Weaving Allegory and Tradition – The Artistry of the Kantha Stitch

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Quilts and blankets have not always been a store-bought purchase. For generations in cultures around the world, matriarchs have retained the warmth of the family by piecing together discarded clothes and old sheets to create a collage of memories. In Bengal, the source of the cloth patches has always been sarees and lungis, layered and stitched together to form the perfect companion for the mild winters and wet monsoons of the subcontinent.

Over time these quilts have taken on their own distinct dimensions due to each region having its preferred style and motifs. The nakshi kantha is a mural of the imagination of the artisan. Each generation would introduce their unique stitch, adding depth to the intricate patterns we see today. Aesthetics is an important means of expressing the culture, history, and social dynamics of Bengal. Women would stitch motifs of farmers at work, seasonal festivities, the leaders of ancient empires or an array of local flora and fauna. These tapestries were the original illustration of history and folklore.

Aarong’s pinpoint precision has taken this craft beyond bedding while maintaining the intimacy of the originals. Their kanthas are all produced by women in rural Bangladesh who have preserved the handmade touch. Nakshi needlework has recently made its way to bags, pillows, decorative wall installations, and even the saree. One such kantha project started with 20 women in Jamalpur over 40 years ago. Today, they have turned an almost dying skill into a profitable enterprise. Last year, Aarong sold over 95,000 of these woven masterpieces, amounting to Tk. 1.2 billion in revenue.

Photography By Din M Shibly

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