Kantha’s needlecraft is described by Niaz Zaman as “women’s art.” Unlike Zardosi and Ari job, which is dominated by menfolk, the Kantha embroidery of Bengal has historically been the stronghold of women. The craft has a history of being a revered recycled product. A Kantha is considered to be layers of old sarees or dhotis quilted together to form a blanket, used by the poor as a defense against co-operation. Later, as a portrait of female aspiration and dream, the ‘nakshi’ type of it was born in the household of undivided Bengal. The article explains how Kantha was governed by women and ultimately helped motivate hundreds of them. Throug primary research conducted among 50 artisans from Nanoor, Birbhum District, and Kadambagachi, Barashat District of West Bengal, the various factors that made it woman-centric were explored. A comparative analysis of both clusters is provided in the paper. The paper also discusses how this Bengal needle-craft experienced changes from being a personal gift to a commercial product, empowering women under its umbrella, handheld by NGOs, design institutions, craft revivalists, and artists, and encompassing more beneficiaries.

Niaz Zaman identifies Kantha’s needlecraft as “women’s art, “(Zaman, 2012). The ‘running
stitch’ is the main stitch that was used for Kantha. It is the simple form of sewing used by the tailor bird with twigs, leaves, and other raw materials to weave its nest. The Kantha embroidery of Bengal has historically been the strength of women, unlike Zardosi and Ari job, which is dominated by folk men. According to the Craft Revival Trust, “About 50,000 women embroiderers are pushing the limits of this historic craft, describing their work as”
ghorebosakaaj “or home-based work.” The art has a tradition of being a recycled commodity that is respected. The term ‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ literally. A Kantha, used by the poor as a shield against cold, is considered to be layers of old sarees or dhotis quilted together to form a blanket. The ‘nakshi’ later'(Decorative) type of it was born as an image of the desire and dream of women in the homes of undivided Bengal. It was a visual record she passed on as an heirloom legacy of he run told tale. We find an acho of it in jassimuddin’s famous nakshi
khanthar math: ‘if she only had wings, today she would fly to her love. The quit is embroidered with many patterns, she has drawn a picture of their wedding, and she has drawn the home of rupa’ The word Kantha derives from the word kontha, meaning rags, in Sanskrit (Bissel,2013). It is defined by Monier Williams as a patched garment worn particularly by ascetics. The throat of Lord Shiva or kontha (History of the Craft) has also been referred to. In World Textiles, we find a reference to it as “quilted and embroidered cloths made in Bihar, West Bengal, and Bangladesh from recycled fabric”.

The objective of the study is to explain how Kantha became and remained a woman-centered art and eventually shifted to marketing, empowering thousands of Bengali women. The analysis involves a comparative study of the role of women in two distinct Kantha clusters.


Kantha is described as several layers of white or light-colored cotton cloth, such as sarees, sewn or quilted using successive rows of running stitches together with predominantly white thread. The Kantha of the poor man seldom had designed, but later the decorative Kantha trend, called Nakshi Kantha came, came into being. After the publication of Jasimuddin ‘s poem Naskhi Kanthar Math, the name Nakshi Kantha became especially popular among literate individuals. With the bright borders of old sarees, the sides of these quilts were edged. Yarns were often drawn out of these borders and used on the ground of a Kantha to produce a contrast. To render a full-size traditional Kantha, At least 5 to 7 sarees were needed (Zaman,2012), which was typically 5 ‘x 6’. It was used by the poor man as a winter protective layer and made by their household’s female folk. The method started with sewing old sarees together to provide sufficient width. Then the layers of fabric were spread on the ground, spread together by many women. The fabric was evened out to ensure that no folds or creases were present. The Kantha was kept flat on the ground during this time and then the four edges were stitched. In order to ensure the same, weights were used on each corner. Two to three rows of wide stitches along the length were performed in order to hold the fabrics together. These stitch lengths served as a guideline to establish the motif placement, which was done after the ground was quilted to
embellish the Kantha. They were often left simply quilted, with no pattern at all.

Traditionally, however, motifs have not been drawn on the fabric in contemporary It was drawn by Kantha. The Kantha made for the newborn had motifs linked to animals, dolls, verses of Bengali rhymes, etc., while traditional quilts had geometric motifs. The artisans found a central point and the motive around it was created. The gap between the two models was randomly calculated and filled with running stitches. First, the design began with the central pattern, which would radiate out from the center of the fabric. The corner or boundary designs were carried out after the central design. Other designs filled the remaining rooms. This would give Kantha its peculiar haphazard patterns and have an
order or harmony about it. The embroidery stitches used would intertwine in such a way with the background stitches that the motif would stand out as a relief. As the background stitch used to pierce through all the layers, older Kanthas had a rippled effect, but it is hardly visible in contemporary quilts. The original Kantha manufacturers did not design the motif, but the outline was embroidered with needle and thread. They will fill in fun stitches to complete a design after being pleased with the design. A design was typically first described and stitches were made slowly narrowing into the middle of a design from the outside. This ensured that inside the design the fabric remained even and did not get crumpled.


The main stitches used were running stitches that were used to shape the ground and tie
together the fabric layers. The allover running stitch texture in modern Kantha is always
prevented and only motifs are done. In her essay, ‘Kantha’, published in the Journal of the
Indian Society of Oriental Art, Stella Kramrisch made the first reference to Kantha as a stitch for darning. This running stitch technique was referred to as darning stitch after her by many other writers. There is a clear distinction between darning, however, and the running stitch used for Kantha. Although darning is a technique in which the stitches are interwoven with the fabric and the stitches alternate in each section, this does not occur in the case of Kantha, so we get the rippling effect of the features. “Later, therefore, she corrects herself and notes that” the stitches are of the simplest kind, not just the primary but also the most ingenuously used is the running stitch.

From mother to daughter, the abilities and traditional importance of making a Kantha have
been passed down from one generation to another. Many NGOs actively engaged in commercializing the craft to boost the economic status of the widows of the Independence
War. “Thus Surayia Rahman, a Bangladeshi designer, says, “Nakshi Kantha (Nakshi means ‘with creative designs’) is called Kantha made with newly created designs and materials and is widely sold throughout the world” (Bengal-In-Colonial-Period-Tapestry). We also find that Ian Smillie supports her opinions (Smillie, 2009). However, it dates back to the 1920s in West Bengal, holding the hand of the visionary Shri. Sushen Mukherjee, founder in Birbhum of the ‘Amar Kutir Society for Rural Development.’ The society was founded to preserve the livelihood of the district’s traditional arts and crafts. It was not until the 1940s that it was not Kantha has gained global recognition. Rabindranath Tagore’s Viswa-Bharti University has made a remarkable contribution to diversifying this craft into various items, such as stoles, sarees, blouse bits, bags, etc. The Kala Bhavan wing offered training in the direction of modern market requirements for many traditional Kantha makers, thus allowing them to take it up as a career. Another landmark in the craft’s growth is the contribution of Kantha Revivalist Shamlu Dudeja, who founded theSelf Help Enterprise (SHE) in the 1980s to sustain and empower women artisans. Since Shantiniketan became a favorite weekend getaway for tourists in Sonajhuri, who explicitly target the Sanibarer Haat (local market on Saturday), Kantha went through tremendous changes. As mass-market demand grew for Kantha due to the mushrooming of local market artisans, including Bhubandanga in Bolpur, the emphasis shifted from quality to quantity. With the government’s intervention, however, artisans have been encouraged to form self-help
groups. The women obtained training through design institutes such as NIFT and NID. DCHC allowed artisans to register with them and provide them with artisan cards, while organizations such as NABARD provided them with microloans to promote entrepreneurship. Eventually, some master craftsmen who were entrepreneurs invented the craft, holding hands. Women’s entrepreneurship contributes greatly to economic and social growth and is a major force for creativity and job creation. In early 2000, a paradigm shift was observed in West Bengal’s Kantha clusters. This exquisite needle art was therefore no longer restricted to its conventional personalized storytelling glory, but was commercialized. Sarees, kurtis, tops, skirts, kurtas, bags, blouse parts, files and folders, coasters, table linen, notebooks, etc. are currently the most common items found in Kantha. The growth occurs in two folds. Although there is a mass market for crafts, designers and connoisseurs of traditional Kantha who are trying to revive it from the present dilution have chalked a niche course. Today, Nanoor alone is shipping 2000 craftsmen and Kadambagachi about 800. Women earn between 2000 and 3000 rupees a month on average, while a master craftsman for whom they work can earn up to 15,000/-.  She received up to 50,000/- a month before Durga Puja, even five years ago, Tajquira Begum revealed. However, her mother’s declining health made her focus more on the family and give up her lucrative business. They choose to devote their time on weekends to their family. Some
women face opposition and limitations on working hours, despite their male members relying on their income. Between work and family, they have to balance them. Younger, single girls spend about six to eight hours at work.

We can conclude that the changes occurred when Kantha was sold and many transitions took place. The changes have helped it stay and appeal to different consumer segments. The stiff rivalry is maintained by the adaptability of the craft to accommodate different price points and aesthetic market segments. Women work alongside their household work in both clusters. For artisans, the typical working hours are 3 to 4 hours daily. Practice is achieved as long as natural light remains. Often they stay up all night when there is a near deadline and finish the same as Laval’s daughter, Lutfa Sultana, who wishes to follow her mother’s steps, mentioned. The research has given women their due respect and a place in their social setting, which is otherwise orthodox and does not accept a woman’s achievement. Nearly everyone in the village knew them by name and was able to guide us to their homes. They are proud that many other women who work under them have been able to enrich their lives. As the trade is woman-centric, it helps them to earn with integrity without any inhibitions. On Saturdays, when they earn their weekly payment, the group feeling and satisfaction shared by everyone is worth watching. In reality, Kantha has motivated these women to stitch their success stories to their happy customers in each of the commercial pieces they currently manufacture.

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NIFT Bhubaneswar

Kajal Arya