Kantha, the traditional embroidery stitch Indian women have used for centuries, is a simple way to add hand embellishment to your home. Originating in West Bengal, the Kantha stitch has become a culturally significant art in India beginning with its early stages seen in primitive art and then later as it became an integral part of Hinduism religious events, such as weddings and births. Kantha has long been an art practiced by rural women. A simple craft to pass time or add a personal touch to one’s home, Kantha is a symbol of traditional Indian culture.
At its core, the Kantha stitch is a simple running stitch. The stitch can be utilitarian in its most basic form to hold multiple layers of fabric together. Kantha stitches can also be more decorative through overlapping, meandering, and it can be used to make or fill shapes. For this DIY project, we use the basic running Kantha stitch to add a modern handmade embellishment to a simple curtain. You can apply the technique to throw pillows, hand towels, and bedding.
Kantha Hand Towel
-Towel (handmade or store bought)
-Embroidery thread (your color choice)
Step 1: Prepare Thread Before stitching on the final towel, practice first on a scrape piece of fabric. If you don’t have extra fabric you can improve by using an old t-shirt. Once you have practiced and feel comfortable with the stitch, plan with colors and how many lines you want as part of the design.
Cut a piece of embroidery thread at least 6” longer than the towel width. Embroidery thread is made of six individual strings. For most embroidery, including this project, the thread is split in two, using three strings per thread. Divide thread, leaving two strands made of three strings each. Thread the embroidery needle and double knot the other end. Step 2: Kantha Running Stitch
Start by inserting the needle through the fabric from the back corner of the towel to the front. I started my stitch right next to the hem seam in order to hide the knot. After pulling the thread through, place the tip of the needle into the fabric about ¼” away from where the thread came up. Instead of pulling the thread through with each stitch, try weaving the needle through the fabric several times first (see photo above). This creates a rhythm and speeds up the stitch. Remember, this stitch sets the length and direction for all other stitches to follow.
Step 3: Ending a Stitch
When you have reached the end of the towel, have the end of the thread coming through to the backside. Before knotting, make sure the tension of the thread is not pulling or bunching the fabric. Double knot the end using the needle. Again, I used the hem seam to hide my knot.
Step 4: Finishing the Towel
Continue with the following row of stitches in the same manner as the first using the desired color pattern. Either you can follow the first stitch line as a guide for length and spacing or you can ignore, creating a row with varied stitch lengths and spacing. I prefer the stitches to align but use your practice to experiment with the different looks. If the running stitch feels comfortable to you, I encourage you to try new projects with varied stich types and shapes. The basic Kantha stitch can be used in a wide variety of ways allowing room for creativity.
-Erin (guest blogger)