Kantha Embroidery

Kantha Embroidery

I recently attended the second session of Level 2 Hand and Machine Embroidery at the Gail Harker Creative Studies Center in La Conner, WA. If you are anywhere in the area, I highly recommend that you take a look at their classes. They have just moved into a new location and the barn studio is amazing. For this session, we concentrated on Kantha embroidery. It was developed in Eastern India and primarily uses running stitch to develop pattern, texture and line. The first set of photos are all from the collection of Penny Peters, who kindly let us study them, take photos and get up close and personal to these beautiful saris.

I particularly liked this pattern and the sheer number of stitches is amazing. These saris are approximately 3′ x 7′ and completely covered with running stitch.

We spent the first portion of the class studying and sketching from Penny’s collection into our sketchbooks.

Many of the designs featured birds or other animals.

In between all the dark-colored threads and stitching, this one had white background stitching. When viewed up close, this really gave life and movement to the piece.

You can see the background stitching here. Isn’t that a cool fish?

I loved all the variety of motifs in this sari. The background fabric is usually a solid colored silk and all of the patterning is done with Kantha or running stitch. Originally, none of these type of embroideries were meant for sale and were considered personal wealth. Each of the young girls would begin stitching at the age of 4-5 and being working on their dowries soon after that. I’m sure I would be a very old woman before I got married as each woman had to have multiple pieces of clothing, bags, table linens etc. embroidered before they married.

After we studied the various saris, we then began to try out Kantha samplers. This one was done on one piece of cotton muslin and held in the hand not a hoop. It is harder than it looks trying to get your stitches even and lined up appropriately. This sample took me about 4 hours.

This sample shows a variety of ways that you can fill a square. The one where the stitches go in a diagonal manner is called bending stitch and it is quite challenging.

This last sample is Kantha stitching in a circle. After the two above which were so regimented, this one was easy. Stitching in a circle without having to line up the stitches was very freeing. The texture of the piece can be changed depending on how tightly the threads are pulled.

We then developed our own Kantha design and tried our various ways of filling our design with stitches, what the colors were to be etc. I am still working on this project and I’m about ready to start stitching my little bird.

I now have a new appreciation for Kantha. I knew very little about it before the class. It is wonderful the number of designs that can be made with a simple running stitch. I’d love to see other Kantha examples, so if you’ve done some, please give us a link to see what you’ve made.

19 thoughts on “Kantha Embroidery

  1. Very enlightening – I’d never heard of Kantha embroidery before you mentioned it.

    I can understand why that sampler took you four hours – that’s a lot of stitching!

    The piece that really catches my eye is the second sampler ‘stitching in a circle’ – very pretty – that will just have to go on my pinterest board.

  2. Well, I’m not alone in liking the sampler – it was ‘re-pinned’ within half an hour of going on my board, so who knows how many people will see it?

  3. Fabulous work Ruth. It’s funny, you think of a running stitch as being simple but doing it well is not. I really like the blue stitched squares on purple. I am glad I don’t have to stitch a dowry too. I would still be working on it.

  4. Wow, these are amazing, I can’t imagine how long it would take to embellish a sari, let alone a whole trousseau! I certainly wouldn’t have either the patience or the staying power!

    Seems like a superb course, look forward to your next bulletin and to seeing your little bird when it’s finished.

    1. Thanks – I think if you did not want to get married, you would have a good excuse because you were not finished stitching!

  5. I was looking up Kantha today after seeing it mentioned on TAST!
    Yours are really nice, Ruth, especially the circular one. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished bird, too 🙂

  6. Ruth i’d never heard of Kantha before either, those pieces are gorgeous arent they, who would have thought such a simple stitch could turn into something so amazing, I think i’d be quite old before i got married lol if ever 🙂

  7. Amazing pieces and your stitching is beautiful. As I learn from your post kantha is much more than I thought. I am really interested in learning more about it. I am very attracted to it.

    1. Thanks Raphaela! It was much more than I thought is was also. I will probably be doing another post about the rest of my Kantha homework soon.

  8. Merci ! c’est très beau! j ‘attends le post de vos devoirs Kantha avec impatience.Célia

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