Archives for the month of: July, 2019

I have a photograph of a male stickleback, in my sketch book.

I saw the image in the ” Landscape ” magazine and for some reason that I could not articulate, I tore it out and carried it with me, probably for months. I liked to open my sketch book and study the image. Somehow, it was comforting to  look at.

The photograph reminded me of playing in the water of Leith as a child where I would see sticklebacks or “tiddlers”  flitting about the water. These were the fresh water sticklebacks, with hardly any scales as compared to the salt water sticklebacks who have some scales (or armor.) When the male stickleback is in breeding season, he turns bright red and then prepares a nest in the river out of weeds for the female fish. After the female lays her eggs, he fertilizes the eggs and then guards the nest until the eggs hatch.

Last month, when I taught the kantha embroidery class at Revolution Mill, we were discussing the personal symbols that were used by the women in kantha embroidery in India and Bangladesh.We had examples of images of fish, turtles, birds and dancing ladies.

I decided to demonstrate the kantha embroidery technique with my own symbol, rather than the example in the book. And there it was, my own personal symbol in my sketch book-waiting for me.  I understand now that my stickleback represents associations and memories to do with :- finding a homeland; family relationships, the drive to find and build a new home, the drive for security, protection and vulnerability.

The question is this: can I create images based on my personal symbols that will resonate with other viewers?

stickleback on white cotton

stickleback with flowers on fabric base of hand painted silk and silk scarf-  work in process

 “Inspiration Kantha” by Anna Hergert

Creative Stitchery and Quilting with Asia’s Ancient Technique

Everywhere you look, there is kantha cloth- made into quilts, bags and clothing and mostly sewn from upcycled saris. I have two beautiful pieces covering my couch, in my porch.The majority of what we see for sale, is the most basic kantha cloth with  lines of running stitches, holding layers of recycled fabrics together. Beautiful as this is, there is so much more to kantha’s than the basic straight line running stitch. I highly recommend Anna Hergert’s book for anyone interested in learning more about this fascinating technique.


is like a personal diary, a letter one writes to a particular person, and is not meant to be read by all. In East Bengal the kantha was a personal expression, an art-craft that was made spontaneously, even whimsically. It was never commissioned by rulers, nor ordered by the landed gentry. No two pieces are the same. It was the craft that was practised by women of all rural classes, ….The kantha is an invocation to the gods and spirits for the prosperity and protection of the family. A real kantha is able to narrate a story, and is much more compact in design, and is made out of used materials. It has been passed on for generations, from mothers to daughters, and is largely a dowry tradition”  Krishnadas Kavira

Traditionally, kanthas are made out of layers of recycled fabrics, usually thin layers of silk saris, stitched together with running stitch to form a warm and firm covering. There are many different types of kanthas and there are many variations of applying the running stitch.

The first sample of kantha embroidery is based on examples described in “Inspiration Kantha”. There are three layers of silk fabrics ( which are from old silk scarves) with a simple motif of a fish. The outline of the fish is made with the kantha outline stitch.  Inside the fish is a circle which is filled with the stitch called jhing phool meaning “flower of the ridge gourd”  The stitches around the circle are called a running stitch pattern called dorma which is rows of different spaced running stitches to create tactile interest. The background is filled with running stitch that echoes the shape of the fish- the stiches are sewn parallel to the previous row and create a wave-like or rippled effect. This sample was stitched with sewing thread.


The second sample is the Jaal bird with a variation of the Jaal stitch in the form. It is three layers of re-purposed silk scarves. The bird is outlined with the kantha outline stitch and the background is the running stitch, following the form of the bird.  In this piece, there are embroidery threads and sewing threads

So you can see that you can add a lot of texture and color by varying the thickness of the threads and combination of running stitches.

For me, Kanthas are exciting because it’s more like a drawing technique. The running stitch is simple to learn yet capable of creating very complex combinations. I love the fact that the ground fabric is an important part of the design too, unlike punch needle and tapestry where the ground fabric is completely covered.






















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