What Is Kantha, Anyway? | dignify

What is Kantha? 

With so many blankets that we refer to as “kantha throws”, "kantha quilts", "indigo kantha", or "kantha blankets", you might simply wonder, what is kantha?

Kantha (meaning: “patched cloth”) refers to both the tradition of producing these unique, quilted blankets (making something useful and beautiful out of discarded items), as well as the craft and stitch itself (a small, straight running stitch in Bengali embroidery).



Where Does Kantha Originate?

Kantha is a traditional type of embroidery native to eastern South Asia, in particular Bangladesh and the neighboring Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha, along the Bay of Bengal. For this reason, it is considered a craft of the Bengal region ("Bengali"), which is not the same as Bangladeshi (meaning, of the country of Bangladesh).

All of our kantha blankets are handcrafted in Bangladesh, but other retailers may receive them from India.

Officially, it is pronounced KAHN-taa, (though we will unofficially continue to incorrectly call it "can-tha").

 

Kantha's History

  • For as many as 500 centuries, poor Bengali women have taken their discarded cloth scraps and sewn them together with a simple running stitch; taking the old and repurposing it into something useful and protective. Far from trend-setting, or even artfulness, kantha was created originally for the most basic and practical purpose: to keep warm.

  • Over time, kantha developed as a generational skill, a craft that could symbolically impart story, desire, and well-wishing for loved ones & gift recipients. Elaborate kantha were made as wedding gifts or gifts for mothers, with stories and wishes weaved in, allowing illiterate women to leave a lasting mark.

Kantha Today

  • Today, the rich tradition of kantha has gained popularity in the West; no surprise, given the beauty, intricacy, and "wow" factor of each piece.

  • As we culturally trend away from disposable consumer goods, and towards meaningful, well crafted goods with a low environmental impact, kantha blankets happily fit the bill. 
  • The cloth is repurposed, which means no new dyes or inks (except for the environmentally happy natural indigo blankets), no by-products of production; the only factory-produced supplies we use are thread and new, undyed, natural cotton (for our modern quilts).
  • Our kantha blankets — sometimes called sari quilts — are not made of rags, nor do they feature elaborately designed stitch patterns. But, they are indeed fashioned from cloth that has been discarded and is ready for new life. 

  • Cotton saris have been traded on doorsteps for cooking pots & spoons, then sold at large sari markets; our "special" silk-blend blankets are made from silk-blend cloth discarded by the producers for flaws, colour variation, out-dated patterns, or as remnants. All the cloth that makes kantha blankets sold at dignify is sourced in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

  • All of dignify's kantha quilts & other goods are made by Basha Boutique; watch the video below to see the process that brings your blanket to life!

How to Choose High Quality Kantha

There is a wide range of quality, craftsmanship, and employment standards that produce similar-seeming kantha products. How can you know which is the best? Is the value worth the cost?

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind as you shop for kantha:



  • Thickness : Each layer of sari cloth is very thin (imagine a soft muslin for a baby swaddle), so if there are only 2 or 3 layers, the blanket will be very light. This is the most common thickness in the native regions, but is much thinner than most Westerners would expect from a blanket. 
    • Our kantha quilts are made with 6 layers of sari cloth. The final product is still thin, not bulky, but definitely as "hefty" as kantha come. They are light, but provide a good warmth, as well. (Any kantha made with new cloth, like our modern off-white throw blanket, have additional thickness & weight).

 

  • Stitching : How dense do you expect the running stitches to be? A blanket with very tight, close stitching will have a more stiff, substantial feel than stitching that is farther apart.
      • The standard stitches on dignify's kantha run approximately 1cm (3/8 inch) apart

     

    • Edge Stitching : This is where a more inexpensively produced, lower quality kantha will reveal itself. A well-made kantha should have a straight edge, with a kantha stitch right up to the edge, preventing any fraying or interior cloth coming out. 
      • Our kantha are stitched with precision all around!

       

      • Color / Fading : Keep in mind that if a kantha quilt features faded or very pastel colors, it is more likely that the fabric has been more frequently washed, or is old; the fibres may break down more quickly than other fabrics. Women in Bangladesh (who are originally wearing these saris) love color & vibrance, so these are what you will (should) mostly find with authentic kantha blankets.

        • Cost : Of course, we are all cost-conscious. But, there is a large amount of labor involved in producing even a single kantha throw. Our kantha throws take, on average, 23 hours to handcraft. When I see a similar product that is being sold for much less, I ask myself how it could be possible that it would be sold at this price? What shortcuts have been taken? How much was the producer paid? Could this really have been handcrafted? I have received price lists from other kantha suppliers who sell to larger chain operations, and I am simply shocked at how they could produce them at such a low price.

           

           

          I have received emails in the past where a customer shares her disappointment that the quality of her kantha blanket is lower than expected; every time (multiple times!), we've discovered that they had not received their blanket from dignify, but from another store instead!

          We stand by our products and are confident that you won't find a kantha that is as unique, versatile, rich in story, or as well-constructed as our hand-stitched kantha quilts. 


           

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