Posted by: Len

Cathy and I had the opportunity this week to talk about the film project to two groups in our area.  We both love these occasions; we get to speak to audiences about a subject that we are passionate about, and we get to show and describe Surayia’s artwork to people who have not seen it before.

On Monday the 22nd we were on Bainbridge Island speaking to a group of embroiderers who had become aware of Surayia’s work when we attended the Embroiderer’s Guild of America regional conference a few months ago.  Thank you for your interest, good questions and donation to the film project!

The next evening we gave a presentation about Bangladesh and the film project to a group in Gig Harbor interested in foreign travel.  That has resulted in an additional invitation to speak to a larger meeting of the group early in 2013.  Thanks to Louise for her tireless championing of our project!

We love talking to people about the film and how we came to be working on it, so if you know of a group with an interest in empowerment of women, embroidery, quilting, South Asia, or any of the many themes that the film touches on, please let us know and we’ll try to find a mutually convenient time to come speak.  You can always reach us by e-mail at:  info (at)

Posted by: Cathy

Len and I had the pleasure recently of speaking to a group at the new Harbor History Museum, not far from our home in Gig Harbor, Washington. We talked about Surayia, her artistic evolution, and its context — Bangladesh, traditional nakshi kantha, and Surayia’s re-imagining of a traditional craft as the finest tapestries in the world.

Our talk took place on the last day of a special exhibit at the Museum on quilting, so we focused on the quilting tradition of Bangladesh. We brought along several of Surayia’s pieces so that audience members could get an up-close look at the remarkable work done by the women of Arshi.

Following our presentation and questions, we showed the film trailer.

Many thanks to everyone who attended and to Vicki Blackwell of the Museum for her support and encouragement. Please keep spreading the word about the film!

Cathy discussing Bangladesh and Surayia's art. Two nakshi kantha tapestries are at right.

Posted by:  Cathy

The quilting tradition of Bengal (now divided into the country of Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal in India) is a long and rich one, but not one well known in North America or Europe.

For those interested in learning more about this remarkable history and the women involved, here are some resources:

Kantha:  The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal, edited by Darielle Mason, is an amazing book, beautifully produced and knowledgeably written.  It is the catalog for an exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art that Len and I were fortunate to be able to see in early 2010.  Many of the quilts in this book were collected by Stella Kramrisch; one of the first nakshi kantha tapestries that Surayia designed was based on a kantha in Kramrisch’s collection and was purchased by the Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka.  We saw it there in late 2010.

Very early Surayia nakshi kantha tapestry. Photo copyright Kantha Productions LLC

Deepa Balagopal’s blog is a rich source for anyone interested in stitching and embroidery, particularly that done in South Asia.  This post includes pictures of Surayia’s designs as well as a traditional kantha.

The Embassy of Bangladesh in Bahrain has a page devoted to kantha with a concise article on the history and traditions.  Unfortunately the photo link does not seem to work.  It would be interesting to see which art they have chosen, particularly since Surayia’s pieces were often purchased by the Government of Bangladesh in the 1990s and used as official gifts to heads of state, heads of government and other foreign dignitaries.

This post from the FhireDekha Forum gives a good overview of nakshi kantha and includes several photos of Surayia’s designs side-by-side with traditional work.

Our friend, Professor Niaz Zaman, had this to say about the quilting tradition and how Surayia adopted it and made it an art form:

The kantha is an indigenous quilt, made in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India, traditionally from stitching layers of old clothing, such as saris.   Everyday kanthas are used as bedcovers, baby blankets, clothes, wrappers for books, and other articles.  For special occasions such as weddings, kanthas are made as gifts and embroidered with scenes from legends, folktales, contemporary life, religious, floral, and symbolic motifs and border patterns.  Though each piece is different, most kanthas have a similar pattern, with a lotus at the center forming the focal point of the design. Embroidered quilts with artistic patterns have come to be known as nakshi kantha.  The main stitch used is the running stitch, but in a variety of ways, creating a variety of designs and textures.  Traditionally, red, black or blue yarn was predominantly used for motifs, with white yarn used for the background or field of the quilt.  However, the greater availability of colored yarn – generally cotton – has led to more variety of color.  After a period of dormancy, the nakshi kantha has seen a revival.  It is no longer only a domestic folk art meant for family members, but an art form for public display.

Surayia Rahman’s pieces follow the kantha tradition but with several changes.  Instead of old cotton, she uses silk. She also draws the designs of the entire piece before it is embroidered.  The running stitch is used for the empty spaces between motifs or scenes, but the motifs themselves are filled with the Romanian stitch, called in Bangladesh bhorat [filling].  Thread is typically rayon from bamboo, or silk.  She has been inspired by the poetry of Jasim Uddin and has also drawn scenes from rural life, history, as well as occasionally contemporary events for her pieces.

Let me know if you find other good resources on the history and traditions of quilting in Bengal!

What else would you like to learn about kantha?


Posted by:  Cathy

Len and I — accompanied by our friend Carolyn Wiley, who organizes the Fiber Arts Festival in Longbranch, Washington — had the opportunity to talk to a nearby quilt guild about traditional nakshi kantha of Bengal, Surayia’s art and the film.  One of the subjects we talked about was the link between traditional Bengali quilting and what Surayia created starting in the early 1980s when she imagined nakshi kantha stitching as some of the finest tapestries in the world.

Cathy discussing Surayia’s work at the Vashon Island Quilt Guild. Photo copyright Kantha Productions, LLC.

It was wonderful to have the opportunity to interact with so many knowledgeable quilters who could quickly understand the significance of both the design and the craftsmanship of the art that we brought to show.  We really appreciated the interest people showed and the questions they asked.

It was also a pleasure to have the opportunity to explore Vashon Island, Washington, before we had to catch a ferry to get back home.  Vashon is a great place, home to innovative  businesses like fair-trade shop Giraffe (“Beauty and Justice Hand In Hand”) and the incredibly well-stocked Island Quilter where one can get lost in batiks, polka dots and yarn of many types.  We plan to be back to visit soon.

We appreciate very much the generosity of everyone from the Quilt Guild who contributed to a donation to help us produce the film and to support creativity in life!  It is vital that we be able to regularly talk with Surayia in Bangladesh about the film story and to discuss her inspirations for various of her designs….and this community of women in Vashon have reached out to us to help make this happen.

Please spread the word about Surayia and the documentary-in-progress Threads to other quilters!