Saree embroidery - 1 - Kantha Bengali embroidery

India, the land of the saree, has a long history and tradition of embroidered sarees.  The ubiquitous saree in a variety of fabrics lends itself beautifully to a myriad of embroidery and embellishment techniques.  Embroidery styles in India are as diverse as the religions followed and the languages spoken in the country. Almost every region of India has a distinct style of embroidery, practiced since generations together.

I present here from my collection of my hand-embroidered sarees, which though take up a lot of time and patience, give lasting satisfaction and amazing results.

My green cotton saree with Kantha embroidery                                   
My Kantha embroidery saree

Kantha embroidery from West Bengal - Introduction:
Kantha' is a traditional embroidery style of Bengal, involving simple, running stitches. Kantha work originated in Bengal for making quilts out of waste fabric. The word 'Kantha', in fact, means 'embroidered quilt' in Bengali. The Bengalis used to arrange pieces of fabric in layers and stitch them together into a quilt using a running stitch, which later began to be known as Kantha work. This quilt would be used either to sleep on or as a blanket to cover oneself. Bengali women used to make use of old silk and muslin sarees for making quilts in this manner, instead of throwing them away.

References in literature indicate that Kantha embroidery has been in vogue for over 5 centuries. Mention about Kantha work has been made in the work Sri Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita by Krishnadas Kaviraj, which was written during this period. This is perhaps the oldest reference to Kantha work. It is also believed that Lord Buddha and his disciples used to patch rags together in a similar fashion, and make a quilt to cover themselves.

Both simple as well as elaborate motifs can be used in Kantha work. Usually, images of gods and goddesses, flowers, animals as well as geometric patterns are used as motifs in this kind of embroidery. 

In my saree, the embroidery pattern is repeated throughout the saree pallu and continues onto the border throughout the length of the saree.

Saree border
The leaves and flowers are in herringbone stitch, and the birds and tendrils in running stitch, which are typically used in Kantha embroidery. 
Saree pallu
A closeup of the pallu corner and border
The web offers plenty of designs for saree embroidery.  Check out these websites offering free patterns to get your creative juices flowing:

Here are some easy instructions for hand embroidery on sarees >>


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