What’s So Special About Kantha? - Darn Good Yarn

What is Kantha?

Kantha quilts? Bags? Scarves? Decor? Yes, please!

If you’re an HGTV fan, love to browse home goods stores, or maybe you're constantly thinking up new ways to decorate your home with cozy textiles, you may have heard the term "Kantha" thrown around quite a bit.

Lately, it seems like kantha quilts, and other stitched up goods, are everywhere! Whether we’re scrolling through Instagram or reading the latest blog posts, these bright, beautiful, and sustainable patterns seem to be hitting our feeds at every turn.

What’s all the fuss about?

Two kantha pillows, one white and one black, are sitting on a light grey couch.

The History of Kantha

Upcycled and repurposed by women.

Kantha, an ancient embroidery tradition, originated in the eastern regions of the South Asia, particularly in Bengal. Historically, it served as a means for rural women to upcycle old saris and garments into warm blankets, showcasing intricate stitching techniques and storytelling through patterns.

Kantha can be found in the Indian states of West Bengal, Bangladesh, and Odisha located on the Bay of Bengal. So, we refer to this craft as “Bengali” rather than Bangladeshi, because it is practiced throughout the wider area. Women in these regions have been practicing Kantha embroidery since ancient times.

An up close image of a teal piece of handstitched kantha fabric, showing colorful flowers and a bird.

The word “Kantha” is pronounced KAHN-taa. In general practice, the word refers to two things: 

  • Discarded cloth or rags that have been reused in a quilted blanket.
  • A specific, small, straight running stitch that is central to Bengali embroidery.

How It’s Made

In Sanskrit, the word “Kantha” means rags.

But these blankets aren’t usually produced out of actual rags. They are a mix of old saris and other discarded pieces of fabric, giving it all a new life. Never meant to be used as accent pieces, the original intent of these quilts was to keep people warm while recycling old fabric. Talk about sustainability.

Kantha products feature a very simple, straight running stitch. The patterns are often creative, spontaneous, original, and emotional.

Much like quilting traditions in the United States, Kantha quilting could take years to complete and are often embroidered with patterns that tell stories, expressed wishes, and indicated the product's maker.

A woman with red hair and wearing a black shirt is holding up a pink kantha quilt.

The first written mention of Bengali Kantha appeared about five hundred years ago, in the Sri Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, a book by Krishnadas Kaviraj.

In the book, the author makes note of a Kantha quilt sent to him by his mother. It’s not so hard to imagine the love and care a mother would put into the careful stitching and choice of fabrics. She might have sewn her own saris into the quilt or those of other female family members.

While today’s Kantha quilts and other Kantha products may not be produced in such an intimate fashion, they do touch on that emotional and family-focused tradition, one that not only reaches back through many generations but can also be felt and understood by people across cultures and continents.

How to Use Kantha

So, you’ve decided to incorporate Kantha into your home. What’s the best way to feature them? As it turns out, the options are numerous.

A thin woman with brown hair and a pink shirt is laying on a blue kantha quilt on the beach. Behind her, is a straw umbrella and the blue ocean.

A Kantha quilt makes an inspiring accent piece. With its bright colors, interesting patterns, and unique stitching, your blanket will surely be noticed by visitors.

Why not give it an even bigger spotlight? All-white or all-grey bedding is one ideal backdrop for a colorful Kantha throw. Layered on top or draped over the end of the bed, the rich colors will really pop. You can try the same look on an upholstered chair or couch. In a room that has been following a strict minimalist aesthetic, a Kantha quilt can turn up the color volume in a coherent, measured way and bring warmth and richness into a room.

You can even take the look outside: What about a Kantha blanket on the beach? It makes the ideal sitting space for your next picnic, beach day, movie night in the park, or other outdoor adventure. Soft and durable, this piece will outlast the tireless summer days.

If you already have a laid-back, bohemian style, a Kantha may incorporate rather seamlessly into your everyday life and home design. DGY offers up several Kantha goods for enriching your everyday with sustainable and upcycled designs!