Try Your Hand at Kantha Stitching

Kantha Quilting

Ever fancied having a go at hand quilting, but don’t know where to start?

Kantha stitching is a lovely stitching technique to have a go at and you can go as simple or as creative as you like. I tried it for the first time recently and thought I’d share my experience with you.

Kantha stitching originates from the Eastern regions of India, specifically Bangladesh, west Bengal, Tripura and Odisha.

Image courtesy of Google Images

In Odisha, old Saris are stacked one on top of another and hand stitched to make a thin piece of cushioning. Kantha stitching is also used to make simple quilts. In Bengal, the women typically layered old saris and cloth and stitched them together with Kantha stitching to make light blankets, throws or bedspreads.

The traditional form of Kantha embroidery or quilting was done with a simple running stitch along the edges of the piece. However in some cases the whole of the fabric is covered with running stitches with motifs of flowers, animals, birds, geometric shapes and themes of every day activities.

Image courtesy of Google Images

Kantha stitching gives the fabric a slightly wrinkled, wavy effect which I took full advantage of in the design of my sample – the photo of which you can see above. I designed this small 10″ sample based on a trip Nige and I took to Bosherston Lily Ponds in Pembrokeshire – very worth going to if you’ve never been.

Bosherston Lily Ponds – this photo was the inspiration for my sample piece above

A Little History of Kantha Stitching

‘Kantha’ means ‘rags’ in Sanskrit which reflects the fact that the cloth for Kantha embroidery is made up of discarded garments; the ultimate in recycling and upcycling!

The word “Kantha” also means ‘throat’ and was named due to its association with the Hindu deity Lord Shiva (he was poisoned and his throat turned blue!).

Kantha stitching is one of the oldest forms of embroidery that originated in India, but Kantha as we know it today was first referenced in Krishnadas Kaviray’s 500 year old book – ‘Chaitanya Charitamrita‘. The original motifs used were reflective of, or depicted, nature and the universe; it was only much later that Kantha stitching started to have cultural or religious significance. It’s now used in ceremonies and special religious occasions, including weddings and births.

Image courtesy of Google images

Give Kantha Stitching a go…

Kantha stitching uses running stitches that either run parallel to or alternate with each other. You need to aim for the the same length stitches as the gaps in between them.

Kantha Parallel Stitching
Kantha Alternate Stitching

When you stitch Kantha, the idea is to rock the needle in and out of the fabric so you make a few stitches in one go. I found this easier in some places rather than others, but then I would never put myself down as a ‘natural’ hand sewer, so you may be far more successful at that than me. On the areas that I did get it right, the stitching becomes exceedingly quick.

Other stitches that are commonly used in Kantha stitching are Satin Stitch, Arrowhead stitch, Buttonhole stitch, Chain stitch and Kashmiri stitch (all easy to find on You Tube and Google).

I used standard embroidery stranded cotton for my sample, and a fairly big embroidery needle with a large eye and a sharp point. If you choose to use Kantha stitching for your quilting you will need to be able to pierce the three layers of your quilt sandwich, so you need a needle that’s up to the job.

The trouble I found with the stranded cotton is that it can knot up easily; this can be overcome by using thread conditioner. That said, when I try Kantha stitching on a quilt, I’ll use a thicker (single stranded) thread instead, such as perle cotton or a hand quilting thread (which is pre-waxed), or even Sashiko thread which is lovely to sew with and much thicker than embroidery thread. Using those threads should eliminate the issues I had with the stranded cotton.

I discovered once I had stitched my sample that I had inadvertently used Glow in the Dark thread! Who knew that existed, because I definitely didn’t?!? 🙂 I only spotted this when I had turned off my sewing room light and found my water lily glowing merrily at me in the dark:

Glow in the Dark thread – isn’t it pretty?

Kantha stitching is wonderfully addictive, although which part of sewing isn’t (!), and very easy. Why not try a small sample on a 10″ quilt sandwich then try Kantha quilting for your next quilty project?

Do let me know how you get on and share your Kantha samples in the comments below – I’d love to see them.

See you next time,