All About Kantha

What is kantha?

Meaning: 'Kantha' originates from Sanskrit, and the base term is 'Kontha', which when translated becomes 'worn cloth'. Kantha is a type of embroidery popular in India and Bangladesh. It is made from up-cycled cotton fabric scraps, typically old saris or bed sheets, and is characterised by its simple and repetitive stitching.

Why is kantha called 'embroidered rags'?

Kantha is called embroidered rags because the fabric is made from up-cycled cotton fabric scraps, typically old saris or bed sheets. The techniques of kantha first emerged in West Bengal and Bihar, where women would recycle old saris and dhotis, layering, stitching and embellishing the scrap fabric to make blankets for their babies. Even the threads of the original cloth were pulled out and re-used for embroidery.

What are the different types of kantha?

A dozen distinct types of kantha are sewn in Bengal and Bihar today, among them archilata kantha (small bags), baiton kantha (square wraps used to carry valuables), lep kantha (heavily padded quilts), and sujani kantha (a decorative cloth used during religious ceremonies).

How is kantha made?

To make the kantha, decorative patterns are first traced onto a fabric panel. A variety of stitches, darning stitch, satin stitch, loop stitch and stem/split stitches are then applied to render the geometric designs. Long running stitches are broken on the reverse by short stitches, which creates the dotted look synonymous with kantha. One of the specialty design techniques associated with kantha is known as ‘modelling’ – using tightly packed rows of parallel stitches to highlight a central design. Towards the middle of a motif, the artisan will adjust the density of stitches to create areas of contrast. Traditional kantha would be decorated with patterns inspired by the mandala, a 100 or 1000 petal lotus flower. Contemporary patterns have grown increasingly figurative.

How is kantha quilt (lep kantha) made?

A kantha quilt is made by stitching together many layers of kantha fabric. The fabric is typically stitched in a simple and repetitive pattern.

Is kantha quilt warm?

Kantha quilts are typically quite warm, as they are made from many layers of fabric.

What is Baiton kantha?

Baiton kantha is square shaped wraps used in the production of book covers or covers for valuable objects. It is elaborately patterned with borders of colourful designs.

What are the four motifs of kantha?

The four motifs of kantha are flowers, animals, geometric shapes, and human figures.