The kantha tradition is very similar to quilting traditions found in American heritage. Clothing is repurposed and sewn into blankets, and hand-stitched together. Quilts were created out of functionality and resourcefulness but are full of artistry with exquisite patterns and fabrics. Kanthas are sewn out of old saris and hand-stitched together into blankets. In Bangladesh, the kantha stitch is taught to young girls by their mothers and grandmothers much like the quilting tradition is passed down through generations. I learned to quilt alongside my grandmother and am thrilled to share this interview with my grandmother, a 92-year-old textile enthusiast with a long heritage of quilting. Meet Anna...
When and how did you learn to quilt?
My mother had one [quilt] in and was quilting and of course I sat down. I was maybe 10 or 12 when I did that. She showed me how. I didn’t do too much when I was working, but if mom put one in, I would help her with it.
When your mom would put in quilts, were there other people that came and helped her?
Well, my aunt would help her. It was just kind of the family that did it. Eva, mom and I, and if Aunt Annie happened to be there, she’d help us.
How many quilts do you think you have made or helped make in your lifetime?
When the kids were growing up, I didn’t have time to quilt on the farm. So, I didn’t do much quilting after I was married. I helped Al with the animals and stuff. I really didn’t do too much until we were retired and then I started.
So you have made one for all the grandchildren and great grandchildren and do you think you have made them for all your children?
Yes. [Most recently] I've made comforters for all the great grandchildren.
So how many would that be?
Six [blankets]… but I’ve got seven [great grandkids]. Michael’s little one. They have just a new baby. I have seven [great grandkids].
So you have to get busy making a blanket for the newest great grandchild?
Haha, I’m not caught up on that. So to answer your first question, I've maybe made 10 quilts.
You can include comforters. (Comforters are hand-knotted together instead of hand-stiched.)
Oh, if you are counting comforters, I may have made around 50. The comforters, I would help mom do. Mom made comforters during the war and I would help her to tie them out. I maybe helped on 50... at least. (Note: Other family members have counted and they think she has made or helped make over a 100 blankets in her lifetime.)
Yeah, because you can turn out a comforter in about a day.
Well, a big day, yes, I can. But, you know, it takes time to put them together.
What is the oldest generation of a quilt that you have? Did you get some quilts passed down to you?
Well, that crazy quilt that I gave to your mom, my mom had made that one. She passed that on to me. Then my aunt, aunt Annie, had made me that flower garden quilt that I had.
How many generations back was that fabric that was in your attic that we made quilts out of?
Oh, my grandma could have had some of it. That would be my grandma, and then my mother, my generation, and then my kid’s generation, and then your generation. So how many generations would that be?
What would you say is your favorite part of the quilting process?
You like to sew it together?
Yeah. I’d rather do that than cut. But cutting it out and sewing it together, I like that better than quilting it.
How do you get inspiration for what designs to make?
Oh, normally if you like to quilt, you look at fairs and quilt shows. If you see one that you like, why, you try to find the pattern. And magazines and stuff like that.
What has been your favorite quilt to make?
Trip around the world
And you have made a lot of those!
Yes I have!
Do you have a favorite one?
No, I really don’t. It kind of depends what kind of material you can find.
What has been the most formative textile in your life?
Well, my mom gave me a wool blanket and I really treasured that.
Was it one she had used?
No, she had bought it. Oh and she made a crazy quilt comfort for me and I really liked that.
When did she make that for you?
Oh, she made that when I was… I remember her making it when I was young.
Were you given quilts for your wedding?
But you have given blankets for people’s weddings, haven’t you?
Yes, I’ve made blankets for people’s weddings when I knew that they didn’t make them.
What did you do for your kids when they got married? Did they get quilts when they got married? Or were you too busy at that time?
When my kids got married, I tried to have enough to make up a bed for them. Like pillows, sheets, and comforters.
So you gave them a comforter that you had made?
You also make comforters for the homeless, right?
Is that what you are working on right now?
Yeah. I’ve got one that I’ll give. I have it made up but I haven’t given it yet. See, in the summertime, they don’t need as much. It is in the wintertime that they need blankets a lot.
Do the blankets that you make at the sewing [circle] go to the homeless?
Yes, they are given away to the poor, sent to other countries, and all that.
And lastly, who is one woman who you have admired in your lifetime?
My mother. She was always kind. She was always ready to help somebody else. She never looked for pay for it when she did.
Photos: My grandma and I working on one of the quilts we made out of the fabric that was in her attic, saved by five generations of women in our family.
- Ashley Flora, Textile Enthusiast at Hand & Cloth