The word ‘Kantha’ refers to a type of running stitch or embroidery, which is typical of the area that now constitutes the Bengal region of India and Bangadesh. Kantha stitching can be found on all sorts of things from cushion covers to handkerchiefs and bags.
Traditionally, the material to be kantha stitched was multiple layers of old clothing, like saris or dhotis. The fabric would be sewn together and then covered with an intricate pattern of embroidered motifs. This repurposing of old garments means that kantha items were often beautifully soft and strikingly coloured. The handmade nature of kantha work also means that each no two pieces will be exactly the same.
Outside of South Asia, the most commonly seen form of Kantha work is probably the Nakshi (or Nokshi) Kantha, often called the Kantha quilt. The traditional Nakshi kantha would have been made for use in the family home, with the earliest examples showing elaborate colourful embroidery on a white background.
Recently, a surge in popularity for kantha quilts, blankets and throws, has led to production moving out of the home and into commercial premises in both India and Bangladesh. A winning combination of traditional artistry and sustainability has made kantha quilts and blankets very desirable in the west, although the previously labour-intensive intricate designs are now often simplified for changing tastes and ease of production.
Cardamon Road sells Kantha quilts, blankets and throws made with both new material and repurposed fabric. Each kantha takes many hours of work and a great deal of skill is required, from choosing the right combination of material and colours, to painstakingly stitching the each piece together.
If you would like to learn more about traditional kantha stitching, visit the website of the Gurusaday Museum in Kolkata. They hold the largest collection of traditional kantha stitched items in the world.