Master artisan Alima Khatun has been doing Kantha stitching at home since the age of 14, drawing inspiration from Kala Bhavan, the Arts department at Visva Bharati University, Santinikitan, West Bengal. She is the recipient of many State and District Awards as well as the National Award for excellence in Kantha work.
Alima was honoured with the Shilp Guru Award in 2011. This is an award conferred by the Government of India every year to master craftspersons for innovating different styles and designs of traditional crafts, to enable them to continue with the highest level of aesthetic character, quality and skill in the traditional Indian handicrafts.
We have two of Alima Khatun's beautiful shawls in our collection in which she uses a variety of stitches including Bahir Bhorat - generally small stitches close to each other to form a background so that the motifs stand out.
Alima tells us:
"Originally Kantha was used to join layers of old saris to make quilts. The women of Bengal created these to make a light blanket or bedspread. The Sanskrit word 'kantha' means 'rags'. Legend links their origins to Lord Buddha and his disciples who covered themselves with garments made of discarded rags that were patched and sewn together. Historically kantha was never made for money and in its simplest form kantha was invented out of necessity. Pieces made in varying sizes were spread in the courtyard to lay a newborn baby. Light covers were used by adults as a wrap on winter mornings. Old white Saris or dhotis are layered and sewn together at the edge to prepare the fabric. Coloured threads are painstakingly extracted from old sari borders and used for the actual embroidery. Geometric, floral and, figurative designs are surrounded by rows of intricate borders in a darn stitch which recreates the woven sari border. Finally, the background is covered with minute white quilting stitches encircling the designs and giving the Kantha a rippling effect. Today Kantha has evolved as embroidery on saris, dupattas and even bedspreads and on new material, without the second layer. Apart from the traditional designs, new designs based on 'Alpana' have been added. The vibrant and decorative motifs resulting in breathtaking designs for all of you to enjoy."