In the sphere of folk textiles the needlework quilts of Bengal and Bihar form a group of some of the most interesting cloths of the subcontinent. They are known as Kanthas in Bengal and Sujanis in Bihar. In the past they were made for family use or as gifts, out of cast-off saris or dhotis.
Saris and Dhotis in Bihar and Bengal are predominantly white, sometimes with a border in black or red, or blue and red, sometimes with the addition of yellow or green. Three or four sections of Saris or Dhotis are laid on top of each other and then quilted. The simple running stitch used in quilting produces an embroidery-like design whose details are filled with satin and stem stitch. Threads are taken from the colored borders of the saris for thies purpose.
The conventional pattern of Bengal Kanthas has a lotus medallion in the centre ( symbolising the universe) and four "buttis", or trees, at the corners. The rest of the field is then embroidered wih all manner of motifs: birds, fish, animals and people, with domestic scenes mixed with religious and allegorical figures.
Inspiration for these motifs lies in the 'Alpana' designs which are drawn out on the floor and doorstep in Bengal at festival times.
Kanthas were used eariler as winter quilts covers and wraps for books and valuables, as mats for ceremonial purposes. Kantha making for home consumption in Bengal died out for about the end of the first quarter of the twentieth century due to the usual pressures of industrialisation. The main centres for Kantha amking were in East Bengal, now Bangladesh, where it has now been revived. Here embroidered quilted hangings are made with new cloth to some of the old designs,bestof them expressing some of the lively views of nature of old classics. These new Kanthas are aimed at export and tourist markets.