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kantha, quilt


Core Record

Object Name kantha, quilt
Collection Goldsmith Textile Collection & Constance Howard Gallery: Object Collection
Date late 20th century
Brief Physical Description A lively Kantha depicting what could be a group of acrobats surrounded by vine flowers and birds catching snakes all contained by a decorative geometric border. The whole design is achieved mainly by running stitch. Select this link for more description information.
Id Number Current Accession 4176
Location Creation Site Bengal
Subject embroidery, quilts, quilt, panel, kantha, Bangladesh
Measurements Dimensions 500mm x 650mm
Number Of Items 1
Materials Used (aat) cotton
Content And Subject Information “These are the kanthas or quilts which come from Bengal, that is, the old undivided Bengal, the old united India. They were mainly made in East Bengal, which is now modern Bangladesh.The kanthas are made by stitching together sometimes up to seven layers of old cotton saris or dhotis. Bengali dhotis are usually predominantly white with a woven border that is red, black and green. The myth is that they would take some of the border threads and chain some of the quilting stitches to make patterns. The patterns could be birds, flowers, human figures, political figures, circus figures, anything, examples of Bengali folk life. I [John Gillow] even have one of an American sailor who has just come in on an aircraft carrier in 1943, naked holy men – all kinds of wonderful things.The background stitches would be in white cotton and then when they wanted to outline a thing they would do it with chain stitches and then when they were ready to put in the images they world do it with red or black thread for example. Some images were quite primitive, I have a picture of a mare with an x-ray picture of its foal in its belly – they are quite wonderful. They died out really with Partition in 1947 and after the Bangladesh War in 1971 a Canadian Aid Group went to an area that didn't traditionally make kanthas at all and collected together a group of Muslim women and got them to make pretty simplified kanthas as tourist pieces, cushion covers, bags etc. the usual kind of aid group type stuff and they were based on a Collection that was made by a wonderful woman called Stella Kramrish [sp;] who collected for the Philadelphia Museum of Art in America. The V&A have some and various collectors including myself have some very fine ones. To the question: can you tell us why they were made originally;“They were made as quilts; some of them were heavy quilts some were summer quilts where you just need a light quilt to keep the chill off you. Some of them were the usual kind of vanity articles that women will make in all cultures, cases for mirrors, wraps for precious objects, also they would make for their husbands – Hindu women would either make, or commission Muslim women to make for them special mats that their husband would sit at when he was doing Puja, that is, doing religious ceremonies. It was all really basic recycling for rural people and as with a lot of embroidery in what, for want of a better word is the Third World, if you are a farming family there are periods of the year when you are very, very busy and there are periods when you are sitting around waiting for the crops to grow. During these periods the women would get up very early, get up at five and get all the household tasks done by eight and during the hot hours of the day when it is too hot to do anything if you don't have to, they would sit and sew.”To the question: Is there any religious restrictions on the imagery, a lot of the other textiles we have looked at they haven't been allowed to;“Once you get into Bengal and further into South East Asia, although they are Muslims they are very much more Liberal in Western Christian terms, figuratively its much more free.”Information given in an audio taped interview between John Gillow, collector, Margaret Hall-Townley and Janet Anderson. The recording is held at the Constance Howard Resource & Research Centre in Textiles. Recorded: June 21st 2001.John GillowJohn Gillow, traveler, collector and writer with special knowledge of Asian embroidered textiles.Margaret Hall-TownleyCurator for Material Collection, Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles at Goldsmiths College, University of London.Janet AndersonArtist, lecturer and collector with a special knowledge of Asian Textiles.
Production Information Made by the women in a domestic situation from recycled white dhotis or cotton saris. Made originally as winter and summer quilts for domestic use and latterly for the Aid Agencies as a decorative item for sale to bring in an income.
Rights Goldsmiths College, University of London. Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles.
Techniques Used (aat) quilting
Techniques Used (CH) running stitch, satin stitch, feather stitch, fly stitch



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