The kantha, from the Sanskrit term kontha (rags), is a quilt of recycled old cloth indigenous to Bangladesh, West Bengal and Bihar—where it is known as sujni. It is made by women of all communities, except hill communities and ethnic groups, for domestic, ceremonial or ritual purposes.
Old saris, dhotis and lungis are preserved to make coverlets, prayer rugs, puja ashons (seats), spreads for guests, pillow covers, wraps for books and other valuables. Traditionally, thread was drawn from sari borders and twisted together. Motifs were drawn from the homestead, from women’s domestic lives, festivals, flowers, trees, vines, Islamic culture and Hindu traditions.
The simple running stitch is the predominant stitch, used to embroider the spaces between the motifs as well as the motifs themselves. Worked in a variety of ways, the running stitch can create the ripples so characteristic of the field of the kantha, be used to fill motifs, and, worked parallel to the stitches of the preceding row or slightly obliquely, produce different visual and textural effects. Other embroidery stitches such as buttonhole, satin, chain, stem, backstitch, etc. are also to be found in kanthas. Contemporary kanthas from Bangladesh have a smaller repertoire of stitches, while kanthas from West Bengal tend to use a lot of herringbone.
The term nakshi kantha has come to distinguish the embroidered kantha from the functional one – drawing upon the title of Jasim Uddin’s poem Nakshi Kanthar Maath (The Field of the Embroidered Quilt).
Other quilts made in Bangladesh are the lohori, the sujni, and the “carpet” kantha. The lohori is embroidered in close parallel running stitches. The sujni—not to be confused with the Bihar sujni—has a surface layer of new red cloth, with geometrical or floral motifs embroidered in back stitch. The “carpet” kantha is embroidered in cross stitch.
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