Saturday, May 06, 2006

Kasuti - A Brief History

History of Kasuti as I know it

"Kasuti" is a technique of embroidery Unique to the state of Karnataka - famous for its sandalwood forests and its beautiful garden city, Bangalore. "Kasuti" literally means embroidery in the local language.

What I find interesting about this technique is its similarity to Spanish Blackwork.
Of course the motifs and depictions are different, but the technique is the same. Kasuti is reversible and so is Blackwork. Though I already knew about blackwork, (I have even worked a couple of samplers) I discovered only recently that it is reversible.

Kasuti, a truly exotic style of embroidery dates back to the 7th Century A.D. It originated in the old provinces of present day North Karnataka. It spread down south of the state in the course of time especially during the reign of the mighty Chalukyas, the Hoyasalas, the Rashtrakutas, the Pallavas and the Vijayanagar empires.

In tribal villages, women presented brides with a typical black saree with a red border which they called Kali Chandrakala on which extensive kasuti was done.

The credit for active interest in this intricate art form in the country goes to Mrs. Ahilya Kirloskar and Ms. Indra Joshi. They created awareness of this art form through "Needle and Thread" - the only Needlework magazine in India. This Magazine is published by Coats India.

Mrs. Ahilya Kirloskar has published her collection of designs in 4 parts.
For those in India, who are interested in this embroidery, I furnish below the publisher's address.

Mrs. Pushpa Bakre
124/4, Erandavana
Pune - 411 004

I admit this address is from 1993, when I bought the books. They are not available in any book stores. You'll have to write to the publisher directly and send a demand draft, for the required amount depending on the availability of the books.
I plan to write to Mrs.Pushpa myself. I'll keep you updated.

A word of caution. Please note down the DD number and send the DD in registered post with acknowledgement due. This will prevent your DD getting lost in post.

In Kasuti, all motifs are geometrical and it was originally executed by actually counting the threads of the fabric. Can you imagine how difficult that must have been? Yet these women turned out such beautiful work. Inspiration for the motifs were mostly drawn from every day objects like temple towers, tulsi plant (basil plant which we Indians consider very sacred – probably due to its medicinal qualities), peacocks, flowers, deer etc.

Another important aspect of this art form is that the motifs no matter how elaborate always ends where it began.
Kasuti is done in four distinct styles. They are Muragi, Ganti, Neygi and Methi.
Motifs and borders worked in the Muragi and Ganti styles, range from the very simple to extremely challenging. Some motifs incorporate both styles.
The only stitch employed in Muragi and Ganti styles of Kasuti is the double running stitch also called Holbein Stitch.

Holbein Stitch: This is the basic running stitch done in 2 journeys. First work a line of running stitches (first journey). The graph below indicates the basic running stitch - the first journey.

At the end of the line, return to the starting point by filling in all the gaps (second Journey) - shown in red, returning to the starting point.

Also visit Blackwork for comparison and understanding of the concept - no matter how elaborate always ends where it began.
  1.  Muragi: The Holbein stitch is worked as zig-zag lines. This stitch looks the same on both sides of the cloth.  have prepared a sampler with a few patterns ranging from basic to challenging. 
  2. Ganti: The Holbein stitch is worked as straight lines. This style too looks identical on both sides. 
  3. Neygi: Neygi means woven – an apt name as this style has a woven look. Does not look the same on both sides of the fabric.
  4. Menthe: Menthe is the Kanada (language spoken in Karnataka) term for the fenugreek seed. The stitch used in this style is our regular cross-stitch. The stitches look like the fenugreek seeds and hence the name.
The Negi and Menthe styles are not reversible.

Women's Era
Needle & Thread (India's only Needle work magazine)


Unknown said...

where can I get the net . i have tried in delhi but it is not available

Bhavani Harikrishnan said...

Hi Ragini,
I have never been to Delhi. So I don't really know where you can get the nets.
You can try asking for square mosquito netting or calico mosquito net.
Please note that mosquito nets also have hexagonal holes. Look for ones with spare holes

p lalita kameshwari said...

that's a nice one.

Anonymous said...

Bhavani, I congratulate you on your effort on kasuti tutorials! I am a real fan and follower of hand emroidery. Searchign our for a kasuti tutorial, I never thought I would stumble upon any, but it was a relief to see your blog. :) More interstignly, I am also stationed at kerala at the moment and it is warmign to know that this blog is posted from teh same place.

Unknown said...

Bhavani, came across yr tutorial,really good. I already know kasuti and have tried out a few designs. My problem is the design turns out very small.Should I leave a hole inbetween when using the netand put the stitch in alternate holes? how to make sure that I go into the same hole(on cloth) on the return. canu help me out?

Bhavani Harikrishnan said...

Hi Anandi,
please refer to -
Click on the picture to enlarge it. You can then clearly see the answer how it is done. If you still have a problem, let me know.

Nandini said...

Hi Bhavani, Congratulations on your Kasuti Tutorial.Its really nice. I am a big fan of kasuthi I have done few on sarees & kurthis. But I don't have much designs and I am unable to get the design books in Bangalore. Thank you for the address of Mrs. Pushpa. Can we still order for it now? It will be very helpful if you give her contact no. Thank u!

Sonal said...

Amazing blog, hats off to your efforts... I love hand embroidery and have done kasuthi, kantha work and kutch work (wow 3ks' ;-) on silk sarees and I wanted to applaud you on the efforts you've taken to do the tutorials and scan the designs, etc...very inspiring...