The history of Kantha stitch

Made from recycled sarees, “Kantha” reportedly translates roughly to ‘rags’, likely referring to the reclaimed nature of the vintage fabrics and repurposing methods in which Kantha quilts are created. Far more beautiful than the original name inspires, Kantha quilts are a vibrant patchwork of layers upon layers of patterned fabrics, bold colours and of course a rich history which is woven together with each stitch, patch and stretch of beautiful fabric.

FLOWER ~ available at The Kantha Project shop
Often dyed with natural colours using leaves, grains, seeds and roots such as turmeric, the quintessentially Indian look of the blankets makes for a bold statement and brightens up, cools down or adds life to any living space or armchair you can drape them over.

Kantha stitch is one of the oldest forms of embroidery that can be traced back to ancient India, the name also having a double meaning as ‘throat’ with roots in the story of the Hindu deity Shiva and how his neck was turned blue in an effort to save humanity from a poisoned ocean, earning the nickname “Nila Kantha” – meaning blue throat. Ancient Kantha quilts often had ceremonial symbols and animals printed and stitched in their patterns, and were used in births and wedding ceremonies.

The Kantha Project
ANANDA ~ available at The Kantha Project shop

Women of West Bengal would stitch Kantha quilts, handkerchiefs and other personal articles with handmade motifs relevant to the family member or gift receiver; the art of which was passed down from mother to daughter. Now the Kantha stitch is still used traditionally in India and kantha quilts have gained a worldwide appreciation for their wonderfully eclectic and unique style of mixed fabric prints and patches combined with all-over hand-stitching. Kantha stitching is also not limited to quilts – it has crept into Western homes in the form of cushion covers, duvet covers and smaller items like bags, purses and even jackets.

Kanthas are a symbol of history, culture, family, strength & ingenuity.

For further reading, see A Kantha Guide for Shoppers
You can also see more of our favourite vintage Kantha throws over at our Etsy store.

We’d love to hear how you use your Kantha throws below!

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3 Replies to “The history of Kantha stitch

  1. Nice quilts. It definitely follows the great aesthetics of indian designs. These quilt designs are cool and all, but the most surprising thing was the fact that turmeric was used as one of the ingredients to make the color. The reason I say that is because that’s one of the main ingredients of curry. I always thought that it was meant to be eaten, but I never knew about it’s other purposes. That’s one eye opening piece of knowledge right there. One more thing. I know this is a bit irrelevant but turmeric is also good for the liver. Maybe quilts made with it will also be healthy for people wearing them?

    1. Thanks Blame.

      Yes, that’s right! We love curry! Turmeric is great for its beneficial properties when ingested but also be careful using it whilst cooking your favourite curry as you may end up with an unintentional turmeric dye stain!

      About the external use you mention – I think that’s certainly possible. I have heard about compression therapy – such as ginger and cabbage compresses used as a non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical methods to alleviate symptoms and heal the body.

      Isn’t nature amazing? Everything we need is right here – growing naturally among us. We just need to utilise these natural resources:)

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