Modern Kantha Stitching

Kantha patchwork on linen

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 throw
Image Source: The Kantha Project

The History 

“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.

Kantha Quilt
Image Source: Moksha Online

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!

Kantha patchwork on linen
Image Source: Annette Millard, Kantha Patchwork on linen

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!

The Supplies

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!

kantha design drawing
Image Source: Sasha World

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!

Stencilled and Outline Stitched Leaves
Image Source: Annette Millard, stenciled and outline stitched leaves

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.

Kantha Jacket Cuffs
Image Source: Annette Millard, unstitched and stitched jacket cuffs

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 - cushions global fabric
Image Source: Global Fabric Hub

The Inspirations

Kantha stitching is showing up everywhere these days!

Kantha Jacket Anthropologie OOS
Image Source: Anthropologie, Kantha Jacket
Mieko Mintz jacket Santa Fe
Image Source: Santa Fe Dry Goods, jacket by artist Mieko Mintz
kantha - category rumal globalfabric
Image Source: Global Fabric Hub, book cover

Used liberally by textile artists and fashion designers, you’ll also find Kantha in home décor.

Stack of quilts Urban Outfitters
Image Source: Urban Outfitters, throw blankets

 

Scarf eyes of india
Image Source: Eyes of India, scarf

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”!

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