Posted by: Len

Surayia and some of the women of Arshi.  Photo copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC.

Surayia and some of the women of Arshi. Photo copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC.

International Women’s Day is the perfect time to reflect on the example set by Surayia and the women of Arshi.  Talent, creativity, and lots of dedication and hard work allowed them to build much better futures for themselves and their families.  Artisan enterprises like Arshi employ significant numbers of people — primarily women — around the world, and are an important source of income that permits self-sufficiency.

It is good to see that my former employer, the U.S. State Department, has joined with other like-minded institutions to establish the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise.  I hope this initiative helps to focus attention on artisans worldwide, today and during Women’s History Month, and also that it helps convince people to support living artists and to buy the handmade goods that they produce.

Posted by:  Len

Thanks to our friend Sitara Ahmed for pointing out this article on the origins of kantha.  The Asia Encyclopedia of Intangible Cultural Heritage is full of information on handicrafts, crafts and artisans from across Asia.  There’s a lot to learn from this site.  Congratulations to the Craft Revival Trust for this initiative.

Posted by: Len

Our friend Javed Haque brought this article from the Dhaka Daily Star to our attention.  It describes the origins of kantha quilts and talks as well about the post-1971 revival of this traditional rural household activity, motivated by a desire to create income-generating projects for rural women and widows of Bangladesh’s independence war.  Surayia played an important part in the revival of kantha through her re-imagining of it as an art form.  Interestingly, this took place in Bangladesh at about the same time that quilting in North America was undergoing a transformation with the creation of art quilts meant primarily for display rather than use.

The photos in the article are from Living Blue, which we mentioned in May in connection with a presentation hosted by Maiwa in Vancouver, British Columbia.

While the Daily Star article does a good job of explaining the process of creation and rightly identifies individuality and imperfection as vital elements of traditional kantha quilt, I am uncomfortable with the attitude the author seems to be expressing about the limited intellect of rural women in Bangladesh.  True, many do not have formal education, but that would not necessarily keep them from having an understanding of the symbols in the art that they created.

What do you think?


Posted by: Cathy

This third post by Canadian fiber artist Anna Hergert raises an interesting question about kantha.

Revering the Simple Running Stitch — Hooked on Kantha (Conclusion).

Kantha – is it quilting or is it embroidery?

Quilting is an embroidery technique in which two or more fabrics are stitched together to make a warm, and often decorative, fabric. In traditional Kantha quilting the process begins with pieces of discarded fabric or rags, and is a very effective way of recycling old and threadbare fabrics. Numerous approaches to quilting have developed in different communities to produce varied uses of stitches, patterns and designs.

Ottawa Class 2

Using kantha stitches. Photo courtesy Anna Hergert.

Thank you, Anna, for your personal insights and your interest in nakshi kantha.

What do readers think about Anna’s question?   Is kantha quilting or embroidery?




Posted by:  Cathy

Today is the second guest post by Canadian  fiber artist Anna Hergert.  Anna lives near Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.  She holds London City and Guilds Diplomas in Art and Design, Embroidery as well as Patchwork and Quilting. Anna exhibits, teaches and lectures across Canada.  In 2011 Anna embarked on a journey to explore the humble running stitch while creating a self-published Kantha Primer. For more information please visit her website at or her blog

Kantha Book Cover

Cover of “Kantha: A Primer.” Photo courtesy Anna Hergert.

Revering the Simple Running Stitch – Hooked on Kantha (continued)

Renewed interest in my Kantha workshop in 2011 caused me to review my workshop handout and general information. Spring and summer were filled with travel to exhibition and workshop venues. With so much time spent on the road idle hands are not something I will ever get used to. A decision to augment my existing samples with new and expanded examples for my Kantha workshops led to another in-depth study of how to combine running stitches to create complex fill patterns for various motifs. Twelve new small samples are based on up-to-date research and led to more complex work still in progress.

An acquaintance recently returned from a trip to India. During a visit with her, she shared some of the textiles she acquired during the trip. While there were no true Kantha quilted items in her large stash I was able to identify hand-embroidered shawls with Kantha stitches. To my surprise I discovered that my source books were not always correct by identifying the outline stitches of motifs as back and stem stitches. The items I handled had solid lines on the “public” side while turned over revealed broken lines emulating running stitch with doubled thread. I spent a little time in the studio and replicated the stitch, discovering in the process that by using this outline stitch the quilter will save about 1/3 of the thread, as compared to employing back or stem stitch. I call this stitch the Kantha Outline Stitch. It has been incorporated it into my workshop curriculum.

Lake Powell Kantha detail

Lake Powell Kantha detail. Photo courtesy Anna Hergert.

Through the summer of 2011, I have stitched my way across Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. My little bag of supplies and in-progress samples never left my side. I stitched in the car, campgrounds (as long as the light permitted!), during gatherings with family and friends and I continue to be “hooked” on Kantha! While stitching in solitude one weekend in a Medicine Hat, Alberta, campground I contemplated why I was mesmerized by simple running stitches and a fleeting memory took me back to early childhood when my grandmother would buy me a new colouring book for our holiday trips. The feeling of anticipation while completing an outline on the fabric with backstitch was equal to the excitement I experienced as a child when I took hold of my crayon readying myself to make that first mark in the new colouring book.

In summary and to entice the quilter: With Kantha you have full control of the project on hand! This begins with the selection of the fabric, the design of a motif, outlining the shape, filling it in with your chosen thread colour and stitches to creating the texture surrounding the motif.

My journey continues as I am working on a small bag inspired by traditional motifs. New ideas are emerging during workshops while participants add personal touches to the motifs provided in my handout. My samples have been compiled, photographed and arranged into a self-published primer for students who may be interested in pursuing the journey with me. Let Kantha into your quilting life and explore its endless possibilities…

With that motto I have had several teaching opportunities in 2012. A small group at the Saskatoon Quilters’ Retreat in April, twenty eager students at Quilt Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia in May, and ten students in Ottawa, Ontario in September invited me to share my passion for Kantha. The passionate obsession may be catching – if you love historical textiles, travel (in reality in or your favorite chair) and the joy of hand stitching try a small sample and spread the joy!

Niaz's book cover

Cover of “The Art of Kantha Embroidery.”

For anyone interested in finding out more about Kantha, Anna and Cathy recommend the following books:

Perveen Ahmad:  Aesthetics and Vocabulary of Nakshi Kantha
Bangladesh National Museum, 1997
ISBN 984-585-000-6

Dorothy Caldwell; Dr. S. Morrison: Stitching Women’s Lives – Sajuni and Khatwa from Bihar, India.
The Museum for Textiles, Toronto, Canada; 1999/2000.
ISBN 0-9684411-3-0

Celia Eddy: Quilted Planet – A Sourcebook of Quilts from Around the World.
Clarkson Potter Publishers, New York; 2005.
ISBN 1-4000-5457-5

Darielle Mason, editor: Kantha – The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal.
Philadelphia Museum of Art & Yale University Press; 2009.
ISBN 978-0-87633-218-4

Niaz Zaman: The Art of Kantha Embroidery
The University Press Limited,  revised third edition 2012
ISBN: 978-984-506-103-2