Kantha embroidery is an indigenous household craft that is also considered a form of art, due to the uniqueness of individual creations, its ability to convey a story and its use as a form of personal and artistic expression. What sets this form of needlework embroidery apart from others is the wide use of the running stitch, also known as kantha. Yarn used for running stitches is often taken from old sarees or dhotis, and covers almost the entire piece of fabric onto which motifs and designs are embroidered. The repetitive use of the running stitch contributes to Kantha’s signature wrinkled and wavy effect on the fabric.

Kantha embroidery began as a means of recycling old or unused cloths and garments, such as sarees and dhotis, in order to create items for household use, such as quilts and plate covers. One of the oldest and most popular forms of Indian embroidery, Kantha is predominantly practised amongst rural women in the Indian states of West Bengal and Odisha (Orissa). Techniques used in Kantha embroidery are passed down from mother to daughter and are popular dowry traditions.

The motifs found in Kantha communicate the identities of its wearers in terms of caste, village and status. Motifs in early Kantha embroidery were drawn from primitive art, such as illustrations of the sun. With time, Hindu Kantha embroiderers created religious motifs, such as of Gods, peacocks, tigers and lotuses, and auspicious colourful motifs that represent the lotus flower. Geometric designs were, and still are, commonly found in motifs created by Muslim Kantha embroiderers.