I am an admitted sucker for beautiful textiles. A glimpse of a quilt, a suggestion of a tribal rug, or the promise of some intricate embroidery has sent me to bazaars, galleries, and museums. Therefore, when I first met Mieko Mintz and saw her clothing created from kantha quilts I was curious and excited. Why did Mieko’s jackets look so much more interesting than so many other kantha pieces? The best way to find out was to speak directly with Mieko, which I have been lucky enough to do.
A little backstory first: Kantha is a type of quilt mostly created in West Bengal. It is a quilt using no batting, but rather one made from two to five layers of old, used saris. The use of these older textiles is emphasized by the fact that “kantha” in Sanskrit means rags. One of the distinguishing characteristics of kanthas is the lines of simple running stitches used to hold the layers together. Often, you see kanthas with small pieces patched in, indicators of the true used and worn state of the original fabric.
Mieko Mintz, born in Japan but working and creating in her studio in New York, was introduced to kanthas 10 years ago at a gift show. Intrigued by the quilts, she ventured to India to learn more. There began the collaboration which makes her pieces so special.
Mieko views and sorts through thousands of vintage saris, selecting and organizing them to create her unique and fabulous color combinations. There is no randomness here, as Mieko feels it is critical that there be harmony and excitement between the two sides of each garment. She employs piecing of fabric from the saris to create contrasting bands of design details. In New York, she then makes jacket styles which emphasize the pattern work found on the individual saris.
To quote Mieko, “When I first saw kanthas, they were too heavy for clothing. I worked with the sewers to change the stitching to make the fabrics softer against the skin.” She achieved this through developing a variation on the length and distance of kantha stitching. “Also, the color of the stitching is very important to me, so I choose what colors are used and how many layers of fabric are best for each type of garment.”
Mieko pointed out the similarity between kantha and sashiko from her native Japan. “Sashiko” actually means, “simple stitching” in Japanese and employs similar technique. This sounds like another avenue of delightful research for me, but I digress…
When asked what the future might look like for her, Mieko replied,
“Kantha is almost like my life. There are endless possibilities and I can’t stop. I am fascinated to create every possible combination and hope to be doing this for 30 years more”.
I, too, look forward to seeing how Mieko continues to work with these fabrics, and in the meantime, am drooling over this newest collection.