Posted by: Cathy

Today begins a three-part 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

Revering the Simple Running Stitch – Hooked on Kantha

In 1998, shortly after I had embarked on my London City and Guilds education, one of the objectives was to research Kantha Embroidery and create a small sample. At that point I had never heard of Kantha and not one of my quilting and embroidery friends was able to provide me with specific insights – in fact the majority of the fiber artists I was connected with had never heard of the Kantha technique.

Ottawa Class1

Learning kantha embroidery. Photo courtesy Anna Hergert.

I love a challenge, and with that my research began in earnest, starting within my personal library where I was able to find a short paragraph describing the Kantha technique in “World Textiles” by John Gillow and Bryan Sentance. It defined the technique as “quilted and embroidered cloths made from recycled fabric in Bihar, West Bengal and Bangladesh.” Two small images did not provide a better understanding despite using a powerful magnifying glass. A special trip to the library was unsuccessful, and since I was a committed ‘luddite’ Google searches were not something I resorted to until early 2000.

Eventually a dog-eared techniques book from England, Embroidered Textiles by Sheila Paine, fell into my hands when visiting a second-hand bookstore. Lo and behold – one short paragraph was devoted to Kantha. The technique was simply described as several layers of white or light coloured cotton cloth, such as saris, sewn/quilted together with predominantly white thread using successive rows of running stitches. Patterns and special motifs are outlined with black, blue or red thread in backstitch. Motifs include flowers, animals, scenes from rural life and sometimes even historical figures. The creation of the cloth was usually considered a ritual as it was used for ceremonial purposes.

Could it be this simple? The short answer is: Yes. Eventually I retrieved a copy of Piecework Magazine from January/February 1994 which featured a well-informed article with several excellent colour images of Kantha as well as a small project.

First Kantha Sample detail

First Kantha Sample detail. Photo courtesy Anna Hergert.

No time was wasted and I began with gathering simple supplies: three pieces of pale blue cotton, purple cotton floss, white rayon floss, basting thread, fabric marking pencil and embroidery needles. The stitches I needed to know were running and back stitches! I quickly embraced this simple yet versatile quilting technique and my first sample of three fish surrounding a pentagonal shape was completed. Filling in the shapes and the background with running stitches to create intriguing texture bordered on obsession on my part. What can I say? I love Kantha – the technique, the portability aspect of being able to bring my project along to meetings, doctors’ offices and even the possibility to stitch in the car are all strong reasons why I am passionate about Kantha!

By 2000 I was approached to teach Kantha for the first time. With my basic research I had enough information to share my knowledge in one and two day workshops. Classes were small and sporadic but year after year interest grew. I continued to immerse myself in new approaches of the technique and expanded my use and application of Kantha in a growing body of textile work. In 2001, I created one such variation by layering fabrics, including tulle and polyester sheer on hand dyed cottons to depict a landscape inspired by a postcard from Lake Powell, Arizona.

Lake Powell Kantha

Lake Powell Kantha. Photo courtesy Anna Hergert.

Variegated sewing threads added dimension and texture. In 2004, I incorporated the technique in one of my first large quilts (60” h x 42” w) titled After the Storm I. Quilting cotton, polyester sheers, tulle, and hand-dyed silk threads were combined successfully to depict an abstract cityscape. The texture created by using the Kantha technique resembled rivulets of water running down windowpanes during a storm and channels in the soil caused by erosion. After the Storm II followed in 2008. Both pieces caught the attentions of collectors and quickly sold.

To be continued.

Posted by: Cathy and Len

The cover of “Grandmother Power.”

We had an opportunity this evening to hear Paola Gianturco talk about her new book Grandmother Power.   It’s an interesting collection of stories and photos of grandmothers around the world who are uniting to improve the lives of others — in some cases their own grandchildren, in other cases children on the other side of the globe — in various ways.

Paola has also done a book about women changing the world through craft called In Her Hands.

Surayia is herself a grandmother, as well as someone who changed many lives through her re-imagining of the traditional quilting of Bengal, nakshi kantha.  We hope that, through the documentary Threads, the stories of Surayia’s art as well as the social story of the lives that were changed for the better by art, will be told to a wide audience.

Many thanks to the World Affairs Council of Seattle for organizing an interesting event.


Posted by: Cathy

Len and I had a great experience June 24 showing Surayia’s work and discussing it with members of the Greater Pacific Region, Embroiderers Guild of America (GPR – EGA) at their regional seminar in Tacoma, WA.  The level of skill that these embroiderers — who come from various parts of the western United States — have is remarkable.  Their interest in and appreciation of the work that goes into a nakshi kantha tapestry made for interesting and lively discussions.  We arrived at 7AM to set up and the day flew by as we discussed Surayia, Arshi, the women who made the tapestries, Bangladesh, the film project and many other subjects with at least 100 participants.

Discussing nakshi kantha tapestries “The Chess Players” and “Gypsy Wharf” with participants at the EGA regional seminar. Photo courtesy of Kantha Productions LLC.

The EGA has at its national headquarters in Louisville, KY, an impressive collection of embroidered works, many of which are hundreds of years old and some of which were on display in Tacoma for the seminar.   One of the pieces on display, we found out to our pleasure, is a Surayia-designed work called “Flora the Embroiderer” that was made by women of the Widows’ Project.  Surayia gave permission for this project, located in Tongi, to use some of her designs.  Sales of the tapestries help to support widows.  We were unable to visit the project on our last trip to Dhaka, but plan to do so on our next trip, which we hope will be soon.

(The curator of the EGA collection kindly allowed us to photograph “Flora,” but we neglected to ask for permission to post the picture to this blog.  Once we receive permission we will be able to share this interesting piece with you.)

In addition to the EGA national collection, GPR embroiderers attending the seminar and classes organized an exhibit of their own work, which covers a range of embroidery styles.  One thing each piece had in common was sophistication and beautiful execution.  Len and I were particularly impressed by the Japanese embroidery work.  Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the exhibit, but it is open to the public and will be on view at the Bicentennial Hall behind the Hotel Murano in Tacoma through June 27.



Posted by:  Cathy

We are pleased to see that Maiwa Handprints, of Vancouver, BC, will be featuring kantha, indigo and Bangladesh later this year.  On September 11, 2012, the Maiwa store on Granville Island will host a “Living Blue” exhibit with displays and discussion about indigo.  On September 12 and 13 at Maiwa East Anowarul Haq and Apurba Deb Roy will lead a workshop on kanthas.  On October 11 Mary Lance’s excellent documentary about indigo “Blue Alchemy” will screen in Vancouver, and Mary will be there to talk about her film.

Posted by:  Len

We recently came across this article from the Dhaka Daily Star and were pleased to see the Salesian Sisters being recognized for the excellent work that is being done at their embroidery center.  Along with Anil Advani we visited the center in Monipuripara several times during our trip to Dhaka in late 2010 and were very impressed by the high quality embroidery that we saw.

Intricate embroidery at the Salesian Sisters house in Dhaka. Photo copyright Anil Advani and Kantha Productions LLC.

Surayia gave her designs to the Salesians when she was no longer able to draw or stitch; Sister Elizabeth and her colleagues now oversee the embroidery of the women who used to work for Arshi.  The quality, from what we saw on our visit, remains high, and we understand that there continues to be strong consumer demand for nakshi kantha tapestries.

The Daily Star article includes a photo of one of Surayia’s designs, her interpretation of Rabindranath Tagore’s play “Shyama.”

We were also pleased to see a positive mention in the article of the Sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Cathy and I were frequent visitors to their house and chapel in Bashundara when we lived in Dhaka; Mother Luisa taught many young women how to embroider beautiful table linens.  The type of work done at OLS is very different from that of the Salesians, but it is all exquisite and the goal in each case is to help poor young women become self-sufficient, just as Surayia did.

Congratulations to Sister Elizabeth, Mother Luisa, and everyone in Bangladesh who helps to carry on the rich tradition of embroidery.