Kantha: Women Stitching Stories in Thread

Kantha is an embroidery and stitching technique from Eastern India that makes use of a simple running stitch to create beautiful and complex textile pieces. Here, we follow Kantha artist Deepa Guha Thakurta, as she explains the extraordinary history of this craft — and the freedom it inspires in its makers to this day

“Kantha is a household craft that is widely practiced by the women of West Bengal, mainly from rural areas, for household purposes,” explains Etsy maker and Kantha artist Deepa Guha Thakurta. Referring to both the technique and the finished textile, Kantha uses a type of running stitch to mend worn fabrics, quilt together scraps and create fine motifs and narrative patterns on cotton and silks. Serving many functions, it is for one a practice of “reuse and recycle” and a rich artistic medium used by its makers to reflect on their worlds.

One of the most important craft forms from Eastern India, Kantha textiles represent the lived reality of women from rural Bengal in great detail and breadth. Historically practiced during leisure time, the technique continues to be used to make a range of household items from handkerchiefs to quilts. To traditional motifs like “elephants, lotus flowers, waves and paddy sheaves” that have been carried over generations, artists continue to add new patterns and narratives, scenes ranging from the circus with animals and acrobats to the railway stations at Shantiniketan.

While Kantha has been traced back to more than a thousand years ago, it came into mainstream Indian consciousness only in the 1940s, owing to the efforts of Pratima Devi, Rabindranath Tagore’s daughter-in-law who was an artist and painter herself. In this Etsy film, we follow makers like Thakurta, who are forwarding the art of Kantha today.

This film featuring Kantha artist Deepa Guha Thakurta was produced by Etsy India as part of its commitment to highlight the artists behind the lesser-known Indian artforms on its platform. As a global marketplace for unique and creative goods, Etsy’s mission is to ‘Keep Commerce Human’ and use the power of business and technology to strengthen communities and empower people around the world.