Kantha is a form of embroidery often practiced by rural women in the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, as well as in Bangladesh. This type of embroidery has been practiced for centuries, and constitutes a creative way to repurpose old saris while giving them a new life in the form of quilts, cushions, and other textile products.
Old saris are stacked on each other and hand-stitched. The artisan begins the process begins by cutting the sari into small sections. The pieces of colorful fabric are layered and basted together before sewing. The artisan arranges the fabric into rows before beginning the kantha stitching. Uniformly visible stitches are signature to Kantha, and the artisans take great care to ensure that each hand-stitch is consistent in size. This technique allows for ample creative freedom, and is often referred to as free-style embroidery, as each piece showcases a unique pattern.
Each one-of-a-kind kantha blanket we currently carry is hand-stitched by at-risk women and survivors of trafficking at Basha in Bangladesh. Depending on the size and complexity of the piece, each blanket can take anything from two to 39 hours to complete. In addition to a fair wage, Basha provides its artisans with training and rehabilitation programs, medical support, literacy and life skills training, and day care assistance for their children.
Women at Anchal Project practice an intricate, hand-stitching kantha technique to create these rich quilts. (A kantha stitch is a simple running stitch used to hold multiple layers of fabric together.) This technique was first found in primitive art and has since developed into an important cultural signifier in India, now incorporated into momentous events ranging from births to weddings.
The artisans combine contemporary geometric designs with an aggregated stitch pattern to uniquely craft each piece. Due to the complex nature of these textiles, a dedicated team of project assistants diligently oversees production from start to finish. To begin the process, 100 percent organic cotton fabric is washed and ironed. Based on the size of the quilt, a project assistant may panel several fabrics together. An artisan will then complete the delicate handwork and sign her name on the product tag. Lastly, a final quality check is conducted and the quilt is finally packaged.