Kantha refers to the stitching (quilting) together of two or more cotton saris to make blankets. The tradition of kantha begins with the thrift of the Bengali women.
In Sanskrit, the word kantha simply means rags. For centuries, poor Bengali women have taken their discarded cloth and sewn them together with a simple running stitch to create something new. The functional kantha was not a work of art, but simply what the poorest families used to keep warm. Kantha also had an aspect of intimacy. Old cloth is said to keep the user safe from harm. Women stitched kantha for their loved ones--for their children, their husbands, their parents.
Even the most practical kantha is creative and spontaneous in nature. It is no easy task to create a functional quilt out of old, worn rags! Overtime, a more elaborate nakshi kantha tradition developed. Most kantha was made by illiterate women who would stitch stories into their quilts--which often would take years to complete. The same kantha is known to have been worked on by a grandmother, mother, and daughter. Many of the kantha motifs reflect the needlewoman’s desire for happiness, marriage, and fertility. These women would then "autograph" their pieces either with their name or by indicating their relationship with the person for whom the kantha is intended.