ReviewSpecial Issue

Enhancing Kantha Designs Through Pattern Exploration on Simple Software Tools

Binwant Kaur

Copenhagen, Denmark. Professor, Department of Fashion Technology, National Institute of Fashion Technology (Ministry of Textiles, Govt. of India) Plot-3B, Block-LA, Sector III, Salt Lake City, Kolkata – 700098.


Sophisticated 2D and 3D modelling capabilities are now available in Computer Aided Design (CAD) software that in addition offer integration with manufacturing processes. However, the focus of this paper is to highlight the capabilities of simple graphics tools for developing complex kantha embroidery patterns, which is still an unexplored medium amongst the artisans. The software interface can offer the designers and artisans a flexible medium to conceptualise designs, create motifs, develop colour combinations and repeats through on-screen experimentation. These intuitive tools can be mastered directly by the craftsmen without any technical assistance. They offer design visualization and simulation opening a completely new world of creative design possibilities without actually having to produce it. Why not develop only the selected balanced ones from an innumerable range of on-screen options? The paper emphasizes the capabilities of basic vector tools to develop the patterns in kantha with ease and speed. The motifs could be geometric, traditional or abstract. The intention is to make the readers and craftsmen aware of the potential inherent in this software so that it can become an integral part of their design process.

Keywords: Graphics tools, kantha embroidery patterns, software capabilities, design variation, ease of manipulation

1. Capabilities of design solutions

High-end CAD software find an application today in fields where precision drawing features are required as in the case of designing parts of automobiles, aircrafts or even pattern making for apparel. Textile CAD, on the other hand, offers utilities and intuitive interfaces for print, woven, knit and complex jacquard designs for fabrics. They even help to visualize these designs through 3D modelling and simulation tools. In case of printed textiles, the graphic tools link all aspects of activities from motif design to developing repeats on computer achieving its superimposition on a digital fabric through texture mapping capabilities to simulate the fabric behavior. All this majorly curtails the product development lifecycle helping us in bringing better products to market in a shorter span. The author in the book “In Designing: An Introduction” illustrates some of the advantages of working in a virtual environment. According to him, on-screen medium being completely free of the physical constraints of materials, gravity, and scale is extremely liberating [Aspelund, 2015]. Designers even the artisans and weavers must liberally use this flexible medium in the design research stage so that the finished product is more appealing.  

At Design school, we make conscious efforts to sensitise students to the industry specific CAD software that bring automation to the product design process in fashion Industry. At the same time, attempts are made to introduce technology to artisans pursuing the rich local crafts that have been a source of livelihood for weavers and artisans for centuries. A need is felt to support the craftsmen with technological tool that can help in producing quality products in crafts without impairing its inherent nature and thus ensuring the survival of crafts, culture, and traditions.

2. Application of graphic tools for design development in embroidery crafts

The craft designs that were earlier passed from one generation to the next in the close-knit communities are now being institutionalized by process of digitization and cataloguing. This is immortalising the traditional art forms. Simple graphic tools can provide opportunities to the new generation to take a step forward towards contemporarization of these designs to suit the present appeal. Design variations using on-screen explorations and visualization has become a simple process taking us to the next level. These solutions can be classified into two categories depending upon the way they treat and store images. While one is a two-dimensional editable vector design solution offering ease of manipulation of shapes through options of node editing, the other is a bitmap design solution where the designs are represented by combination and attributes of pixels. The latter is resolution dependent. The vector based software have an advantage of offering options to work with shapes whereas pixel based help in editing more realistic images. Bitmap format is used to represent pictures and images that have soft and subtle variation of colors. Another class is a 3D modelling tool that can be used for a better design and simulation of solid products. From the interactions with weavers and artisans in West Bengal practicing craft of kantha embroidery, it appears that computer tools are not in use for developing designs. In this paper, I would be highlighting the features of simple software tools that can be used for easy improvisation of designs made by artisans in kantha clusters. The paper discusses the simple tools such as CorelDraw and Adobe Photoshop that can give visual edge for design automation. 

For developing surface textures with embroidery in an apparel bulk manufacturing, expensive but state-of-art computerized embroidery machines with multi-head needles are considered that come with options of job scheduling, recreating number of copies of same motifs seamlessly even optimizing the use of resources and minimizing human intervention. These software not only help to digitize designs and create new vector patterns that are production friendly but also define parameters such as stitch type and color with ease. At a humanly unachievable speed, sometimes as high as 700 stitch per minute (spm), these expensive machines produces identical patterns that have a disadvantage of being too perfect. Design aesthetics are somehow lost in an even placed running stitch produced through computerized machine. This machine may offer an ideal solution for developing identical copies of logo on the T-Shirts that are mass-produced but it is surely not a solution for developing products as exquisite as hand done embroidered ones that are preferred for its variations and subtle imperfections. Discerning customers willingly pay premium for such hand crafted kantha embroidery. Thus, while enhancing the craft design we may not require technological tools for automation of all stages of its creation from concept to final realization of product. What we may desire is a platform to explore design possibilities before translating kantha designs to the fabric thus not only offering innovative design but also speeding up the entire process decreasing the design exploration time. 

Today computer has made its inroads in almost every field and activity. For making a more saleable product with exquisite kantha embroidery, computer viewing and simulation of designs before its actual production could be a differentiating factor for designers and artisans. It can offer easy choices allowing manipulation of size, color, and position of motifs to generate innumerable design options before translating it on the fabric. Kantha embroidery is an extraordinary traditional craft that needs to undergo contemporization from time to time for its acceptance and marketability. The variations so desired can be explored on some of the easily available Vector based graphic tools.

Features in a graphic tool for enhancing kantha designs CorelDraw has capability of enhancing vector designs. “Designs with large coverage areas, thick typography and established outlines are ideal for simulated appliqué or border-stitched designs. They can be created surprisingly quickly using a program like CorelDraw.” [Trimingham, 2014]. We will see how challenge of continuously offering contemporary products endowed with kantha can be overcome by adopting some simple vector drawing tools.

3. Navigation and zoom

To start with, navigation and zoom capabilities allow easy design exploration with minute detailing in patterns so designed as is shown in Figure1.

Figure 1 Zoom out and zoomed-in image of Computer generated kantha design
Figure 1 Zoom out and zoomed-in image of Computer generated kantha design

4. Color variations of kantha designs

Color forms the dominant part of the design. Color is the single most visual attribute that influences us when we view a design form. It holds good for designs for kantha Embroidery as well. Color of base fabric and embroidery threads play an impacting role in kantha designs. Human beings are influenced by the color they visually experience in their surroundings. Eskimos can describe the white in different ways [Mitchell, 2013]. In the context of designing patterns for kantha embroidery, the designer should not be limited with use of color based on his interpretation and recognition of color from his pool of personal experiences of the real world. To reach out to the Global market there should be an expressive medium which allows exploration of dynamic new world of colors where you can place two varied colors adjacent to each other and see whether they work together to give an aesthetic color combination. Our experiences and perception of colors could be very limited if we were to draw colors from our surroundings alone while attempting contemporary designs. Designing using computer tools could help artisans overcome this barrier. CorelDraw software offer media that allow working with plethora of colors to produce series of well-balanced color combinations. This could give the embroider options for creating virtual designs that could be catalogued for later use to replicate it differently with newer shades of color inspired by the fashion season [DeLong, 2013]. 

Options of gradients of colors in a software open up a dynamic world of colors. They provide innumerable visual possibilities through options of linking one color to another from entirely different family of colors. Combinations could arise from opposite hues or range of colors from adjacent hues.

5. Blend tool

The graphics software allow instant generation of different colour tones. This can be achieved in CorelDraw using the Blend tool as in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Color tones generated in by CorelDraw using the Blend tool.
Figure 2 Color tones generated in by CorelDraw using the Blend tool.

Layer capabilities offer valuable options of working with superimposed layers that can help selectively visualizing different elements in a design together and separately Show/Hide options. Designs can be developed with diverse colors or sometimes-in tones of same scale of colors; or with varying lightness of color or simply by applying same colors in the kantha motif with different background. Figure 3 illustrates the color variations as achieved using Adobe Photoshop software on computer.

Figure 3 Computer generated colour explorations in Adobe Photoshop of a kantha embroidery.
Figure 3 Computer generated colour explorations in Adobe Photoshop of a kantha embroidery.

6. Design modifications with instant variations in outline

The vector based solution, CorelDraw provide differentiating options of outline manipulation to provide variation in designs. Kantha designs can be viewed on-screen altering the outline property. Amongst the modifying parameters are the options to alter the outline thickness, color, style, and other attributes. The dashed and doted outlines with varying in-between gaps can be used to represent the running stitch of kantha. These special outline strokes simulate kantha designs aptly.  Whether it is a dotted line or a button whole stitch, dhanchuri or sheaf of paddy or cherry flower all stitch types can be visualized easily as illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4 (a) Kantha embroidery with geometrical designs on fabric
Figure 4 (a) Kantha embroidery with geometrical designs on fabric
Figure 4 (b) Computer generated kantha embroidery using various outline tools in CorelDraw
Figure 4 (b) Computer generated kantha embroidery using various outline tools in CorelDraw

7. Geometrical designs

Easy geometric tools to develop geometric motifs and their repeats as illustrated in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Computer generated geometric designs developed in two colourways using CorelDraw software
Figure 5: Computer generated geometric designs developed in two colourways using CorelDraw software

8. Traditional designs and Customization of designs using Blend tool

Exploration with tools such as bezier and freehand tool to develop traditional kantha motifs.

Figure 6: Computer generated traditional kantha designs and motifs developed using Bezier and Freehand tool in CorelDraw software
Figure 6: Computer generated traditional kantha designs and motifs developed using Bezier and Freehand tool in CorelDraw software
Traditional designs and Customization of designs using the Blend tool

Traditional designs and Customization of designs using the Blend tool


In this age of computer automation, the design process has become much easier and fulfilling. Simple graphic tools provide a differentiating experience with a user-friendly interface not only offering a visual edge for digital tweaking but also shrinks the cycle time remarkably bringing the more acceptable finished product to the market. Unassuming options involving variations of outlines, fill color and other properties help develop complex kantha motifs. Since hand crafted embroidery such as kantha is time consuming, graphic software such as CorelDraw and Photoshop respectively could be used in the design stage to develop a more visually appealing virtual designs before translating them on fabric. Adoption of these intuitive tools by the kantha artisans will be a step forward towards production of more contemporary and market friendly designs. 


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