A Stitch in Time

Elle India|May 2020

A Stitch in Time
Kantha’s homespun charm, characterised by the humble running stitch, can be traced back to the rural women of Bengal

Practical, austere and often celebratory—Kantha, in India is a textile tradition that first appeared in the 18th and 19th century in the Harrapan civilisation. This embroidery technique has strong links to Hindu mythology (it was found in Krishnadas Kaviraj’s 500-year-old book Chaitanya Charitamrita) and it is also one of the earliest examples of feminist art. In Bengal, rural women have kept this tradition thriving by repurposing and stitching together layers of soft saris and old dhotis.

“It was a form of expression for women—an embroidery technique that wasn’t done for its commercial value but to tell their stories at a time when many rural women could not do it through literature. They would give Kantha saris, quilts or covers—embroidered with protective and talismanic symbols, social commentary, messages to loved ones, or floral and figurative imagery—to one another on occasions like weddings, baby showers and sacred festivals,” says activist, author and Indian handicrafts curator Jaya Jaitly.

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May 2020