April 25 – July 20, 2023 • Library Gallery

Collection on loan from Cultural Cloth, Maiden Rock, WI

“Kantha, making whole again that which was fragmented or broken.”
-Crafts Museum, New Delhi

“In Bengal, mothers swaddle their infants and cover their beds in colorful textiles that are passed down through generations. They create these kantha from layers of soft, recycled fabric strengthened with running stitches and use them as shawls, covers, and seating mats.”
-From Pika Ghosh, Making Kantha, Making Home: Women at Work in Colonial Bengal (Global South Asia)

This rotating exhibition of vintage kantha quilts from West Bengal is on loan from Cultural Cloth in Maiden Rock, WI. Also on view in the library is a collection of books on the subject of stitching and mending, in support of the Mining Mending program.

Kantha roughly translates from Sanskrit to mean “rags”, referring to the vintage and reclaimed fabrics and the manner in which they are repurposed into quilts. These quilts are made from recycled sarees and other fabrics, layered and stitched together with thousands of small running stitches (stitched in parallel on these examples, as you will see) to secure the layers of cloth and then mended with additional layers of fabric as necessary due to time and wear. The surface patterns on these vintage quilts are the result of this patchwork of layers, many of them worn through to reveal the layer underneath. The quality of this “painterly” abstract imagery is the direct result of constant use of these quilts as beloved necessary personal articles and household objects. The running stitches in these Kantha are akin to the running stitch used in the more ancient form of Kantha embroidery, considered to having originated in West Bengal. However, these older embroideries involved an incredibly detailed practice of creating pictorial imagery and symbols using the stitch to outline and fill images and designs, which these more recent Kantha quilts do not have.

Textile Center acknowledges that the global recognition of Kantha, similar to that of Sashiko from Japan, has shifted our use of language and changed how artisans and appreciators refer to this work and these traditions. Please feel free to take a look at the books that our librarian, Nancy Mambi, has put out in reference to stitching practices that have originated within specific cultures, to learn more about the origins of the meanings, vocabulary, and techniques behind these traditions.

Join us for a special Art Speaks with Pika Ghosh on stitched kantha and celebrate her newest book, Making Kantha, Making Home: Women at Work in Colonial Bengal.

Register here for Art Speaks: “What is Kantha, Anyway?” with Pika Ghosh, Friday, June 23, 12 pm CT on Zoom.

This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Creative Support for Organizations grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
This exhibition is a part of our Mining Mending: Rethink, Reuse, Revive program — a series of exhibitions and events celebrating the powerful world of mending!