Kantha Work

Example  of kantha work with the kantha stitch in black thread. India, 2009. Example of kantha work with the kantha stitch in black thread. India, 2009. TRC collection.

Kantha (Kānthā) work is a form of free style embroidery from India and Bangladesh. It is made from layers of cloth (usually cotton or silk), which are sewn together forming a quilt, using a running stitch with a relatively coarse thread. 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 may be categorized according to the type of stitch used and/or the resulting design:

• CROSS STITCH KANTHA: this type was introduced during the British era in India and uses a cross stitch to create the design.

• RUNNING STITCH KANTHA: 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).

• LIK OR ANARASI KANTHA: the lik or anarasi (pineapple) kantha derives from the Chapainawabgonj and Jessore areas of northern Bangladesh. There are numerous variations of this form.

• LOHORI KANTHA: ‘wave’ kantha. 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.

• SUJNI KANTHA: this type is only found in the Rajshahi area of Bangladesh. A popular motif is an undulating floral and vine pattern.

Kantha work is used to make covers (boxes, mirrors, tables), dupatta's (long scarfs), sari's (‘kantha sari’), shirts, shawls, wall hangings, soft furnishing and bedding (pillows and cushions) as well as for quilts (nakshi kantha), prayer mats, floor coverings, wallets, purses and so forth. 

See also: Kantha stitch


  • 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.
  • ZAMAN, Niaz (1993). The Art of Kantha Embroidery, Dhaka (Bangladesh): University Press.


Last modified on Thursday, 05 January 2017 20:07
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