Kantha Embroidered Sarees


Kantha is an indigenous household craft, made the rural women in West Bengal; it is a specialty of Bolpur-Santiniketan and remains also the most creative of all embroidery styles in this part of India. The use of kantha is popular in saris but any garment or cloth with kantha embroidery (having a border of decorative running stitch motifs) may be called a kantha garment.In the best examples, the entire cloth is covered with running stitches, employing beautiful motifs of flowers, animals birds and geometrical shapes, as well as themes from everyday activities. The stitching on the cloth gives it a slight wrinkled, wavy effect.

Today, Kantha embroidery work has become the fashion label in the Indo-Western world. Lets find out the fascinating history of this unique art form that remained in mystery until it was revived.


Kontha` or `Kantha` is a Sanskrit word, which means `rags`. It is also called as the `recycling art`. There are several legends that are associated with the origin of this art form. It is said that in the past, the precious clothes that were torn out were piled in layers and stitched by the women. Another legend relates `kantha` origin to Lord Buddha and his disciples because they used the thrown away rags to cover themselves. They used to stitch those thrown away. Kantha also means throat. The name Nilakanth is given to Lord Shiva, literally meaning, “blue throat” after he swallowed the poison that arose as a result of the churning of the ocean, It is also known as the “Throat charka”. The origin of Kantha traces its history to a period not less than a thousand years. Its images reach back to even earlier sources, pre and post- Vedic. Some symbols such as the tree of life, the swirling cosmos, and the sun are taken from the primitive art. The later influence of Hinduism, in the making of Kanthas for religious ceremonies, pujas, weddings and births, gave the art its place as a vehicle of significant cultural meaning.

The earliest mention of Bengal Kantha is found in the book, “Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita”, by Krishnadas Kaviraj which was written some five hundred years back.There the poet says, Sachi, the mother of Chaitanya, sent a homemade Kantha to her son at Puri through some pilgrims. The same Kantha still can be viewed in Gambhira, at Puri, displayed in a glass case. The second earliest reference is in Zaman’s book about the famous artist A. Tagore. Who seemed to have encountered a woman in a village in a district of Srihatta of Bangladesh, who recorded her life story in her Kantha spanning a period starting from her marriage to old age. Bengal Kantha making is a little different from other quilting artistry. The material is different as well as the stitching method.

From a very long time, Bengal cotton and silk have been known in the world market for its finesse and quality. Bengal Kantha makers reflect their traditions in choosing their designs. The real value of Kantha embroidery lies in its fine craftsmanship and vignette of daily folk life motifs being a favourite of the embroiderers.


There are seven different types of Kantha

  • Archilata kantha –Archilata kantha are small, rectangular covers for mirrors or toilet accessories with wide, colorful borders in assorted motifs.
  • Baiton kantha –Baiton Kantha are square wraps used for covering books and other valuables. They are elaborately patterned with borders of several rows of colorful designs.
  • Durjani/thalia –Durjani/thalia kantha are small rectangles with a central lotus design and embroidered borders. Three corners of the rectangle are folded inward to form a wallet.
  • Lep kantha –Lep kantha are rectangular wraps heavily padded to make warm coverlets. The entire piece would be stitched in wavy, rippled designs over which simple embroidery was executed.
  • Oaar kantha –Oaar kantha are rectangular pillow covers in simple designs with a decorative border sewn around the edges.
  • Sujani kantha –Sujani kantha are rectangular pieces of decorative cloth used as blankets or spreads on ceremonial occasions.
  • Rumal kantha –Rumal kantha are used as absorbent wipes or plate coverings. They also feature a central lotus with ornamented borders.


Kantha is basically close running stitch filled inside a design. Kantha work involve complex artistic work done by the weavers with the blend of exquisite embroidery in ornamental running stitch. The traditional work on the Kantha saris in the form of floral motifs, animals and birds figures and geometric shapes looks amazingly fabulous.

Materials required

  • Embroidery frame
  • Embroidery thread
  • Tracing paper
  • Carbon paper
  • Needle

The working of kantha involves following steps

  • The designs are pierced on a tracing paper
  • Cut the chosen cloth such that the motifs designed on the paper will perfectly fit on the cloth.
  • The motifs pierced on the tracing paper are printed on the cloth.
  • Add colors to the motifs designed on the sheet of paper; they will be the final model of the pattern for the hat; the more beautiful combination of colors are selected.
  • Start stitching on the cloth, accordingly to the final colored model of the design.


Fabric on which the kantha is done are usually muted as the old fabrics are already underwent various washings. The threads used for embroidery were usually drawn from the colorful borders of the discarded saris mainly White, red, green, yellow, black and blues in colour. Cotton threads are usually used for embroidery.

The stitches used in kantha embroidery are: running, darning, satin and loop. Stem stitch is also used to outline the figures.

Running Stitch: Take two strands of thread, tie a knot at one end and start stitching. Take the needle up from below the fabric, leave some space, take it down and up again repeatedly till the outline is fully done. Start stitching inside the design in the same way until the whole design is filled.