Inspired by kantha

I’m going through a bit of an embroidery phase. First there was the Threads of Silk and Gold exhibition at the Ashmolean, then there was all the stunning embroidery I saw while in India (which I have yet to blog about).

But today I thought I’d show you what I’ve been working on since I got back from Gujarat, inspired by a piece I bought there.

Ironically, given that Gujarat is famous for its embroidery, my favourite of the many pieces I bought was not from Gujarat but from Bangladesh. Mr Wazir, whol ives in Bhuj, is famous for his collection of around 3,500 textile pieces, mostly from Gujarat but also elsewhere in India. He’s remarkably hospitable to visitors who just turn up on his doorstep without appointment (like us), offering tea, showing them pieces of his collection, and selling at reasonable prices.

All his collection consists of older pieces of work, as he says the quality of modern textiles is not as good. Fifty or even 20 years ago, women were expected to start sewing pieces for their dowry from quite a young age, and the standard had to be good to impress their future mother-in-law, or they wouldn’t get a husband!

Today, thankfully, women have more opportunities for other work and education, so most do not choose to focus on embroidery skills, and the quality of pieces that are made for the tourist market is not as high (though I have to say I was still impressed with most of them!).

We bought several pieces from Mr Wazir, of which my favourite is a kantha from Bangladesh. I fell in love with this at first sight. Compared with all the colourful designs, fancy stitches and shiny mirrors in the other work around it, this shone out as a beacon of simplicity.


It feels, dare I say it, almost Japanese – certainly the texture of the diamond shapes reminds me of the patterns achieved through stitched shibori.

kantha close up

Close up shot of shibori circle

In Bangladesh and West Bengal, women make kanthas from old saris and dhotis, by folding them to create several layers and stitching through all of them. Traditionally they also used thread unravelled from the sari border – so a great form of recycling.

I just couldn’t work out how they achieved the textured effect, but of course Debby, my tutor at Morley College and fount of all knowledge when it comes to constructed textiles, knew. It’s simply parallel rows of running stitch.

So I had a go at a sampler of different motifs and tensions.

kantha sampler

Looking at the circular motifs, I noticed that if I kept the tension of the stitches very tight, the white ridges between the stitches would protrude more and the circles started to form little domes.

This reminded me of my turtle project from many moons ago, and I wondered whether I could use this stitch not only to create pattern and texture but also to create a 3D form – just like a curved turtle shell.

sunburst turtle

And it does! As you can imagine, it’s a bit slow, but here’s the work in progress.

kantha turtlekantha turtle close up

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Flextiles uses shibori, ecoprinting and felting to create original, one-off upcycled pieces. Extending the life of a garment by an extra nine months reduces its environmental impact by 20-30%.

8 thoughts on “Inspired by kantha”

    1. Most other kantha pieces I saw were a bit different, with fascinating depictions of items from women’s everyday lives. But I do like the simplicity of this one.

  1. Your “turtleback” creation also looks like a species of coral … very inventive and cool. You certainly have a creative twist for the kantha – very cool.

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