Oh! Calcutta

Oh! Calcutta

Greetings from India where Kris and Libby are on a textiles tour (well, it’s a food and shopping tour as well…)

Our visit to Kolkata is focused on two aspects of textiles production: Kanthan embroidery and hand loom weaving. Once we penetrate the dust and the traffic gridlock we enter small design workshops, simple houses and craft centres to get a better understanding of these techniques.

Kantha is basically a running stitch pattern and was used to recycle old saris. Threads from the border were pulled out and used to stitch together two layers of cloth in a delicate pattern which created a new art form. These quilts were used in several ways such as bedspreads, wallets and cloths for wrapping babies. On older kantha, there was usually a central mandala of a hundred petalled lotus, surrounded by other images. These images were reflecting what the women saw around them in their everyday experience, recollected as they gathered together around the fabric, sharing the embroidery work. The stitch is now used on new fabrics, with a variety of  motifs, continuing its decorative function.

This is a nineteenth century kantha from the Gurusaday Museum:

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Detail of C19 Kantha, Gurusaday museum

Detail of C19 Kantha, Gurusaday museum

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At Panchanna Gram, a women’s cooperative, and Sasha, an outlet for craftspeople all over India, we saw kantha with a contemporary twist as women responded to what they see around them – buses, helicopters, bridges and children playing. The women work to commissioned designs or co-create some of their own.     At Artisana, an NGO run by the Craft Council of West Bengal we saw kantha inspired by old Portuguese images from Goa.

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A woman from the cooperative doing kantha. 

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A contemporary kantha bedspread at Sasha.

Khadi, the process of hand spinning and hand weaving cotton has a long tradition although for a time Indian cotton was exported to Manchester depriving local craftsmen of their income and making the product unaffordable for locals. It was Ghandi who motivated the nation to revive the skills of weaving. Now hand looming is still operating in some areas but soon these will disappear and mechanised looms, with their faster production, will predominate.

After a half day bus trip – you get a fair picture of the state of the roads when you hear that it took three hours to travel 90 kms – we visited the villages of Fulia and Shantipur near the Bangladeshi border. Here there is a long tradition of hand loom weaving. We saw spinning, dying and weaving as village industries, with beautiful weaving patterns such as jamdani which is as intricate as embroidery.

 

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At Weavers Studio, another craft cooperative, we saw block printing, screen printing, hand loom weaving and embroidery, all under one roof.

 

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Comments

  1. ros moxham says:

    Kris,
    What a wonderful trip. You words and photos make me envious. Can’t wait to se some of the textiles in the flesh. Cheers
    Ros

  2. Brilliant. A great way to include those who can’t be there in your travels.

  3. Fantastic Kris!
    Looks as if you’re enjoying the trip and seeing something of India that most tourists miss.
    Great photos too!
    Looking forward to hearing the full version when you get home and seeing the textiles up close.
    Cheers,
    Alison

  4. Geri Lazarus says:

    Kris
    that looks so interesting! It is typical India – you pay for everything one way or another, wonderful textile workshops – but bad roads before….
    I am working on the Japanese version which is called Sashiko, used for the same purpose, to re-work fabrics which are worn. I am thinking (too busy knitting) about doing something when my sashimi stitches improve.
    Keep on enjoying the trip!

  5. How beautiful!! And what an interesting account of your travels, Kris. If this is what not working is all about, then I am all for it!! Hope there are lots more photos and stories to come…. Thanks, Marianne

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