Indian Embroidery can be traced back to some examples found in the remnants of the Indus Valley civilization. This means it could be thousands of years old.
Mostly the embroidery during those times were geometrical patterns. It was the Mughal and Persian rule that introduced floral motifs into Indian embroidery resulting in the famous Phulkari embroidery.
Indian Embroidery are of various types, broadly classified by what they depict.
Embroidery that patronized the rulers and the royal court - examples are the Zardozi and Chikankari from Uttar Pradesh.
Embroidery that displayed folk tales or the rural life - example is the Katwa work from Bihar as well as Rumals depicting Mithila. Kutch embroidery is also a type of folk embroidery.
Temple Embroidery especially from Deccan region and South India - examples are Kasuti from Karnataka, Picchwai embroidery.
Trade embroidery that included quilting, mochi work, cushion work, curtain work etc.
So broadly Indian embroidery encompasses a whole lot of handiwork like cloth embroidery, quilting, gold and silver embroidery, mirror work, applique and patch work and many more styles. Indian embroidery is not just restricted to fabrics but even to objects of daily use. Every region and every artisan will have a story to say about the way the craft originated and evolved.
Kantha work from West Bengal is such a craft that has many stories about it. The origin of the name itself has many versions. Our artisans from Burdwan district say that the original needle used to do this embroidery was a long pointed needle called "Kaathi" in Bengali. The name "Kantha" originated from this needle. As for others, the name Kantha originated from a Sanskrit word that meant "rags" as the initial purpose of this form of embroidery was to stitch together several old and cast away saris or dhoti pieces together to form quilt covers, mats for religious functions etc. Kantha work was mainly done for home use and slowly died out in the first quarter of the twentieth century.
But the revival of Kantha work has happened due to the efforts of several women who has made it valuable again for export purposes as well as for trade in the tourist market. The fabric industry has also included this revival with beautiful sarees and dupattas featuring Kantha embroidery.
The traditional pattern of Bengal Kantha work has a Lotus in the centre and four buttis or trees at the corners, to symbolise the Universe. The rest of the embroidery includes either nature or other religious scenes. Generally the embroidery is formed by a simple running stitch design and then the details are filled with satin and stem stitch.
Initially Kantha was used on Cotton or Silk. But now it is used on other fabrics such as Satin, Crepe, Georgette etc.
It is not difficult to maintain a Kantha work saree. We advise a first time Dry clean to preserve the cotton thread colours used in the embroidery. For later washes, Normal hand wash with a delicate detergent is adequate and will preserve the longevity of the fabric as well as the embroidery.
Shubhsarini Collections has Kantha work sarees in Cotton as well as Satin made from artificial silk.