Loading... Please wait...


​Kantha Embroidery Empowers Women

Posted by

A highlight for out trip to Kolkata, India was time spent with Shamlu Dudeja, the founder of Self Help Enterprise (SHE), a nonprofit that empowers women through embroidery.

Shamlu, a math educator and textbook writer by profession, has worked with rural women to train and support them to produce exquisite Kantha embroidery pieces. She has worked tirelessly for more than 30 years to sell these pieces in both the Indian and global market.

Shamlu and SHE have done much to keep the traditional Bengali art of Kantha embroidery alive. The hallmark of Kantha embroidery is the uniform in size, often tiny, of the overall running stitch.

The detailed and delicate embroidery pattern gives the pieces a dimension that is never boring. The materials and color combinations render some pieces formal and elegant and other pieces perfect for every day, casual wear.

Shamlu’s presence is captivating. She is gracious, perceptive and light-hearted. At 80+, she remains steadfast in her commitment to finding ways to help the women in her nonprofit. "Traditional sewing gives these women hope," said Shamlu.

She oversees the training and development of the women as well as designing the scarves, shawls, saris and home decor that sell around the world. Over the years, the group has experimented with different fabrics, added fashion colors to the line and SHE now produces clothing in western styles, too. The Kantha stitch, however, remains constant on every piece.

We first met Shamlu at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market where SHE’s Kantha embroidery is celebrated for its beauty. In 2018 Shamlu's work was recognized when she received the 2018 IFAM Community Impact Award for empowering more than 800 women embroidery artisans.

Her model is simple. She pays the women 50% of the revenue for making the piece; she provides the raw materials. She puts 25% into a foundation that funds projects in the villages such as providing clean water and combating malaria and the remaining 25% covers overhead.

When asked "Why have you focused so much on empowering women? What does empowerment do for women?" She paused then quietly responded saying "When the mother is empowered, the family is empowered. When the family is empowered, the village is empowered and when the village is empowered, the country is empowered.”

Click here and see more of the work from SHE.

Join our friends at the Textile Center for an excursion to the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico July 11-14 2019. Check it out! https://textilecentermn.org/santa-fe/ While at the Market, meet up with Jody & Mary Anne and the women of Multicolores, the group of Maya women they trained in the art of rug hooking. (Read their story: Rug Money How A Group of Maya Women Changed Their Lives Through Art and Innovation.)

View Comments

Hold Your Horses: The Taliban and Rug Making

It’s difficult to imagine how the Taliban in Afghanistan and Cultural Cloth in Maiden Rock, WI could ever intersect. And by extension, how the lives of our supportive customers could intersect with the Taliban, too. Yet remarkably that’s what occurred last week when we received a disturbing update from the group of women who make [...]

Read More »

A Bolt of Cloth and Repurposed Linen. “Straw” into gold. Product Development: An example of our process.

Late last fall we bought a bolt of gorgeous natural-colored, hand-spun, hand-woven hemp cloth from a weaving group in Laos. We weren’t sure what we were going to do with the cloth­—but it was too beautiful to pass up. Here at the shop, “too beautiful to pass up” is a common refrain. Hand spun & handwoven natural hemp cloth, [...]

Read More »

Ralli Quilts: Explosion of Color, Pattern & Love

During June, Cultural Cloth is hosting an exhibit of vintage Ralli Quilts that we collected on a recent trip to India. All of the pieces are for sale. You can see them up close on our website. We bought these quilts in villages and towns in the Kutch, a part of the state [...]

Read More »

Meander to Maiden Rock, WI - one hour from downtown St. Paul, MN

Spend a day exploring Maiden Rock, WI located one hour from downtown St Paul. The majestic Mississippi River bluffs and scenic Lake Pepin provide the backdrop for this inspired sojourn to women owned businesses. Come and see for yourself why Maiden Rock is experiencing a quiet renaissance along the river.Cultural Cloth - features artisan made home decor [...]

Read More »

Six Hours on Lake Pepin: Things to do Sundays in September on Lake Pepin

Spend Sunday exploring our picks on Lake Pepin from Bay City to rural Stockholm WI. Located just 70 minutes from downtown Minneapolis. The majestic Mississippi River bluffs and scenic Lake Pepin are the backdrop for our art inspired sojourn to women owned businesses along the West Coast of Wisconsin.  Note: Saturdays are fun too!  If you decide to [...]

Read More »

Turning Handmade Textiles into Home Decor Pillows

Sometimes in the past we would meet artisans who made beautiful handmade weavings or amazingly detailed embroideries but they do not have the resources to take these handmade pieces and make them into pillows and home décor that we could sell in our shop. They didn't own a sewing machine or even have access to reliable zippers and notions.We [...]

Read More »

Style Guide: How to Select a Larger Handmade Rug for your Living Room

Honestly, when we see a rug we can’t live without, we buy it and then after it arrives on our front porch we figure out where it is going to go in our house. We have been known to go to extraordinary lengths (pun intended) to fit a new 8x10 treasure in a 6x9 space. Over time we [...]

Read More »

Style Guide: How to Affordably Hang a Handmade Rug as Art on Your Wall

Here at Cultural Cloth we surround ourselves with beautiful handmade textiles in our home decor. Some of our textiles are museum quality handmade heirlooms that deserve preservation and expensive protection, others are beautiful to us because they are worn and tattered. They remind us of someone, somewhere or some time.Last week a customer in the [...]

Read More »

Photoshoot for Upcoming Book featuring Rug Hooking Artisans in Guatemala

One of the projects Mary Anne has been working on over the last few months has been to write a portion of a book chronicling the rug hooking artisans in Guatemala who are part of Multicolores, a nonprofit she and Jody Slocum co-founded. No book that describes the cacophony of color and motifs of these rugs would be [...]

Read More »


Recent News