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Chronicles of Kantha

The skilled women from the dust & the mud houses are oblivious to their mammoth contribution on a global scale. The aspects they relate to are creating complexed & intricate crafts & completing their daily household chores.

India is home to skilled artisans. Employment in this sector is 2nd largest after agriculture. The strength of the artisans is diminishing year on year due to dearth of opportunities. Ironically, be it a local or a foreigner, everybody wants to explore the real India. 

The advent of Industrial revolution has transformed the choices of majority who chooses to pay for things that are manufactured in bulk with much lesser time and are more synthetic. The question is if we are willing to pay fairly for the crafts that involve time, that have depth, that are crafted with natural resources.

This blog is about the humble lives of Kantha embroiders in Birbhum district, West Bengal and their efficiency to show case their best to the industry.

The inception of Kantha has been elaborated innumerable times. By the virtue of which we all know that a basic kantha is all about bringing & layering the domestic old rags together which are then covered with straight running stitches. It further evolved to motifs embroidered on the layered fabric for some sense of grandeur and craftiness. A beautiful way to create something new from the old.

From mere running stitches on old rags in order to create something new, Kantha stitch & the rural ladies have influenced the modern sensibilities with all their might. Be it fashion or home décor, the craftiness of kantha is unparalleled. However, an eye for details to understand the nuances of the quality of work is key.

There are many quintessential Kantha patterns which are amalgamated with new designs making the finished product supremely crafty and contemporary.  The most commonly used patterns are the running stitches. There are variations & craftmanship on that as well.”  The image of the stole is a good example of the complexity of colours used along with patterns, one of them being the running stitches.

Some of the forms of Kantha embroideries which many craftsmen delve deep into are folklore, floral, leafy, mythological patterns & more. This is where craftsmanship comes in to the play to make the outcome look concerted & grand.

The basic aspect of kantha embroidery are the patterns that are drawn on the tracing paper. Tiny holes are minutely punched on the patterns drawn & placed on the final fabric. Black or white colours are dissolved in kerosne. An old piece of rag is crumpled & dipped in the solution & rinsed. It is then rubbed softly on the punched tracing paper for the design to get printed on the fabric. This part of the whole process is key, without which the embroiders could go completely wrong. The artistry of the tracers is key for the embroidery to go well.

Selection of fabric for any flat lays or clothing is key. We use a lot of pure Tussar silk & sometimes cotton. They are procured directly from the weavers. It’s ideal to work on a Tussar silk thaan that weighs approximately 750 to 800 gms. The threads sit well on the fabric while embroidering & makes it easy for the ladies to embroider seamlessly. Thinner the fabric ((lesser quantum of yarns woven) or lighter the weight of the fabric , more the chances of it getting pulled between two stitches. The approximate weight as mentioned above, gives a good body to the fabric yet keeps it light.

(Tussar silk  thaan is a 13 meter lengthed fabric with 46 inches width)

The craftsmen involved in the process are the weavers, the tracers, the suppliers of threads, the embroiders. The intangible aspects that are equally valuable are the creativity that manifests on the designs & of course, the time. A saree takes 6 months to a year for it to complete depending on the work & the speed of work.

It is important that both the tangible ( the craft itself)  & the intangible (time & creativity)  aspects of creating a craft is valued & perceived fairly.

Small businesses are leaving no stone unturned to save the sector from getting lost in oblivion. The efforts are focused & well-coordinated for the required push to the artisans to grow & proliferate.

Content: Meghna Ghosh

Photos: By Meghna Ghosh