Something Bengali in the Border?



Are you familiar with Kantha? 

Kantha is a type of embroidery that originated over 500 years ago in Bangladesh, parts of West Bengal and other eastern states of India. The word Kantha, pronounced’kahn-taa’ means ‘rags’ and it’s function was similar to our Western tradition of patching articles in the home. Poor Bengali women took their old pieces if cloth and sewed them together using a simple running stitch, to make double sided whole quilts (without wadding) to keep their family warm.Grandmothers would also stitch these for their grandchildren as the quilts were said to have talismanic properties, keeping children safe. These days, Kanthas are also made for the export market using vibrant, repurposed sari material, for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Lightbulb Idea!

I am always looking for something different to incorporate into an English Paper Pieced quilt, so, I thought, why not Kantha? I have been exploring different ways of creating EPP borders lately (and have begun a Pinterest board just for borders at and so I decided to experiment with a simple running stitch borrowed from Kantha and incorporate this into a design for a border.

How to Begin:

Draw a panel on a white piece of cloth, remembering to add 2 pencilled frames around it. The inside line is the fold line where it will be wrapped over a piece of paper. The second pencil line shows where to cut to leave enough fabric to fold behind the panel. Then draw your pattern. I drew a cat chasing a rabbit. I used a mechanical pencil, not the best idea, because when I wanted to erase a part of the cat’s face, it left a mark on the fabric. IMG_6797 I have a disappearing pen but the lines it makes tend to disappear before I have finished stitching. I now realise that if I must erase a pencil line I need to rub down into the area that will be stitched over and avoid rubbing into the background. Lesson learned.

I put my piece of cloth into an embroidery hoop and began outlining the rabbit, Bengali style, using a simple running stitch.IMG_6800 I worked away from my body in the traditional way, loading my needle with three or four stitches before I pulled my needle through.

Other Possibilities:

Rather like Japanese Sashiko stitching, Kantha includes many other decorative stitches based on the running stitch, usually seen in pictorial work like wall hangings. I was born in West Bengal and have one of these in my hall. It’s one my mother bought, years later, in Bangladesh. It shows a much greater range of stitches than those found on Kantha quilts:


Next Steps & Experiments:

Back to the EPP border: I wasn’t sure how small or close together to make the stitches so I tried making the stitches smaller and closer together on the cat than on the rabbit.

IMG_6801  The larger stitches were much easier and I think they look better but the trick is to get the stitches evenly spaced. One I finished the outline, I started filling in the bodies of the animals. In the rabbit, I stuck to running stitches going more or less in the same direction but experimented with some going in different directions in the cat. I tried two different colours of embroidery floss (3 strands) in the rabbit, one to outline and  one to fill in, but used all the same colour in the cat.



This is the first time I’ve done this and it obviously needs more practice. I can already see what I could do better but it’s fun and easy enough to be worth a try, and if you had animals like these chasing all around your quilt edge, would anyone really be looking hard at all the stitches? If using running stitch as a filler seems a chore to do in a long border, try small stitches like seed or rice stitch as fillers.

Finishing Off:

I added some grass, took the cloth out of the embroidery hoop, cut out the panel along with its seam allowance and wrapped this over a rectangle of paper the size of the inside frame marked in pencil. Then I basted it all the way around (you can see these basting (tacking) stitches in the picture above. Now it’s ready to become part of a border in a quilt.

Worried about Drawing?

If you are worried about your drawing, as many people are, please don’t be. I am sure you could create a cat, house or tree out of simple shapes, or a series of shapes like moons and stars, or trace a design from an embroidery pattern. The possibilities are endless.

Till next time…….



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