Explore a modern interpretation of kantha, ‘contemporary kantha’, as embroiderer Chloe Redfern shares how traditional kantha embroidery has influenced her stitching style…
We were lucky enough talk to embroiderer Chloe Redfern about how traditional kantha has inspired her embroidery. Enjoy this fascinating read, along with examples of Chloe’s gorgeous work!
A look at contemporary kantha
Following a creative career path
My Mum’s a textile artist, so I’ve always been very inspired by being surrounded by her work and seeing her working and I knew I wanted to also follow a creative path. I did art and photography A levels and then an art foundation year and for several years after leaving college, I worked with paper and fabric collage. I added stitch to the fabric collage and it was a part of the process I always particularly enjoyed.
Experimenting with and exploring different styles
One day I decided to have a go at turning a little blue tit from one of my collages into a hoop art embroidery pattern. I loved it so much that, from then on, I began to work exclusively with embroidery. It’s a little difficult to say what influenced my embroidery style initially, as I just started off with a drawing that I outlined with simple back stitch and filled in with small straight stitches, rather than having a particular style or influence in mind apart from that which had come from my college practice of simplifying shapes and areas of pattern.
'Oystercatcher' (project from Stitch issue 113).
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'Fruit Dove' (project from Stitch issue 114).
Discovering contemporary kantha
As time went on and I came across kantha work, I began to experiment more with this technique.
I loved how it was a bit different to filling in areas totally (not that I don’t love things like silk shading – people create some stunning work using this technique!) and I felt like it gave the pieces a fresh, contemporary look. I really love certain kinds of contemporary illustration and I liked how this technique allowed me to create embroideries with that sort of ‘feel’ to them. I also like the idea of ‘mark making’ with stitch and have created abstract pieces just using individual straight stiches combined with French knots.
I’ve been very inspired by certain types of print making too, particularly the work of Robert Gillmor, in terms of how something like a bird can be simplified in a way that creates a wonderfully pleasing illustrative image, whilst also capturing the whole essence of the bird. I think birds suit the kantha style, as it works quite well to mimic feathers and I feel that there being small gaps with fabric showing through between stitches gives a sort of lightness to the piece, which seems to work well for birds as so many of them are so delicate and elegant.
Fancy trying Chloe’s contemporary approach to Kantha for yourself? Check out her soaring swallow from issue 119 or her colourful goldfinch in issue 123. And for even more straight stitch delights... there's Chloe's Oystercatcher from issue 113 and a Fruit Dove in issue 114! You’ll find all the instructions and images you need to have a go at her clever straight stitch technique.
Decorative kantha work is so interesting because I feel that, although it is a very traditional art form which has been around for years, even very old pieces have a real sort of contemporary and up-to-date feel about them. Kantha quilts often bring to mind contemporary illustration, they use wonderfully rich and meaningful imagery worked in a way which I find very fresh and exciting.
Often kantha refers simply to rows of stitching worked close together and although these pieces don’t necessarily feature so much or any imagery, the surface that this kind of stitch creates is very appealing and approachable. I find making small repetitive stitches in this way is quite meditative and the end result is truly beautiful.
Now that you’ve explored contemporary kantha, learn about traditional kantha styles in our interview with Helen Barnes – her work is something else! And be sure to explore more exquisite embroidery techniques and see just what’s possible with needle and thread!