I was always fascinated by the beautiful kanthas (soft, cotton made embroidered quilts). Even today mas and didas (mothers & grandmothers) of Bengal keep old, cotton saris and cloth to layer them with kantha stitching (very tiny and subtle ‘run’ stitches) for the new arrivals in homes. These mas and didas would remind you of tuntuni pakhi (tailor bird) who deftly pierces and sews the edge of the leaf with the leaf fiber to cradle a nest for its little ones.


Then came a time when these stitches began to show up in cotton and silk saris. You’d find all kinds of intricate designs, patterns and motifs done in kantha stitch on the sari with carefully selected threads. Specially in the Pujas everyone had to have a kantha stitch sari. One year, I also bought one blue silk kantha stitch sari with stone age motifs all over it. Threads were black, white and orange.


Some wanted to go beyond patterns. They wanted to speak through their stitches. At first their love for mythical characters and happenings found space in the long silk drape, like we see in the ‘Baluchari’ saris. Slowly their narrative art embroidered their own thoughts and stories.


This has happened in many places in India, specifically in Gujarat where an artist once stitched how she had crossed border, lived in refugee camps in desert, rebuilt her life, lost everything in a devastating earthquake and began once more. May be the stitches were not kantha stitches of Bengal but they were stitches of blood, struggle and toils.




Posted for Telling Tales with Magaly Guerrero: A Pantry of Prose, #6 ~ Stitches in 259 words


13 thoughts on “Stitches

  1. This is an intriguing kind of art; narrative art embroidered. I think it is one of the profound ways to tell one’s story as seen from the artist you mentioned; stitching devastating events in her life. I also enjoyed reading about how the kantha stitch evolved over the years, and carrying on something of a family ritual.

  2. Thank you for sharing your knowledge about this lovely type of craft. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it sounds so beautiful. I loved that you told us about some of the textile tales behind this type of embroidery too.

  3. Oh, that ending… I love that I can see the beauty of the stitches all through the story, I can understand their value, and how these things make me feel the end more real. Very effective structure.

  4. What a wonderful story of “stitches of blood, struggle and toils”. I learned a lot about embroidery today. Most enlightening, especially of the “tuntuni pakhi”.. I can see this bird in my mind and also, the embroidery of the saris. A beautiful story.

  5. I enjoyed immersing myself in your words, Sumana, and description of the traditional patterns, materials and saris you describe. I love the comparison of the mas and didas with the tailor bird, the idea of ‘speaking through stitches’, and the anecdote of the Gujarati artist who stitched her refugee journey in ‘stitches of blood, struggle and toils’.

  6. Wow, such a wealth of culture in stitching. I had no idea there was this detail in a sari. the idea of a story being woven into fabric is lovely- like a quilt. Beautiful.

  7. This stitch appreciation and history filled a hunger in me. “These mas and didas would remind you of tuntuni pakhi (tailor bird) who deftly pierces and sews the edge of the leaf with the leaf fiber to cradle a nest for its little ones.””

  8. i loved learning the details of the kantha stitch on saris and the stories that are told in them. The ending is stunning and beautiful Sumana! Lovely and heartfelt writing, I love it!

Thank You :)

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