Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On Inspiration from Indian Kanthas

Rags + a sewing needle + imagination & love + a lot of time. Kanthas are not just quilts. They are traditionally living evolving creations and their making is a long process, sometimes life-long or even spanning generations. Kanthas are the ultimate recycling or upcycling projects as they are made from old worn saris (the Sanskrit word kontha means 'rags') sewn together into a desired size cloth and later embroidered with threads also drawn from old saris.
Like traditional embroidery in all world cultures kantha embroideries are full of spiritual meaning. They personify the love of a woman for her loved ones. The photo is from Asian Embroidery (see below).




The making. Both preparatory work and embroidery were often done by more than one woman. First the old worn soft cloths were layered on the ground and carefully smoothed down, the sides of it pinned together with date thorns and the corners held down by weights. Then a central ornament was embroidered (freehand if done by an experienced embroider), followed by the corner and border motifs, followed by motifs chosen by the woman to fill the rest of the spaces. Then each shape and each curve of the ornament already embroidered would be followed with the simplest of stitches, running stitch,which would completely fill the entire background creating amazing reliefs and textures, ripples and whirls making the motifs stand out from the background, totally transforming what used to be old rags. The colours were a choice of the craftswoman, the background usually white so is the thread used in the running stitch. In the photo above I attempted to use running stitch on the wing of my Bird of Paradise in a way similar to that they would use on kanthas to create that ripple effect.  Incidentally the transparent grey fabric on the wing, is from a piece of a vintage sari.

The subject motifs could be anything from epics and legends, to everyday scenes, text (verse, names, sentences) all usually having a symbolic meaning. The central motif is usually Lotus, with paisleys or trees of life in the four corners; the other motifs may be flora and fauna, kitchen utencils, toiletries, vehicles, etc. Many of the images have significance in other cultures, like the Tree of Life, symbolizing the fecundity of life. I would like to write about it separately, in the next post.

These days kantha-making is unavoidably commercialized, the production methods are simplified, the designer and the maker are no longer the same person, kanthas are no longer unique individual records of personal meanings and experiences...

These 2 photos are from Vamoos.
The main source of all of the above is the book Asian Embroidery by Jasleen Dhamija, a single copy of which (presented to the library and signed by the Indian Embassador Ireland) is available in the Ilac Centre Dublin.

No comments: