Stitches that tell timeless tales

Prastuti, originally a kantha label from West Bengal, has perfected the embroideries of Eastern gara and Western petit point proving that art is truly universal

Published: 03rd October 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 02nd October 2021 03:04 PM   |  A+A-

French knot with Parsi embroidery

Express News Service

Who would connect Parsi gara embroidery and French petit point with each other and, moreover, with West Bengal, the land of kantha? Well, design label Prastuti has. And is getting all these done to perfection in the heart of rural Bengal by an all-women team of karigars. 

What was started as a label for kantha saris, scarves and stoles back in 1990 by entrepreneur Deepa Gupta who took individual orders from clients, has now grown into a 1,000-strong team of women embroiderers spread over various craft clusters across the state. It is now spearheaded by her children, the brother-sister duo of Tanvi and Anshul, who have added gara and petit point to the repertoire, both of which have now become the label’s speciality.

“To put it simply, Prastuti was started by my mother out of her love for beautiful kantha saris of West Bengal. The products were so sought after that it gave her the confidence to start with zardozi as well. One stitch led to another, and today, our beautiful gara and petit point have become a big draw,” says Anshul, CEO of Prastuti Designs.

a model wearing Prastuti sari

How did that happen, you ask? Realising that there was a whole universe of embroidery to explore beyond kantha, the duo engaged experts in both fields to train their women workers. The first such cluster was started in 2001 in a village in Hooghly district, and not unsurprisingly, was met with some resistance and a lot of scepticism. Soldiering on, they got master karigars from both these fields to train the women from scratch. Gradually, things started turning around, and in the next six years, two more clusters were developed.

As of now, they have two special clusters for these embroideries, one in Tamluk (for gara) and the other in Hooghly (for petit point) where the women have become fully well-versed in the painstaking and complicated techniques. Looking at their work, one cannot help but marvel at the beauty and artistry of the crafts and how wonderfully the women have adapted to them. 

The French aristocracy patronised the intricate cross-stitch technique of petit point, which used the finest strands of mulberry silk to make art work as well as handbags and pill-box covers. It has 400 stitches per square inch and there is no limitation on colours. Prastuti uses them in saris as well as other garments. It has more colours in comparison to Parsi embroidery, which is why it is more intricate and motifs are more detailed and so seamless that very often, it is mistaken for a painting. 

Gara came to India thanks to the Parsis who came to India from Persia some centuries ago, and has been part of the country’s textile heritage ever since. But its origins are actually Chinese, and came to India through traders of the Silk Route. When these traders came back on their ships, they also brought back ceramics and various other antiques from China. Legend says that one of the traders brought back a new kind of artistic embroidery which was very realistic in its depiction of flora and fauna. The rich Parsi community that had newly settled in Bombay soon adopted the gara as their signature.

Wherever these embroideries may have come from, it is now a fact that they are firmly settled across various points in India, with West Bengal being one of them. And Prastuti in particular is a proud exponent of this form of slow fashion. As Anshul says, “Prastuti has always shied away from using any modern technology or techniques, and it can take over a year for a product to move from the design board to our store. But then, these are heirloom pieces and hence never go out of fashion. Right from the yarn to the final product, every stage has a story to narrate.” 

Clearly, the kind of story that obviously resonates with customers.


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