Kantha (meaning "patched cloth") is both the tradition and craft of producing these unique, quilted blankets (making something useful and beautiful out of discarded items), as well as the stitch itself.
We use "kantha" primarily to refer to the small, straight, running stitch that quilts our sari-cloth blankets together. Kantha quilts are layers of cloth stitched together, using this regional technique, to make a unique quilted blanket.
At the most basic, kantha has always been a craft of repurposing the old (scraps & rags) into new — functional blankets to keep warm during colder months.
Of course, the kantha quilts you see for sale today are not made of old rags! Today, these works of art are made using lightly used, repurposed saris and new thread. Our dignify kantha use 6 layers of saris that have been purchased in bulk, washed, matched, stitched, patched, and washed again. Many modern kanthas use 2 layers of cloth.
A quilt is a multilayered textile with two or more layers of fabric, and usually a filler in the middle. The layers are stitched together to make a blanket or decorative textile piece.
Kantha quilts, specifically, have no inner batting or filler, only layers of cloth — dignify kantha are made from 6 layers of thin, muslin sari cloth.
Kantha quilts are also uniquely defined by the particular kantha stitch. This is a simple, running stitch used in embroidery in the Bengal region of South Asia. dignify’s kantha quilts feature a consistent, straight, kantha stitch spaced 1cm apart.
Made from factory-discarded or repurposed, vintage sari cloth, kantha quilts also embody the kantha tradition of transforming the old into the new & beautiful.
Kantha is a traditional type of stitch & embroidered quilt native to rural, eastern South Asia — in particular Bangladesh and the neighboring Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, along the Bay of Bengal. It is a craft of the Bengal region ("Bengali"), which is not the same as Bangladeshi (meaning: of the country of Bangladesh).
Most known embroidery stitches have been incorporated into the art of kantha, though at its essence, the kantha phor (stitch) is the simple running stitch.
Kantha is functional, but artistry has always been central to the craft. “Special kantha” went beyond practicality to mean much more to the makers & their descendents (or gift recipients). Styles of special embroidery & the techniques stitched into the cloth were immersed in folk beliefs, as well as in shared rituals and common cultural practices.
Different designs & embellishments may reflect prayers and vows of women, or storytelling of a woman’s family history. Blankets were often stitched as gifts for special occasions and personified the love & devotion of a mother, wife, or daughter for the family (or blanket recipient). Taught as a generational skill, elaborate kantha were a way for illiterate women to leave a lasting mark with symbolic well-wishing, desires, & storytelling.
“Kantha is an example of a strange contradiction. For here is an object created at an endeavour at thrift — by transforming worn out textiles that would normally be thrown away — into objects of rare beauty and which have, in the course of time, become legendary.”
— KAMALADEVI CHATTOPADHYAY
Traditionally, kantha quilts were made with cloth from old saris (women’s garments) and dhotis (men’s garments) and embroidered with thread pulled from the sari’s borders. Desired thickness determined the number of layers, and the materials were any scraps & rags available.
Today, these quilts are made using new thread, but still with repurposed cloth. Lightly used saris may be sold or discarded by wealthier women because of changing styles or interests. Or, cloth may be acquired from factory overruns, misprints, remnants, color variations, or printing flaws.
Our production partner in Bangladesh purchases saris in bulk, then the cloth is washed, matched, stitched, patched, and washed again. Many kantha quilts you can find on Etsy or Amazon are made with 2 layers of cloth. Our dignify kantha use 6 layers of quality, repurposed sari cloth.
All our products are made by vulnerable & at-risk women in Bangladesh, including survivors of trafficking & exploitation.
Our production partner, Basha, is a generous, safe, kind- & whole-hearted business that employs these women in dignified, sustainable work.
Read more about who makes dignify’s kantha quilts >
In your home, a kantha blanket can be used as a one-of-a-kind accessory for a pop of color or rich texture to add to your design. There are bigger investment anchors in a room that you want to choose conservatively for versatility & to last in style (furniture, rugs). But, a smaller, accent piece like a kantha throw can be more bold & risky — it can really add the wow to your space! (Learn more about choosing & styling a throw for your home here >)
Beyond styling an interior, kantha throws are practically used in a number of ways. Here are some common uses that we have seen or heard from dignify customers:
- Picnic or beach blanket (especially large throws; — classic throws also sub as an absorbent beach towel if you’re packing light)
- Lap blanket in a cold office or in a wheelchair (a mini kantha is the perfect size for this, or a classic throw folded in half)
- Patio blankets — on a back deck or restaurant patio
- TV blankets — our kanthas are long enough to cover both shoulders and toes
- Yoga blanket — Yoga practitioners may fold a throw to use as a gentle prop/block, or lay it out over the mat during cooldown
Consistent with traditional kantha, many kantha blankets are given as gifts for special occasions. The meaningful, redemptive story of our kantha blankets has resounded with customers for so many occasions:
- Milestone birthday
- Baby arrivals (a mini kantha blanket makes the best baby gift!)
- Thank you or host gift
- Grief & loss
Family members & close friends who are separated by distance have sent a blanket as a way to say,
“I can’t be with you in person, but ”wrap yourself in love” with this blanket, and know that I am there in spirit.”
Of course, at the most basic, kantha are used for what they've always been made for: keeping warm!