Kasuti is world famous embroidery of Karnataka state earlier known as Mysore state, the motifs and art us a part of women’s world. Kasuti embroidery speaks about the people of Karnataka, their traditions, customs and professions. It is said that Kasuti resembles the embroidery of Austria, Hungary and Spain. The word Kasuti comprised of ‘Kai’ means hand and ‘Suti’ is cotton thread, i.e. Kasuti is handwork of cotton thread in Karnataka language. Kasuti embroidery was famous in many places especially in the districts of Bijapur, Dharwar, Belgaum, Miraj, Sangli and Jamkhandi. Kasuti has not developed into a cottage industry but is only a handicraft and pastime for women. In olden days, it was a custom that the bride had to possess a black silk sari, called chandrakali sari with Kasuti work done on it. The five garments on which the embroidery is done are kunchi (bonnet and cape combined), lenga (skirt), seragu (pallav of a sari), kusuba (bodice), and kulai (bonnet).
The material on which the Kasuti embroidery was done earlier was mostly khanns used as blouse pieces and Irkal sarees. Today it is done on any type of fabric. It is done on curtains, cushion covers and many other household articles of handwoven cloth.
The motifs used in Kasuti are from temple architecture, the gopurams of South India and also lotus flower, raths and palanquins, bird motifs such as parrot, the peacock, the swan and the squirrel are common. Animal motifs used are the sacred bull, the elephant and the deer. The other designs used in Kasuti embroidery are cattle, cradle, flower pot and Tulsi katte (katte is the enclosure for the sacred Tulsi plant). One will rarely see horses, lions or tigers but catsa and dogs are never seen. Among the floral motifs lotus is mostly used.
Stitches used are the simplest and so minute that the effect of the work is intricate and pretty. Four types of stitches are used in Kasuti, namely Gavanti, Murgi, Negi, and Menthi. Some have mixed stitches while others are worked in one stitch only. Kasuti is done by counting the number of threads.
No canvas is used however fine the cloth may be. Stitches in Kasuti have to be vertical, horizontal or diagonal and the lines or motifs have to be completed on the return journey, filling in the blank portions. In such cases the wrong and right side are alike of the embroidery.
The four stitches go as follows:
- Gavanti: It is a line and back stitch it double running stitch. This name is derived from Gaonti meaning a knot in Kannada language. The patterns are mostly geometrical since these are worked in vertical, horizontal and diagonal directions. It is the most common stitch and the designs appear to be identical on both the sides of the fabric. The lines or motifs are to be completed on the return journey by filling the blank portions in the running stitch.
- Murgi: It appears like the steps of a ladder as the stitches are zigzag running stitches. It is similar to Gavanti since both are neat with the design on the wrong and right sides looking alike. The stitches are regular and uniform in length and so the distance between the stitches remain the same.
- Negi: it is ordinary running or darning stitch. It has the overall effect of a woven design. In fact Negi is an off shoot of the word Ney which means weaving in Kannada language. This stitch is used for larger designs by varying the stitch according to the surface to be covered with the thread. The design created resembles woven patterns and hence the wrong and right sides are not identical.
- Menthi: It is the ordinary cross stitch. The name seems to have been derived from the work fenugreek seed in Kannada language. Menthi had generally a heavy appearance and a large amount of thread was required. Hence this stitch was not much used. Now-a-days, many of the Kasuti workers are taking to the use of cross stitch which is not closely worked as it used to be done earlier. It is commonly used to cover up the background areas of the designs. THREADS:
In the olden times, the thread used for Kasuti was drawn from the cloth itself. Now, they get silk threads from Mysore to do the embroidery. The reasons for using silk threads is to make sure the surface looks flat.
Today mercerized cotton thread such as Kohinoor and Anchor thread or pure silk thread of strong nature and fast colour are suitable for Kasuti embroidery. A single strand is commonly used. A knot is never put at the end of the thread before beginning of the work or at the end of the work.
The colours mostly used for Kasuti are orange, green, purple and red. The colour combination in these four colours is red, orange and purple or red, green and orange. White is predominant on a black and dark background. Blue and yellow are rarely used as a combination because if the contrasting harmony. Bright pink, pale green and lemon yellow are hardly used. The important feature of Kasuti embroidery reveals a true artistic sense when it is multi-coloured with a harmonious blending. The needles used to do Kasuti should be made of steel.
Kasuti has always been a domestic art. Traditionally it was a custom to give gifts if Kasuti embroidered garments to the relatives when a child is born in the family. The mother used to train her daughter this art from an early age. It is considered a traditional art and passed from generation to generation. It has gained popularity in foreign countries because of the exquisite hand work, colour combination and intricate designs which machines have not yet been able to produce.
Now Kasuti is done on clothes, sarees, pillow covers, door curtains, table cloth and also on fabrics of any kind. Dharwar, Hubli, Kalghatgi, Gadag and Mundargi are some of the places where Kasuti is still done. Women work in the co-operative society, Regional Institute of Handicrafts, Bhagini Samaj, Janata Shikshana Samiti, which have set up organizations to help them earn a living. There are over five hundred women doing this work from the age group of 18 to 55 years.
- Savitri Pandit, “Indian Embroidery – it’s variegated charms”, pg. 26-30
Article written by: Arwa Aamir Kalawadwala
M.Sc. in Textile and Fashion Technology
College of Home Science, Nirmala Niketan.
Textile Value Chain Intern.