I’m not very good at sewing – too impatient, I think – but I have always loved textiles, which makes for a somewhat frustrating state of affairs. Over the years I have amassed a stash of lovely fabric in the hope that one day I will feel confident enough to do something with it all. In my mind’s eye I can see quilts, cushions and clothes, whilst my real eyes rest on neat stacks of untouched chintz and ticking. Unlike knitting, which can always be unravelled or ripped back, you reach the point of no return with sewing the minute you get going with the scissors, or at least that is how it feels and it leaves me in a state of creative paralysis.
Two months ago these Kantha quilts were part of that guilty stash. I bought them on a whim, seduced by their colours – the contrast between the faded fronts and electric backs – by the charming wood block designs and most of all by the characteristic rows and rows of running stitch. Once home I tried to convince myself that I had a plan for them – cushions, perhaps – but I quickly realised that I really couldn’t face cutting into them. They were too special. So I draped them around the place instead, slightly regretting my hasty purchase. And then I had one of those lightbulb moments: with only the tiniest bit of entirely reversible sewing, my quilts could become a pair of mis-matched bedroom curtains.
A quick rifle through the rest of the stash threw up some faded velvet which I used to lengthen the quilts by creating a deep hem at the bottom. At the top I used discreet metal curtain clips in order to attach them to traditional curtain rings. It took a morning.
Every day I admire the miles and miles of tiny stitches, and every evening when I close the curtains I enjoy the quirkiness of their not matching. I often wonder how long it took to create each quilt, and although I know that running stitch is not exactly difficult, the overall effect of those tiny stitches suggests a very complex piece of work. The sort of thing I’d usually file under ‘impossible’. So it will come as no surprise to learn that I had never thought about having a go at Kantha embroidery myself. Until last week that is…
when I got my hands on Jane Brocket’s latest book The Gentle Art of Stitching, which includes two very lovely Kantha projects – both quilts, but small’ish, one for summer and a blanket-backed version for winter. I immediately saw possibilities for my stash, but without the back-breaking cutting that a patchwork quilt entails (this one was fun to make, but the cutting part drove me slightly demented).
I must also add that I was further inspired by Jane Brocket in person when I went to hear her talk at the Malago WI (I’m not a member, but outsiders are welcome and I would recommend an evening in their company which included Champagne and cake).
Having heard Jane’s entertaining and fantastically straightforward account of how she came to create each of the 40-odd projects in The Gentle Art of Stitching, I came home convinced that I am not lost to sewing. And more specifically, that even someone with skills as limited as mine might just be able to attempt Kantha. Watch this space.
NB I meant to add that quilts like this are widely available online. As a general rule prices vary from quite pricey (but affordable if you compare against a pair of readymade fully lined curtains), to really very expensive depending on the age of the pieces and the quality of the work, though I imagine you can pick up a bargain on ebay if you are lucky. Mine came from La Belle Boutique on Picton Street in Montpelier, and they are pretty old, with lots of lovely patches here and there, though probably not strictly antique.