Coveting Kantha

By Nikita Sheth, Interior Design Editor

Attempting to define an Indian design style is, in essence, a futile task. It is impossible to avoid being reductionist. Indian interior décor reflects the diversity of India itself. Variation exists in the languages spoken, religions and rituals followed, textiles created and the foods consumed. It is this variety which allows India to be a fertile source of inspiration for any design lover.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the use of Indian furniture, finishes and accessories to decorate a space.  Indian design style exudes a sense of warmth and earthliness.  It can evoke an almost magical feel to a room.

One emerging trend that encapsulates the vibrant hues, myriad of motifs and general vibe of Indian culture is a type of hand-crafted embroidery called, kantha.

Kantha originates from the cities of Bangladesh and West Bengal.  Female artisans in villages quilt this textile from reclaimed cotton saris using traditional Indian embroidery. The word kantha refers to the ‘running stitch’ which is used in alternate or parallel repeats.

Uniqueness is at the heart of kantha. Traditionally, no two pieces are the same; each varying in colour, size and pattern. The threads weave their way through centuries, passing from one generation to the next.

Colours chosen for kantha commonly reference the Indian landscape - vibrant reds, mustards, gold and greens. The texture of kantha also creates visual interest with the running stitch creating a slightly wrinkled and wavy effect. Threads are used to create motifs and patterns, which oftentimes embody a story.

Kantha exemplifies the Indian cultural principle of ‘reuse and recycle’. Historically, this was a form of recycling consisting of three layers of discarded cloth and garments; the threads used for the embroidery being derived from the border of old saris.

Kantha has transitioned into the contemporary arenas of fashion and interior design.  Its application is limitless and, like any textile-based artisan practice, it can be extended to all types of decorative accents. 

The images below show how kantha can be used to update or create a bespoke space channelling the diversity of Indian culture.

Kantha can be used to give a modern space a traditional feel.

Kantha accents provide layers of pattern and colour, which complement dark wood.  The combination of colour and detail adds a sense of wanderlust and exoticism to a space.
Kantha gives a sense of personality and playfulness to a neutral space. It utilises contradictory elements, as delicate details combine with bold colours to command attention, whilst maintaining a degree of subtly.

Kantha embraces imperfection – signs of wear and loose stitching adds to the beauty of the textile.
The ornamentation in kantha is exquisite.  Over time, kantha motifs have been contemporised and adapted for modern applications.

Historically, kantha was used for winter quilts and wraps for books or babies. Today, its application is limitless.  From bedheads to chairs, kantha can be worked into any space. 



1. Kantha Quilt Earth ($150 Fossik) 2. Kantha Lampshade Med (Contact Vixen & Velvet for details) 3. Sunset Tropicana Kantha Square Cushion Cover ($32 hard to find) 4. Black Tropical Floral Quilt/Bedspread ($180 Shakiraaz) 5. Kantha Vintage Armchair ($2400 Ecochic) 6. Vintage Kantha Empire Sofa ($3465 Complete Pad)