One of our favorite tasks at Cargo is tidying the stacks of kantha. As we fold each quilt, we love looking at the crazy, vibrant patterns. One kantha we adore holds two fat strips of red cotton printed with guitars and patched with a square of blue hearts. Its flip side is half gold and purple. Another kantha is a tropical garden of flowers and birds from three different sari on one side and green stripes edged in paisley on the other.
Colors range from an orange Hermès would envy to an oceanic green-blue to the most delicate pink. Patterns go from the zany—cockatiels, anyone?—to dignified plaids. Time and use has given the kantha a friendly patina. Even better, they don’t need babied. Just toss them in the washer and dryer from time to time.
Kantha are the very proof of necessity being the mother of invention. In Bangladesh and poorer regions of Eastern India, little goes to waste. That includes fabric. For kantha—which translates as “rag”—the good parts of otherwise torn or stained sari are cut into strips, then layered with other fabric scraps and sewn together by hand in running stitches. The resulting panels are used as blankets.
Some kantha are block-printed after being sewn. (Cargo has a lovely collection of these.) More elaborate kantha might boast stitches that form vines and flowers. In particular villages, residents believe kantha offer the protection of the seamstress to the person who uses the blanket. Very special kantha might have even been mended and embroidered by generations of women.
Our $58 kantha makes a terrific light throw for folding over the arm of a couch or tossing across your lap as you watch movies, but our customers use them many other ways, too. Kantha make wonderful tablecloths, for instance, and everyone should have one in her car trunk for impromptu picnics. Fold a kantha quilt in thirds for an unbeatable table runner that does double duty as a hot pad. We sell kantha tab-top curtain panels and pillow covers, too.
As you daydream about what you’ll do with your kantha, we leave you with this traditional Bengali verse:
Slowly one stitches rags,
Slowly one traverses the path,
And slowly one climbs to the top of the mountain.