Kantha quilts have been made for centuries by poor Bengali women, who re-cycle old saris and clothes to make quilts to keep their families warm. More recently, some kantha is produced by women as a way to support their families, and in other cases co-operatives have been formed to offer right livelihood to women as an alternative to prostitution.
In Sanskrit the word kantha simply means rags.
The kantha fabric we offer is produced by women in their homes, one stitch at a time.
Kantha hand quilted fabrics continue to be part of our MarcyTilton.com collection — this fall we are delighted to offer new colors in cotton, a collection of gorgeous patchwork silk shawls and stunning silk patchwork yardage.
Cotton Over Dyed Kantha Yardage
This fall, we are presenting cotton kantha in 7 new colors. The fabric is over-dyed — in some cases it is sewn/serged together patchwork, or whole cloth that is over-dyed along with the backing fabric and then the layers are hand quilted together to make the fabric, which is produced in 8-10 yard lengths. Each shipment we receive is different — even in the same color, the print or patchwork or dye lot can vary from one shipment to the next. Sometimes the backing is obviously old saris, or it might be a simple cotton that has been dyed the same color as the top.
Remnant scraps - bits and pieces left from earlier cotton kantha collections were used to make Marcy’s slouchy jacket, Vogue 9287. I sent Gwen Spencer a box of pieces with the instructions, ‘have fun!’.
Gwen used one of our cotton ikat fabrics for the under-collar and facings. She laid out the position of the patchwork and colors both flat on the design table and on a dress form before deciding where to cut.
Katherine made a throw from a length of kantha — the edge was slightly imperfect and we did not want to sell it, so she took it, finished the raw edges with the same stitch as the selvedges and it is the perfect nap/TV blanket!
Silk Over Dyed Kantha Yardage
New and sumptuous, sold by the yard, patchwork silk kantha is luminous, catches the light and draws the eye. The silk patchwork kantha has been over-dyed a soft blue-gray, like a watercolor wash that harmonizes and blends the colors together. The backing is a silky smooth block print cotton. The patches themselves are a gorgeous melange including embroidery, appliqué, stripes, patterns, prints and/or solids that blend into a harmonious whole.
Silk Kantha Coat in Butterick 6422 by Katherine Tilton
A showstopper! Gwen Spencer made this for Marcy to take to Paris, and the first reaction from everyone we show it to, is the question, ‘Can I try it on?’. It looks good on everyone so far! Feels like wearing a cloud. The colors pick up whatever is worn underneath. A technicolor dream coat!
Sewing tips from Gwen
- Remove the hand stitching from about ½ -¾ yard of fabric so there is enough to use for bias to bind seams and edges and for a pocket.
- Plan out the positioning of the patches. In this case, we put the yellow on the back rather than on the front.
- Use a hong kong finish on seams and pocket edges,
- Gwen machine stitched the edge binding, forming miters at the corner, then turned & wrapped the binding, hand stitching on the back side. This is well worth doing, it results in a softer more fluid finish.
- Check the pocket position — in this garment the pocket is too low.
Silk Patchwork Shawls
Vintage silk saris pieced and stitched into stunning shawls. When I admired the one my supplier was wearing, she took it off and gave it to me. Not only was I touched, I carried it and wore it all the time the rest of the trip — in air conditioned rooms, over my pj's in the morning, to add a dash of color to my mostly black clothes, on the airplane, and at home I keep it on my bed to toss on whenever and because the colors delight me. I asked if more are available and ordered some to test the waters!
No two alike, each one beautiful. The brightly colored silk patchwork is different on each one, and the color of the vintage sari on the back differs - the back side is a solid piece, sometimes with a border along one edge. When wrapped, the colors take on a new harmonious rainbow effect and light up the wearer. We have sorted according to the color on the back side, but this is a very loose sorting — you could pick blindfolded and be delighted with the choice!
Kantha in Ready to Wear
International designers are using this type of fabric with inspiring results. The photos below are from one of my favorite shops, Santa Fe Dry Goods in Santa Fe. These coats sell in the $1000+ range. My guess is that the designers are working directly with the fabric makers — so this is meant to inspire. I sent these photos to my supplier - she loved it and is designing more fabric in this vein, so stay tuned.