These inspired me to stitch and to make.
I have been using some of these beautiful silk threads in some of my samples, it's amazing to think about when they were last used and whose hands they were in.
It's a real inspiration to touch and use them.
We went to India just over a year ago, "let's go to India" we said, "let's experience the culture, the colour of the country, let's go by train... it'll be fun"
To be honest it was an amazing trip, the country was incredible, the sights were, at times, fantastic, the people were friendly. There was so much history, a country with people that have experienced so much in the last century.
We went to Kolkata, Darjeeling, Varanasi, Shimla, Agra and Delhi, and yes, we travelled by train.
Our first stop in India was Kolkata, and it was everything we had prepared ourselves for, from the sheer quantity of the human population who live and work there, to the crazy driving and the busy roads.
Our tour guide took us to all the sights in Kolkata during the days we spent there, and we persuaded him to take me to somewhere with textiles.
I had wanted to bring back two things from India, a piece of Khadi cloth and a piece of Kantha embroidery.
I will have to go back for the Khadi cloth.
(Note: Khadi cloth is a coarse homespun cotton cloth. It came to symbolise the movement started by Ghandi, the freedom struggle, which led the people of India to boycott foreign goods and promote those manufactured in India. Reference)
He took me straight away to a centre which made and sold Fairtrade products, Atisana CCWB (Crafts Council of West Bengal)
This centre supports women from the region, training them and selling their goods at a fair price.
It also aims to revive, preserve and support the traditional crafts that would otherwise be lost in a modernising society.
With the Kantha I was lucky although we nearly ended up without any money...............
We bought many things from Artisana: textiles: woven and embroidered; puppets and objects made from wood and palm fronds; paintings....
We met the artistsans that created some of our purchases:
|Beautiful artwork that tells a story in song|
The lady broke into song to tell us the story of the fish that are depicted in the artwork.
I chose two pieces of Kantha work, 1, a small single layered piece, and another, a larger more traditional piece, with three layers - it had possibilities of being a tablecloth or a bedspread, or just a piece of treasured textile that I would lovingly handle and look at from time to time.
Happy that I had chosen my embroidered pieces, I browsed through the other rooms of objects and artifacts. My husband appeared, he was agitated, "The bill is 120,000 rupees!!!!! That's all our money, forever."
We quickly realised our mistake, we hadn't noticed the last, but crucially important, zero. The one that took the bill from hundreds to thousands of pounds.
There was no decision to make, it was heartbreaking but true, we had to face the lady who had made the bigger of the pieces of Kantha work and tell her we had made an error.
She was resigned to our decision, but without looking closer we knew we had just elevated her earnings and bought her a comfortable life for a time.............and then turned around and taken it all away again.
We bought another, smaller piece. It has two layers of cloth, it is beautiful, it is intricate... I still think about the piece I left behind and the lady that made it.
The first piece:
|Kantha 45 x 42cm|
It is made entirely by hand by a lady from the Bengal region.
It is a modern piece made for sale, traditionally kantha was produced for use by the family.
It is made from a single layer of cream fabric decorated with colourful patterns and designs.
Kantha's with patterns and designs worked on them are known as Nakshi Kantha
|Detail of the cloth|
The picture depicts a tale of everyday rural life for a boy growing up.
He may go to school, but he will also tend to his animals.
The stitches used are the running or Kantha stitch, but also, satin, stem and herringbone.
|Closer detail of the stitching|
However this is a modern piece and is stitched with 2 strands of cotton, the base fabric is also cotton.
A sketch: My sketch from an image in the kantha cloth.
The outlines are drawn in black permanent marker, the 'stitches' drawn with a fine paintbrush and acrylic inks.
|My sketch, using inks and marker pen|
Using a viewing frame, I selected a small area from the drawing.
I then repeated and rotated the image on the computer:
|Repeat design of the Kantha work|
The second piece:
|Kantha 90 x 100cm|
Again it is modern and made for commercial reasons.
It is made from two layers of fabric with decorative Kantha stitching done by hand.
|Detail of the cloth|
Because this fabric has been created with two layers of fine cotton, the fabric begins to ripple with the kantha stitching.
|Detail of the stitching|
This piece was worked in stranded cotton, and you can see where the design had been drawn on as a guide to work from when stitching.
Today the patterns are drawn on, tracing the design onto the cloth.
Originally the design would be outlined using needle and thread, then the focal points would have been worked and then the filling motifs.
In a design like this, the central motif would have been worked first, from the centre out, followed by the corners. (link look under "Kantha making" in the link).
I drew two sketches of the motifs that are featured in the kantha cloth.
The first is drawn using black permanent marker pen and acrylic inks.
|Sketch drawn with marker pen and acrylic ink|
The second is outlined in black permanent marker and coloured using watercolour paints.
The watercolour paints were softer and more subdued in colour than the acrylic inks.
|Sketch drawn in marker pen and watercolour|
The third piece: This was a piece of kantha that I bought in Saudi Arabia, it has been crafted in India and uses some of the more traditional methods of making kantha.
|Silk wrap with kantha stitching, 85 x 215cm|
The original sari fabrics have been recycled to make my wrap.
The kantha stitching is made up of bands of orange stitching, next to bands of black stitching.
The fabric is rippled from the effects of the kantha work.
|Detail of the stitching|
All three of these pieces hold a special memory for me, the wrap introduced me to the beauty of the work, the other two pictorial pieces introduced me to the lives of the women from Bengal and the stories that they tell in their stitching.
I bought the bedspread in India too... I may have not been entirely truthful when I said that I just wanted two things from India.
My love of stitching came from my childhood, my mother taught me to stitch and in turn I have taught my own daughter.
We have a shared history with these women from Bengal, although their expertise has a longer history than mine.
During our travels across northern India I kept a diary, the kantha work inspired my pages. Along with the written word I made notes using images of the world around me. Here are some of my pages:
|Leaving Kolkata for Darjeeling|
|Tiger Hill, Darjeeling|
This was also the day I met the women from Tibet, refugees who were busy spinning and weaving.
|Darjeeling to Kolkata|
This page shows the bustling city and the incredible Kolkata train station.
Although I chose three pieces, their lives were intertwined by a common theme, that of the women who made them.
The stitches I make are for my enjoyment and my education, the stitches these women have made are to feed, clothe, and educate their families.
An addition to this post is made here following my tutor's report.
I have featured the work of Jean Draper and Dorothy Tucker who are contemporary artists using Kantha as a source of inspiration in some of their pieces.