For centuries, Bengali women used a Kantha, a light quilt or sheet to drape their babies to protect them from cold.
The Kantha used to be made from old Dhotis or Sarees. The soft worn out cloths were not abrasive and were gentle on the baby's skin. A woman would lay the worn cloth in layers and stitch them together. The thread for stitching was drawn out from the edges of the border itself. 3 to 4 layers of cloth were embroidered in small running stitches and formed a quilt.
The women made Kanthas in the afternoons, when they were free. Depending upon the time available and their moods, the motifs on the Kantha varied. Some times the designs were intricate...flowers, figures of birds and animals, scenes from their daily lives.
Sometimes the motifs were simple geometrical patterns. Considering there were no diapers and a new born baby needed frequent Kantha change, a woman needed a lot of kantha for her baby. As the baby grew, so did the size of the kantha.
In the 1980s, some NGOs mobilised women from the rural areas and made them self-reliant through the Kantha stitch. To alleviate poverty from the hinterlands, these NGOs taught the women the art of Kantha, provided them with raw material, gave them the designs and forever changed their lives. They introduced these simple run stitches on Sarees, dress materials, stoles and bags and sold them in boutiques and stores. The Kantha stitch Saree became an instant rage. This embroidery done on Tussar ( raw silk) became' a must have item' in women's closets. Many economically backward women have been empowered by this cottage industry. A lot of them have been able to contribute substantially to their family income and send their children to schools.
Kantha is now a very popular form of embroidery and many Indian designers have exposed this folk art of Bengal to foreigners through their outlets abroad.
Posted By Aparna.