Though the origins of Kasuti, a delicate and intricate embroidery form most prevalent in Northern Karnataka, are unknown, earliest references date back to the 10thth century under the reign of the Chalukyas. Kasuti is also believed to be one of the 64 art forms in which the courtesans of 13th century Mysore were versed. Kasuti is formed by the Kannada words for “hand” and “cotton” (Kai and Suti), literally translating to “the handwork of cotton thread.”
The Lingayats, followers of Lingayatism, a Hindu reformist movement of the 12th century, and devout followers of the Hindu Lord Shiva were thought to be experts in this crafts. Nowadays, however, many other communities are well versed in Kasuti. Though Kasuti is a uniquely Indian art, similar embroidery forms are found in the Austrian, Hungarian, and Celtic traditions. Most notably, Kasuti stitches bear resemblance to the Holbein stitch used in Elizabethan or Spanish black work embroidery.
Traditionally, Kasuti was done on Ilkal sarees, cotton sarees woven in the neighboring Ilkal region. It was customary for brides to receive embroidered blue and black Ilkal sarees or to embroider the saree themselves. Recently, however, Kasuti is being done on various fabrics and in various styles not limited to sarees. Kasuti is rich in symbolic motifs that draw from nature and architecture. Though Kasuti was taught briefly at Dharwad College in the mid 20th century, Kasuti does not typically involve formal training. It is most frequently passed on from generation to generation.
This fine art has become more and more scarce over the years, primarily because of its difficulty to learn and the amount of time and labour required to master the craft. Kasuti also requires a great deal of physical and mental patience, as the designs can be quite intricate and even a small error means starting the process over again. Furthermore, earnings from the craft have historically been quite low. For this reason, IDF and Kai Krafts together are working to ensure a living wage to artisans so that this beautiful tradition can prosper.
Kasuti is a delicate embroidery form with geometric design that is done by counting warp and weft threads. It is comprised of four types of stiches, using the counted thread method. Kasuti is such a unique art form because of the symmetry. Both sides of the fabric look identical in design.
GavantiGavanti meaning knot, is a double running stitch and is used in straight, horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines.
MuragiMuragi is running stitch in a zig-zag line. Small motifs such as squares, hexagons, octagons and ladders are created with this stitch.
NegiNegi is derived from “neyi” which is the Kannada word for “weave.” A darning stitch in which long and short lines are crossed to make it look like a weave, Negi is the most complicated and therefore scare of the Kasuti stitches.
MentheMenthe, or the Kannada word for the fenugreek seed, is a cross stitch used mostly for filling purposes.
A Kasuti Saree