We are completely charmed by the history of kantha! The tradition of kantha begins with the thrift of the Bengali women. For centuries, Bengali women have taken their discarded cloth and sewn it together with a simple running stitch to make a blanket. The functional kantha dorokha (“two-sided quilt”) was not a work of art, but simply what the poorest families used to keep warm.
For generations of Bengali women, kantha has been a form of quiet expression. Most kantha was made by illiterate women who would stitch stories into their quilts — which often would take years to complete. The same kantha is known to have been worked on by a grandmother, mother, and daughter. Many of the kantha motifs reflect the needlewoman’s desire for happiness, marriage, and fertility. These women would then “autograph” their pieces either with their name or by indicating their relationship with the person for whom the kantha was intended.
As we began researching how to source sari cloth for kantha in West Bengal, India, we heard about the sari vendors. Kitchenware peddlers by day, they traveled to rich women’s homes to trade cooking pots and spoons for old saris. At night the kitchenware peddlers become sari vendors, spreading their wares in deserted markets and dimly lit alleys. We once believed that sari-vendors were part of West Bengal’s charming folklore. But then we went to the sari markets! Imagine our delight when we saw piles of vintage saris and had the chance to barter for sari cloth to our heart’s content!
Each kantha is stitched together with layers of sari cloth using the kantha stitch. When we first started working with an artisan group in India, we loved that fact that we didn’t have to teach them how to make the product, in fact, they taught us! We now partner with artisan groups in Bangladesh and we love the fact that the artisans are creating a product that is part of their cultural heritage, because this increases the aspect of dignity in their work.
- Sarah Aulie, Hand & Cloth Founder and Textile Enthusiast