An introduction to Kantha

Kantha work is a style from the state of Bengal that uses the simple running stitch in the most beautiful ways imaginable. It is one of my favorite styles.

The word Kantha actually means rags or waste cloth used by the women of Bengal to make quilts. A traditional Bengali woman’s sari is a soft white cotton fabric with a red border. When the sari got old and soft after several washes, it was used to make quilts. The simple running stitch was used all over the quilt to hold the layers together and also to embellish it.

Quilt making was mostly a work of leisure and art and never meant for commercial purposes. It took several women to stretch and hold several layers of the fabric together. Once this was done, these women embroidered their own designs on the quilt. The design usually began at the center of the quilt and slowly extended out.

Today, we talk about Kantha more as a style of embroidery that is done using the running stitch. Sometimes, stem and herringbone are also used. Typical thread colors are red, green, black and blue. Commonly used designs are peacocks, elephants, fish, lotus, creepers, leaves, flowers and temples.