the day wore on, I drew my energy with a cup of green tea and picked up the newspaper lying on the center table in the living room. Flipping through the pages, the column which read “All India Industrial Exhibition, 46 Days Winter Festival Grand Inauguration” has caught my attention. With the increasing number of shopping precincts opening in the city, open-air exhibitions are few and far between, I thought. A visit to the open-air annual industrial exhibition which hosts umpteen number of choices for both shopping as well as entertainment has already made its place to my wishlist.

In anticipation of a huge crowd on weekend, Maa and I have ended up at the exhibition all ecstatic to grab some good items for us as well as for home décor. Walking through the lanes of the exhibition we ended up at a shop which stalled bedding and furnishing textiles all of the Kantha embroidery. The one that caught our eye amongst the stock is a beautiful turquoise reversible Kantha stitch quilt which we instantly picked up. The floral paradise made with the color palette of threads made it all the more appealing. The softness of the Kantha quilt took me back to those days where the elders of the household used to take a few old cotton sarees, discard the borders and sew all of them together to make spreads for the newborns in the family.

The idea of recycling and reusing the rags has been in the Indian quilting tradition since time immemorial. The long-forgotten needle-art form called the Kantha has been revived by the rural women of Bengal by simply utilizing the worn-out textiles or rags which were meant to be thrown away. The simple running stitches that held together the layers of worn-out textiles to create spreads, wraps, and quilts had the embroidery motifs which were inspired by the primitive art forms. The vocabulary of the motifs extended to the mother nature, the rural life, everyday objects, historical figures while some narrated the stories of women’s love and anguish.

The journey of the Kantha print in its traditional form starts with the womenfolk finding the focal point of the cloth and developing the motifs around it. The borders are designed once the center motifs are deployed. Post the center and corner patterns the space left between is filled. The color palette of threads and haphazard patterns gives the Kantha embroidery its unique aura and style.

The Kantha embroidery often described as ‘Ghore bosa kaaj’ in other terms the household work which was primarily made for their personal use is no longer limited to its personalized idea of storytelling but has been commercialized with innumerable variants. Modern artisans use wooden blocks or tracing papers for repetitive patterns. The tracing paper already pricked with the design is placed on the fabric and a liquid made of kerosene and dye is used to transfer the pattern on to the fabric. Once it is dried they start the Kantha stitch along the patterns made. The nimble fingers of the craftsman turn the creative mess on fabric into a thing of beauty.

The intricate craftsmanship was seen on various other products that were on the display in the shop. With the discount board constantly staring at us, we instantly got our hands on the bedspreads, pillow covers, table linens, quilt, and floor spreadings. We got home and eager to know how the Kantha embroidery paired with the colors of our walls we started laying the furnishing fabrics. The poppy prints and vibrant color of pillow covers across the sofa are working in perfect harmony with the peachy tones of our furniture. Prettily patterned table cover added a subtle contrast in the room and turned out to be a building block in the festival table setting. Sitting in my room and admiring the peach floral garden bedcover, with great aesthetic pleasure I reminisce my encounter with the Kantha art form at the exhibition which is a brilliant fusion of both Indian traditions as well as contemporary fashion.

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