kantha elephant
kantha elephant

Common Threads:

A Glass Exploration of Kantha Embroidery

Introduction to Common Threads

On view: April 12, 2016 – May 26, 2016

Where: W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory 

Hilltop Artists students have been hard at work designing and producing glass art inspired by Kantha embroidery – a textile artform from South Asia that tells stories through patterns and symbols. Students have investigated folk art and storytelling throughout the school year, translating what they learn into unique glass art. Students have used diverse techniques for the exhibition, including sandcasting, blown glass, fusion, and mosaics.

Read below to learn more about how this fascinating exhibition came to fruition!

The Beginning

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At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, Cathy Stevulak and Leonard Hill – co-Producers of THREADS – visited the hot shop and introduced students to Kantha. THREADS is the story of Surayia Rahman, a self-trained, passionate artist who guided hundreds of underprivileged women in Bangladesh to create Kantha masterworks. The documentary film has been shown around the world at several film festivals.

Details of Kantha embroidery

Cathy and Leonard’s hot shop visit was a treat for students and staff. They explained that Kantha originated as a way to re-use old saris. Tattered saris could be pieced together with tight stitching and made into new items, such as bedspreads. Women might add decorations and designs, but their primary use was utilitarian. Surayia Rahman knew they could be so much more and encouraged the practice of hanging the textiles as art. She turned this into an opportunity to empower vulnerable women, giving them a respected job with livable wages.

This use of art to improve the prospects of individuals resonates with the Hilltop Artists mission to connect young people to better futures.

Kantha-style textiles have become very popular in the United States in recent years and can be found in many chain stores. In the spirit of Surayia’s achievements, however, we recommend buying Kantha from a ethical fair trade source, such as Dignify.

Cathy and Leonard also shared the powerful storytelling capabilities of Kantha and led students through an exercise to draw their own stories. This presentation was the perfect springboard to dive into creating glass art inspired by Kantha embroidery. As can be seen in the student-made art, our youth have incorporated ideas from Kantha in a variety of creative ways.


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Daytime students at Jason Lee Middle School explored Kantha through sandcasting.

First, they learned about the process of sandcasting – a new technique for them. They worked together to create sandcast blocks using intricate wooden stamps from India. The wood stamps exhibit similar designs and creatures as can be seen in Kantha embroidery.


For the next part of the project, each student brought in an object with personal meaning, such as jewelry, mementos, and toys. They pressed their object into the sand, creating a mold into which molten glass was poured. The students then wrote short stories about what their object means to them.

The students’ stories reveal common themes – friendship, family, love, and loss – that can also be seen in Kantha. This gives our students insight into the human experience, whether we’re in the same town or live in different countries around the world.


Here are some of the stories behind students’ found objects:

“I brought in 2 objects. The first was a piece of a shell box. When my cat died before I moved, I made it the gravestone. When we moved I brought the shell box piece with me. The second item was a sea shell which my Grandma brought me from Hawaii.”

“I have the wings. The wings were part of a figure named Castle. He’s on a show called Supernatural and the character means a lot to me; by that he shows caring and strength for such a long time.”

“My found object is a paper flower and I chose this flower because I made it for my Mom as a Mother’s Day gift.”



The blown glass art seen in Common Threads was made by high school students in Team Production at Jason Lee and After School students at Wilson High School.

Team Production students made sculptural glass artworks in the shape of paisley, a traditional decoration in Kantha embroidery. Paisley originated as an organic form, a stylized representation of a vegetable or pine cone, but it has evolved into design motif. The curved raindrop shape makes for a dynamic glass object. The students also incorporated murrini, cross-sections of cane that make colorful patterns, into their glass art. The murrini they chose echo the mandalas and flowers that can be found in Kantha.

Bits of MurriniBits of murrini

After School students at Wilson High School have also created innovative artwork for the exhibition.

They have highlighted traditional animals from Kantha, such as the elephant, in their sculpted glass art. To add designs and patterns, they employed sandblasting, a cold-working process done after a blown glass item has cooled. Abrasive sand etches designs into glass, transforming a shiny surface to matte. Sandblasting can also remove a top layer of glass to reveal a different color underneath.



Students in Daytime and After School classes at Jason Lee Middle School have made colorful fused glass art for Common Threads.

Fusion provides an excellent means for taking concepts from Kantha and adapting them into glass. Fused glass squares evoke the idea of quilt squares. Each are beautiful on their own, but they can also be composed into something bigger. Students borrowed Kantha motifs, such as mandalas, and rendered them in glass.

Kantha bird (left); Kantha fusion (right).Kantha embroidery (left); Fused glass (right).

Daytime students at Jason Lee Middle School found that using thin strands of glass, called stringers, would allow them to create images that mimic the stitching seen in Kantha. Some of these squares were assembled into larger panel, framed with designs. Together, they reflect the look of a complete Kantha quilt.

smallStudents composing their mosaic around a fused glass square.

After School students at Jason Lee used stencils to make colorful and intricate glass designs. They then took the fused square and integrated it into a mosaic. The small glass squares in the mosaic continue the colors and design started in the fused glass piece.

Thank you to our students

These Hilltop Artists students contributed their time and effort to creating Common Threads: A Glass Exploration in Kantha Embroidery. Thank you!

Josiah Anderson

Liam Ayers

Lydia Bader

Henry Bader

Tabitha Beebe

Destiny Bergevin

David Bishop

Alice Bommer

Lyriec Bono

Liam Brady

Neariah Brown

River Burgamy

Mykah Burgess

Ryan Burk

Mirracle Butler

MiShawn Cabrera

Adam Capecchi

Sean Carey

Crystal Carle

Rogelio Castellanos

Kulele Chase

Rachel Chester

Jossiah Collins

Melissa Colorado

George Costello

Makayla Crandell

Kristina Crisostomo

Felisha Danielson

Bethany David

Cheyenne Dixon

Savannah Duke

Jonah Ellestad

Arthur Frison

Vegas Gardner

Julian Goza

Mara Gulmatico

Hayley Gunderson

Gavin Hall

Serafina Hallie

Taylor Haunhorst

Imahni Hawkins

T.J. Hazen

Daria Hembree

Adam Hendrickson

Nicoli Hinsley

Sokia Hom

Brette Hume

Dashawn Hutchinson

Dawntae Hutchinson

Keoghan Impala

Emma Impala

Jacob Israel

Emma Jacobsen

Peter Jacobsen

Jake Jessburger

Scott Johnson

Maxwell Johnson

De’Ja Jones

Kyla Jordan

Conrad Julian

Blake Julich

Trenton Julich

J-Ann Kaminanga

Peter Kautz

Kayleigh Kawamoto

Julisa Khann

Sebastian Killian

Quinn Kinlow

Charlie Koenig

Kiyante Lamar-James

Marivel Larreinaga

Sydney Lauhoff

Bobbi Lengenfelder

Gianni Leonard

Ajah Linton

Jason Lobrie

Desiree Lynch

Tanner Martin

Kenny Matute

Liam McCarty

Lyric Mclaughlin

Rory McLeod

Edwin Mogollan

Ray Morris

Camron Morris

Boden Mueller

Joe Mueller

Destiny Nedrow

Cameron Neilson

Asa Nutter

Ezekiel Nutter

Orion Oliver

Lady Eva Mona Patu

Avery Paz

Marian Picard

Sadie Mae Potts

Malayah Price

Mathew Rankin

Mauricio Recinos-Kropp

Jacob Renggli

Lakeysha Richard

David Rios

Carolina Romero-Salazar

Tristan Sampson

Luis Sanchez

Connor Sandefur

Isis Sapp

Libertad Sarmiento

Triviana Schardt

Logan Schneider

Zane Scott

Ellye Sevier

De’Amiunique Smith

Andrew Smith

Brandon Smith

Kaytlynn Sorrels

Fidel Soto Jr.

Lily Spiro

Jack Spitzer

India Spott

Jakob Stonefeld

Alexis Swenson

Olivia Swenson

Carleigh Templin

Sophia Terrill

Victoria Terrill

JT Thompson

Emily Thomsen

Cameron Thorp

Haliegh Trautloff

Brynn Tredway

Korey Urlacher

Aunna VanPatten

Serafina Vasiliauskas

Emma-Lee Vu

Tate Waller

Janessa Warren

Benjamin Whitcomb

Ellie White

Jeremy Willard

Jacob Willcox

Jai Williams

Terrance Wills

Jake Wissing

Grace Woolston

Anthony Worthy

Ben Young