Nov 19 2009
Kantha stitching, which is essentially a simple straight stitch, is a tradition typically Bengali. This sewing method simply involves running the needle and thread in a straight line, in one side out the other along the length of the material.
Traditionally this type of stitching was used to make simple quilts, blankets, and throws from old sarees. When a saree would get too worn, torn, burn, etc., it would be paired together with a few other old sarees and they would be sewn together using the kantha stitch. Today, many Indian women still reuse their old sarees in this way. It is a simple, creative, and economic way to make something useful and beautiful from something that would otherwise be throw away.
A kantha blanket from SariBari
Kantha stitching is also used as a decorative embroidery in sarees and other Indian apparel. This use of kantha is purely artful and for aesthetic appeal. It can be quite intricate, and as the work is traditionally done by hand, can take quite a long time to do.
An example of kantha sarees
These days kantha handi-work also tends to be a curiosity for tourists and Westerners wishing to have a piece of Indian culture in their own homes. A number of development organizations in India are taking advantage of this demand and are making kantha products to sell abroad like blankets and handbags. SariBari (www.saribari.com) an NGO here in Kolkata where I previously volunteered, does just this. The blankets and bags they make sell like hotcakes abroad and for western prices, which means the women who are making the products get a decent salary to improve their standard of living.
Taking an old discarded saree and transforming it into a work of art is quite a novel concept. It goes to show that the saree can stand the test of time and can be beautiful in whatever way it is used.