Mad In Pursuit Notebook

hand-stitched quilt, in progress

Work In Progress: Red Project

Fri, 4.3.2015. (cont'd from 3.13.15) Having a wicked cold does nothing for my creativity--no focus, no energy. But the hands are still restless. So I decided to quilt the central square of my red project (even though the outer parts are unfinished--crazy). One of my online gurus uploaded a video of herself doing "kantha" stitching. It's a simple free-form running stitch, where you allow the stitching to give the "cloth sandwich" a slightly rippled surface. It's practiced to great effect by Hindu women in Bangladesh who convert rags into quilts and embroider them with rich symbolism.

I came across passages about traditional Bangladesh kantha quilts in Glassie's "The Spirit of Folk Art":

Seamless cloth is a symbol of the universe, so traditional Hindu dress is not cut and fitted. It is composed of lengths of unbroken cloth, wrapped and folded. When clothing becomes frayed, it is reused in quilts. Simple quilts are patched of fragments. The kantha is built up of layers of worn cloth, stitched together and embroidered. Reassembling cloth, the quilter reassembles the universe. Her art parallels the mythological acts of reconstruction that follow destruction to mark a cyclical sense of time within an enfolding oneness... A patched new unity arises. Things roll on...

He goes on to say that by giving the resulting quilts to marrying daughters and absent sons or husbands, the quilter also keeps her family members protected and connected. Then of course there is all the symbolism in her embroidery.

Every kantha tells that tale [as memorialized in a narrative poem by Jasim Uddin], the story of one woman alone with her imagination, her rags and needle, and it tells of the art and hope and sorrow of the women of Bengal, and it tells the epic of cosmic power.... Like all art, the kantha stimulates the senses--its rippled surface invites the fingers, its delicate colors and stylized forms charm the eye--and it is troubling to the mind. Meditating upon the kantha, we are tugged toward an understanding of the universe and our place in it.

That's a lofty frame of reference for my humble sniffling-in-front-of-the-TV activity. My little 10-inch square took two evenings to finish and my hands were so tired after my first session that I couldn't peel an orange. However, the bright colors and steady pace did gather in some good healing energy, I'm sure of it. I did kind of feel like I was remaking myself, sewing myself back together.