[ Content | Sidebar ]

A Rajasthani Cloth Covered Vessel, a Bengali Kantha and Japanese Temari

July 17, 2011

I think this group looks good: a Bengali kantha is the backdrop to a large, Rajasthani cloth-covered appliqued lidded vessel and a group of five Japanese temari. The kantha is a lovely one: when viewed in its entirety is shows a tree of life surrounded by stylized, fanciful lotus and bird forms, as can be seen on the bottom of the photo, above.This vessel is really charming.  It measures about 10″/ 25.5 cm in diameter and it is made of a formed reed interior that has been covered in applique cotton.  Really delightful.The five colorful balls surrounding the large pot are Japanese temari.  Temari are children’s toys that were originally made from leftover threads which were wound into a ball whose exterior was adorned by a complex, geometric decoration.  These temari are probably from the late nineteenth through the early twentieth century.

It’s beautiful how harmonious these three seemingly disparate elements are.  And I think they’re a really pleasant group to view in summer.

In: Tags: , - Comments closed

A Jumble of Small Indian Bags

July 13, 2011

Recently I acquired a group of small, hand stitched cotton Indian bags, mainly kantha bags from West Bengal.  They’re said to be “coin bags”, and their small size attests to this: they’re remarkably beautifully stitched and decorated.The image on the bag seen, above, is a stylized lotus, which symbolizes the universe in the world of kantha stitching.The stitching is dense, all-over, and expertly done.  The bags date to the first half of the twentieth century.  I’ll be showing one on the web shop today, and over time, I’ll be selling these one-by-one.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

A Beautiful Bengali Kantha: Extremely Fine All-Over Stitching

December 6, 2010

I just love kanthas, the intensely stitched and richly varied textiles of Bangladesh and West Bengal, India.  Today I am showing one which I think is just beautiful.I’ve written about kantha before on this blog, and this entry here speaks about this marvelous folk art form.This particular, layered cotton kantha shows exceedingly fine, small stitches that cover the entirety of the surface of this “quilt.”  The small stitches on this kantha are impressive as they are much finer than those on many larger kanthas, as this one is.

This kantha is repaired, probably by a woman in the family who made this kantha.  I’ve shown several details of this area here, above, and in several photos below this one.The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a fantastic collection of kanthas and just mounted a major exhibition. The museum also published a magnificent catalogue to the exhibition, one of the few, available in-depth documents on this art form.

Can you see how tiny these stitches truly are?

This kantha measures 62″ x 46″ or 157.5 cm x 117 cm.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

A “Trans-Generational” Boro Futon Cover

September 24, 2009

Today I am showing a boro futon cover whose lifespan seemed to have bridged a few decades.  The futon cover is hanging next to a spectacular Indian kantha.


I call the boro cloth “trans-generational” because the base of this textile is of faded and worn, hand woven and  hand dyed katazome cotton which is likely to be about 80 years old–and you’ll notice some of the patches are of a brighter, newer, more commercially produced fabric that were sewn on in the years after the original futon cover was made.

I think this contrast of old and new, bright and dull, hand woven and power loomed cloth is visually delightful—and extremely artful.

The meandering mending stitches on the two large patches are noteworthy.  Have a look at the photo, below, for a better view onto them.

Below, have a look at the turquoise colored patch onto which is written “1/8.”  Obviously, in old Japan, prior to, say, the early part of the 1900s, Arabic numerals like this would not have been used.  With the opening of Japan during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Western influences started making their way into Japan.  This turquoise cloth, however, may be from the 40s or 50s.



In: Tags: , - Comments closed

Indian Textiles: An Indigo Dyed Cotton Naga Shawl and Two, Small, Intensely Stitched Kanthas

May 11, 2009

Today I am showing what I consider to be three stunningly beautiful Indian textiles, specifically an indigo dyed cotton Naga shawl (right) and two intensely stitched kanthas to its left.  Surrounding these three textiles which are hanging together on the wall are some Japanese country textiles from the late nineteenth century.  I’ll talk a bit about the Naga shawl first.


The beautifully colored, indigo dyed cotton shawl was woven in Nagaland a hill state in far north eastern India which was created in 1961, and home to the Nagas, who can be called a “tribal” people who belong to an Indo-Mongoloid family. Nagaland is in a remote part of India as it borders the distant states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur: Nagas also live in Burma, which borders these Indian states.

The Nagas are a group of 14 major tribes, each with their own dialect, customs, beliefs and creation myths–and as their land is physically quite remote from the country of India, the people of Nagaland are a racial group distinct from the inhabitants of India. One of the most famous cultural features of the Naga was their practice of head hunting, a tradition which has been put to an end by the government of India and by a gradual conversion of the Nagas to Christianity.


This  shawl is a soft, deep indigo color which has bears a rich patina from wear, and it is comprised of three woven strips–each about 14″ wide–which are hand stitched together.  Along the warp throughout the piece is a very subtle striping of alternating pale blue and bone colored “pin stripes.”   The two ends are finished by tied, twisted and knotted fringe.  Look carefully at the photos and notice the small flecks of color that are inserted at the seams–and also note the beautifully tight mendings.




For more on the Nagas, why don’t you visit the site of Pablo Bartholomew whose photos and stories on the Naga are compelling and beautiful.


I’ve shown some wonderful kanthas from West Bengal and Bangladesh on this blog before–if you go to the “tag cloud” to the right of this column and click on the word “kantha” you’ll see some previous posts on kantha, with some fascinating quotes on this folk tradition by the famed Indologist, Stella Kramrisch.   Also, if you notice the “…of interest” blogroll above the tag cloud, you’ll see a link to the kanthas in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum–these kantas were collected by Stella Kramrisch and she gave them to the museum.  They are a stunning collection, and all acquired in the early part of last century.  My belief is that the two kantas shown below date to the early 20th century or perhaps slightly before.




Spend some time studying the minute stitching and intensely complex patterns of these two exquisite kanthas.  These are among the favorites in my collection.




In: Tags: - Comments closed

Color & Light: Embroidery from India and Pakistan at the Rubin Museum of Art, New York City through 11 May 2009

April 6, 2009

The Rubin Museum of Art in New York City is presenting a stunning exhibition consisting of 60 lavishly embroidered textiles from India and Pakistan.  The Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, whose holdings consist of one of the world ‘s finest collections of textiles of South Asia, is loaning work from their collection of South Asian textiles for this exhibition.

The exhibition displays a wide range of sewn embellishment  and it surveys the rich spectrum of cultural variety found in India and Pakistan:  embroidery, applique, bead work, mirror work and fancy tassel work are in wild profusion here– and as a whole the show is heady with color, pattern and vibrancy.


This chic and exuberant jacket is a boy’s garment or jhuladi (above) or jeladioo as it is spoken in the regional language, from the Ahir community of Gujarat and it dates to about 1970.

It is made from floss silk embroidery on plain-weave cotton, the kind of work on this coat is referred to as heer work, aari work or kuchhi work.  Imagine seeing this being worn by a small boy in the desert sun!


This boldly graphic detail (above)  is from a bed cover or dharaniyo from the Kutch region of Gujarat and it was made around 1980.  It is attributed to the Banni Muslim community and it is sewn from plain-weave cotton appliqued on plain weave cotton.  The full piece measures 51 1/2″ x 31 1/2″.


I’ve shown Bengali and Bangladeshi kanthas on this site before, and this wonderful one above can be seen in this exhibition.

This one is stitched by Srimirthi Lokhibala Dashi (note the signature) and hails from West Bengal, India: it was made some time between 1920 – 1960 of floss silk embroidery on pieced and quilted plain-weave cotton.  It measures 72 1/4″ x 50 1/4″.  If you are interested in seeing any pieces from my collection of a dozen or so kanthas, just e mail me.

The trio of  images shown here portrays a folk mood which prevails at the exhibition, but be prepared to be dazzled by some of the more “refined” pieces stitched for the wealthy, upper echelon of Indian society–what comes to mind is a magnificent, Chinese embroidered piece for a Parsi patron in Gujarat, where a community of Chinese lived and practiced their amazing embroidery skills.

If you are visiting New York, make a point to visit this magnificent exhibition–and build in time to stop back: you’ll want to see it again.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

A Large, Signed and Dated Kantha

March 12, 2009

Today I am showing some Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi textiles.  The tall, red-figured cloth is a phulkari from Punjab in Pakistan and/or India, and the horizontally positioned cloth is a kantha which has the unusual attribute of being signed by the maker and dated in English: usually such inscription would be stitched in Bengali, the native language of West Bengal and Bangladesh, the areas which have produced kanthas for centuries.

The wide border on the kantha is not embroidered as is the case with many.  Instead, it is a border which has been borrowed from what is said to be a Jamdani saree and machine stitched on to the piece.  Jamdani sarees are revered in Bangladesh for their high quality and the best examples could only be bought by the very rich or aristocratic.   Jamdani is said to be a hybrid of traditional Bangladeshi weaving fused with the gorgeous cotton muslin weaving brought by Muslims to Bangladesh around the 14th century.

The center of this kantha is stitched in a fanciful manner by a Hindu lady: we know this because of the central, stylized lotus, a Hindu symbol of the universe which is a standard kantha design motif.  Surrounding the lotus are swirling forms called shostir chinho, an iteration of the swastika, which in India is a sacred symbol which suggests the motion of God’s universe.

We also see butterflies, what seem to be hobby horses, and fish; fish play a large role in Bengali daily, symbolic and ritual life, and the utilization of the fish motif is not surprising as it can convey a wish for fertility, among other things.

This kantha, as can be seen by the inscription, was stitched by Nani Baia Debi and was finished in 1934.  For more images of kantha, please click here for a view onto some in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Seen below is a stack of other kanthas in my collection as well as a selection of rallis from Sindh, an area which traverses Pakistan and India.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

An Indian Kantha and a Japanese “Boro” Kakejiku with a Cinnabar Handprint

January 22, 2009

This corner of Sri showroom shows a little cluster of diverse works: above the couch is a wonderful and densely stitched Indian or Bangladeshi cotton kantha, on the abutting wall is a Japanese “boro” scroll or kakejiku that bears the imprint of a human hand in cinnabar ink and  below that is an Indian Tanjore painting depicting the Hindu god, Vishnu, reclining on a bed of a coiled snake, Ananta-sesha, while Vishnu’s consort, Sri Devi, is at his feet.

I am in the process of researching this scroll as I would like to learn more about its details: I believe it relates to a Buddhist pilgrim and his participation in a prescribed pilgrimage route, however I am going to get the kanji, or Chinese writing, translated for accuracy.  I refer to this scroll as “boro”–which means “ragged”–even though this is mentioned sort of tongue-in-cheek.

This scroll is being offered for sale on my website, here–and the mysterious message on this scroll is now decoded!

Below are detail images of the heavily stitched kantha, which measures 49″ x 40″, 124.5 cm x 120 cm and could be used as a throw or a baby quilt.  If you scroll down to the second posting, I discuss kantha in-depth here.

Kanthas were made in West Bengal in India and in present-day Bangladesh by both Muslim and Hindu ladies: old, white cotton saris were salvaged, layered and stitched together to create a large area upon which to apply embroidery, or darning stitches.  Originally, the saris’ colored border threads would be drawn out of the ruined cloth to be used in the embroidery process, but I doubt this lovely tradition was still widespread during the heyday of kantha making, which ended mid-century, last century.  If you look closely at this kantha, you can see that the white ground is made from several scraps of white cloth hand sewn together.

A Hindu lady made this kantha as the imagery is based in ideas of her religion: the central lotus symbolizes the universe and the stitched images all around this are images derived from the earthly realm familiar to the kantha-maker, and often images are household objects–in this case we see ceremonial pots, scissors which could be a jati or a betel cutter and either a shovel or a small spoon for applying lime paste to the paan so loved by Indians.  Birds, elephants, dogs, betel leaves, and flowers adorn the field around the lotus, as well as some Bengali writing, most likely the maker’s name.

Notice the pinwheel-like flower forms which are cross-stitched and the whorling forms which most likely are meant to suggest the turning motion of the universe.  The four corners are anchored by lively tree-of-life images.  The imagery of this kantha is full of domestic vitality with a respectful, central tribute to the vastness of the universe.

In: Tags: - Comments closed

A Magnificent, Indian Kantha Coverlet

October 9, 2008

On the new postings on my website this week I am showing this magnificent kantha embroidered coverlet.  Kantha is my absolute favorite of India’s folk textile traditions, and the high esteem in which I hold kantha is shared by a multitude of others.  Kantha embroidered cloth is the province of women and its territory is that of West Bengal and Bihar in India and in Bangladesh, whose Bangladesh National Museum has a staggeringly good collection of their indigenous textile tradition.

Kantha’s origins are fascinating: women in disparate villages thoughout this eastern region of the subcontinent would take worn-out dhotis (men’s “sarongs”) and sarees–usually of white cotton with a simple, colored border: think Mother Teresa’s outfit–and they would remove the colored borders.  They’d fastidiously flatten the cotton cloth and often they’d layer it.  In old, traditional kanthas, the colored embroidery threads would be drawn out of the borders and would be used to quilt the layered, recycled white cloth in fantastic pictorial opulence.

Classic Hindu kanthas show a central lotus, usually with eight petals, and this represents the universe.  The overall design of the kantha, which was often improvised, would grow around the center. The entire kantha is an intricate network of tiny stitches: even the white areas of the kantha are stitched and you can see how stitching is done in tight rows around the colored images, creating a kind of radiating effect.

Muslim ladies made kanthas and theirs would often be stitched with repeat patterns or non-illustrative images which is in keeping with their faith.  I have a fantastic kantha which I believe was stitched by Muslims which I may show later on: the entire textile is a repeat pattern of intensely stitched triangles in formation, or, as they call the motif, the kautar khupi or pigeon coop.

It is said that kanthas are the outgrowth of traditional, ritual diagrams (called alpana) that women would draw on their floor using rice paste.  Kanthas are of all sizes, from small to very large, and they are used for many purposes: they are used as book covers or as an envelope to hold the Quran, for storing jewelry, for seat covers, bed covers and for a kind of floor covering used for meals.  Kanthas are diverse and highly prized by the communities that make them.

The great India scholar and curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Stella Kramrisch, collected kantha during her lifetime and has donated her collection to the museum.  Her writings on Indian culture and Hinduism are some of the most profound in Western scholarship, and here is a long quote on kantha’s relationship to Hindu thinking from a catalog to her exhibition, “Unknown India: Ritual Art in Tribe and Village” from 1968: “Textile symbolism in India is hallowed by tradition.  In the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, the universe is envisioned as a fabric woven by the gods.  The cosmos, the ordered universe, is one continuous fabric with its warp and woof making a grid pattern.  Hence the importance of wholeness, not only of the uncut garment, like the sari or the dhoti, but also of the cloth woven all in one piece, on which a sacred picture is to be painted.  Whether as a cover for the body or as a ground for a painting, the uncut fabric is a symbol of totality and integrity.  It symbolizes the whole of manifestation.  Inversely, rags are offered to the gods.  Chindiyadeo, the Lord of Tatters, gives a new whole cloth if a rag is offered to him.  There are rag shrines all over the country.  Their goddess is Chithariya Bhavani, Our Lady of Tatters.  The Buddha  wore a patchwork robe (sanghati).  Some of the reliefs of the Mathura school of the second century A.D. show him thus clad.  Lord Chaitanya (1485-1533), the apostle and visionary, draped in a kantha the ecstasies which overwhelmed his body.  The colourful patchwork of the robes of saints form part of miniature paintings of the Mughal period.  The patched robe of the Buddha or of a saint belongs to him in his nature of Saviour.  The rags are given a new wholeness.  They clothe holiness.”

In: Tags: - Comments closed