The craftspersons of Nanoor today make diverse range of Kantha stitchedproducts which include saree, shawls, stole, bed cover, cushion cover, bags, baby quilt, batua, jewellery, etc.
The traditional process of Kantha making was of arranging layers of old cloth together and sewing them on the edges. Once this was done, they used to embroider the designs. But in contemporary products, silk or cotton fabrics are used for sewing Kantha.
Initially the motif is drawn on a sheet of tracing paper. Then the paper is perforated with needle according to the drawing. It is spread over the cloth where the stitch is to be done.
Coloured powder mixed with kerosene is spread on the paper so that the impression of the design gets on the cloth.
Then the colour palette is decided by the artists. The border of the design is first stitched on the fabric with a single colour and running stitch.
The design is then filled in with the chosen colours and variety of stitches. After completion, the embroidered piece is washed and prepared for the market.
The process of Kantha embroidery
The origin of Kantha traces its history to a period not less than a thousand years. Its images reach back to even earlier sources, pre- and post- Vedic period. Some symbols such as the tree of life, the swirling cosmos and the sun are taken from the primitive art. The later's influence of Hinduism, in the making of Kanthas for religious ceremonies, pujas, weddings and births, gave the art its place as a vehicle of significant cultural meaning. Women took up the responsibility of providing everybody with the warmth against the cold. Kantha making is a “women’s art” .It was the Bengali housewife who helped the art of embroidery to evolve. From embroidering her husband’s initials on his handkerchief to sewing pieces of discarded cloth with colourful threads to make Kantha, the lady of the house busied herself with needle and thread as soon as her domestic chores were over.
Kantha was a personal expression, an art-craft that was made spontaneously, even whimsically. It was never commissioned by rulers, nor ordered by the landed gentry. It was a craft that was practised by women of all rural classes. It has been passed on for generations, from mothers to daughters and is largely a “dowry” tradition.
The Kantha tradition was widespread in undivided Bengal, cutting across social, economic and religious norms and the technique, process and aesthetics of this ‘utilitarian’ textile have ancient roots. The visionary, thinker, philosopher and poet Tagore who wrote movingly about Lord Buddha’s renunciation in his poem Ebar Phirao More, refers to the young prince Shiddhartha as one with only a Chinna Kantha (tattered Kantha) leaving his kingly home in search of his ultimate truth shorn of all his princely garments and material possessions. Among the Muslims too, Sufi saints and the dervishes including the Baul singer Lalon Fakir- so revered in undivided Bengal- were known to use layered and quilted Kanthas as attire. The Baul singers refer to Kanthas in their mystical music as a metaphor for their spiritual wanderings free from material ties. In one of his Baul Gaan or songs Lalon Fakir says, “Lalon sainer chera kantha gaye dile ki sit mane” Can Lalon’s tattered Kantha keep this cold away? Replete with such spiritual undertones the Kantha was naturally seen as a symbol of an ascetic’s surrender of material ties. Other early references in folk songs and verses indicate that the Kanthas reworking of old fabrics into a new object was viewed as a symbolic enactment of the cycle of life and its affirmation of rebirth and revival. (Rehman 1988:23)