The classic stitches of Kantha are gentle, purposeful and full of modern possibility! This traditional Indian art is enjoying a well-deserved revival in today’s “throw-away” world. First used by rural Bengali women to invigorate and re-purpose textiles, Kantha holds endless potential for today’s fiber artists, garment sewists and quilters.
“Kantha, making whole again that which was fragmented or broken.” – Crafts Museum, New Delhi
The Kantha stitching of India began as practical quilt making, but many pieces are luxuriously embroidered in colorfully filled designs. Skillfully using a basic running stitch, beautiful motifs and borders are stitched. Some designs are significant historically or reflect common objects and scenes of everyday life.
Simple enough for beginners, interesting and creative enough for advanced sewists, there are infinite ways to use the Kantha technique. Add it to the cuff or collar of a jacket or create an allover stitched scarf. Let your stitching passion take over and soar!
Use Kantha as the focal block of a quilt, stitch together treasured fabrics or add texture and interest to an art quilt. It’s a marvelous way to be creative without worrying about precision and a wonderful, meditative take along project!
Supplies are simple and may already be on hand. Creating Kantha pieces from otherwise unusable, but beautiful fabrics honors the tradition of the art. But modern applications using new silks, cotton, rayon or other wonderful textiles can be exciting, too!
- Top Fabrics – scraps or lengths of leftover fabrics, out-grown, no longer worn or damaged garments, thrifted clothing and home décor pieces or vintage linens.
- Backing – a solid color or allover print the size of your finished project
- Inner Layer – larger scraps, thin batting or flannel
- Threads – Dual Duty XP All-Purpose thread in a neutral color for basting, Tim Holtz Eclectic Elements thread is my favorite for Kantha stitching, but Coats Hand Quilting thread, Coats Button & Craft thread, embroidery floss or perle cotton can also be used.
The Techniques and Stitches
Kantha is based on a simple, running stitch. Stitches under the fabric tend to be shorter than top stitches, but anything goes in modern stitching! Decide and mark the shapes your stitches will follow or just enjoy the flow of inspiration as you stitch. Tiny stitches add maximum texture, but long lengths will make project completion much faster. Perfection and stitch length consistency are not required. The beauty is in the handsewn look and fabric combinations you select. These things are the unique features that make Kantha marvelous!
Before you begin stitching, a sandwich of backing, inner layer and top fabrics will be created. Once the sandwich is assembled, I highly recommend using Dual Duty thread to baste your layers together so they don’t shift as you stitch. It is best to use short lengths of thread to avoid tangling while you are hand stitching. Make sure your needle has a large eye for the thicker threads and a sharp point that will easily go through the layers of your project. Click here to watch a fascinating video showing a woman who has mastered the art of quick and simple Kantha quilts.
The running stitch is simple – up, down, up, down and repeat. Combine thread colors for interest or use a variety of stitch lengths for creativity. It’s up to you and your mood! Most of all enjoy the quiet, calm of hand stitching and it’s wonderful portability. No more idle fingers, no matter where you are!
Kantha stitching is showing up everywhere these days!
Used liberally by textile artists and fashion designers, you’ll also find Kantha in home décor.
Modern Kantha is a marvelous medium for expression and an artistic method of upcycling what would otherwise be unusable. Quilts, throws, jackets, baby wraps, pillows and many other things we use in our daily lives can be adorned with gentle stitches. The joy of creativity, reuse of materials and mindful stitches are values we as sewists already know. Kantha is the perfect art to add to your stitching “toolbox”!