Kantha work

Postage stamp with the image of an 'embroidered quilt' (kantha) (Bangladesh 1973). Postage stamp with the image of an 'embroidered quilt' (kantha) (Bangladesh 1973). Courtesy Textile Research Centre, Leiden, TRC 2010.0204.

Kantha (compare Skt: Kanthā for rag, patched garment) work is a form of free style embroidery from Northeast India and Bangladesh. It is traditionally made from layers of old cloth (usually cotton or silk), which are sewn together forming a quilt, generally using a running stitch(often called a kantha stitch) with a relatively coarse thread.

The multi-layered quilts may subsequenly be decorated with embroidery, but sometimes the top layer is embroidered first, before being sewn onto lower layers. Single-layer, embroidered kanthas are also (and increasingly) being produced. The patterns of kantha work tend to be based on simple geometric grids or more complicated, naturalistic designs including birds, foliage, animals and scenes of everyday activities.

Early forms of kantha work have been recognised in the so-called Satgaon (Saptagram) Portuguese quilts from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They constituted an important item of trade between India and Europe (principally Portugal). The Hardwick Hall Kantha quilt is an example of this early form of kantha work.


Kanthas from Bangladesh may be categorised according to the type of stitch used and/or the resulting design. Some of the categories are:

CROSS STITCH KANTHAS: this type was introduced during the British era in India and uses a cross stitch to create the design. This category includes the sujni kantha: this type is only found in the Rajshahi area of Bangladesh. A popular motif is an undulating floral and vine pattern.

RUNNING STITCH KANTHAS: divided into (a) quilts par tola (with geometric patterns) and (b) quilts with figurative patterns (with either human or animal/bird motifs), or daily life scenes (nakshi kantha). Par tola kanthas include:

- LIK OR ANARASI KANTHAS: the lik or anarasi (pineapple) kanthas derive from the Chapainawabgonj and Jessore areas of northern Bangladesh. There are numerous variations of this form.

- LOHORI KANTHAS: ‘wave’ kanthas. This type is popular in Rajshahi (Bangladesh). They are divided into (a) soja (straight or simple), (b) kautar khupi (‘pigeon coop’ or triangle) and (c) borfi (‘diamond’) forms.

Kantha work is used to make covers (boxes, mirrors, tables), dupattas (long scarfs), saris (‘kantha sari’), shirts, shawls, wall hangings, soft furnishing and bedding (pillows and cushions) as well as quilts, prayer mats, floor coverings, wallets, purses, but also large wall hangings.

A revival of kantha production in Bangladesh has beeen partly attributed to the designer and kantha-maker, Surayia Rahman, who particularly promoted the production of the nakshi kanthas and kantha-style wall hangings. She promoted kantha as a form of art.


Kanthas are also produced in neighbouring states of India, such as West Bengal and Oridha. Their production had almost disappeared by the mid-twentieth century, but it has since been promoted by local government authorities, NGOs, craft groups, and others. By the end of the twentieth century, 'kanthas' were being produced that consisted of one layer. They often come in the form of silk or cotton embroidered saris, wall hangings, etc., many of which intended for the international markets. They are now being made in many parts of India, including Gujarat and Rajasthan in the west of the country. The designs may be embroidered, or they are printed and subsequently outlined with running stitch. Needless to say, discussions are ongoing whether these products should be classed as 'kantha'.


Kantha-style shawl from Rajashan, India, 2017, silk, cotton and synthetic (TRC 2017.2778).


  • DHAMIJA, Jasleen (2004). Asian Embroidery, New Delhi: Abhinav Publications.
  • MASON, Darielle, Pika GHOSH, Katherine HACKER, Anne PERANTEAU (2010). Kantha: The Embroidered Quilts of Bengal, New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • VOGELSANG, Gillian, and Willem VOGELSANG (2021). Encyclopedia of Embroidery from Central Asia, the Iranian Plateau and the Indian Subcontinent, London: Bloomsbury Publishers (pp. 309-311, 393-400).
  • ZAMAN, Niaz (1993). The Art of Kantha Embroidery, Dhaka (Bangladesh): University Press.


GVE, WV, 14 May 2021

Last modified on Friday, 14 May 2021 13:01
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