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Kantha is more than a quilt. It is a symbol.

A symbol of a changing state, a changing nation, and a changing consciousness.

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This embroidered textile has traditionally held a firm place in the privacy of the Bengali home. It was made from the borders of used saris and rags, making use of every bit of unwanted thread. The clothes that were once worn by the family became coverlets, prayer mats, and stitched commemorations. They were meant for one’s family and friends. A personal act of gift giving and communication that was practiced by women throughout Bengal.

Since India’s partition and the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, Kantha has garnered a new identity in West Bengal. The textiles have become an object of monetary compensation for village women as nongovernment-organizations begin programs that teach, commission, and sell this craft.

Whether the Kantha is seen as an empowerment tool for the Bengali woman or just another job available to the people of West Bengal, the craft has become a commercial object.

We must look at who this textile has affected, and why the women involved find it so important in their lives. Only then can we examine the ideologies and concepts that motivate and drive the practices of those NGOs that have revived this textile.

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(click the names of the people and organizations as they appear in the videos below to learn more!)

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Kantha. the embroidery. the stitch. the quilt.

“I can’t say, you know, Kantha is a light coverlet. It’s history. It’s a way of life. It’s to give, to share.”

- Shabnam Ramaswamy of SSI

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The Nongovernment-Organization. the needs and the practice.

“It has become a great source of livelihood in Bengal now, Kantha. In district by district, they are doing it.”

- Ruby Palchoudluri of CCWB

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A New Kantha. the changes.

“Ingenuity lies in each girl’s hands; how she is able to use the same stitch in a different manner.”

- Shamlu Dudeja of SHE

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Empowerment.

“Livelihood generation in isolation can’t change women’s lives.”

- Dolon Ganguly of JDS