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2002/146/1 Quilt, 'Nakshi kantha' (embroidered quilt), cotton / silk, designed by Surayia Rahman, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1983 - 1984. Click to enlarge.

Nakshi kantha or embroidered quilt, Bangladesh

This spectacular embroidered quilt, known as a nakshi kantha, was one of a group of three designed by Surayia Rahman and hand made by homeless women in Bangladesh in the early 1980s under a scheme called "Skill Development for Under Privileged Women". Each quilt was made by eight women working everyday for a year. Of the three, one was gifted to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, who said it would end up in one of the Windsor Castle bedrooms; a second was purchased by a textile museum in Germany and the third was purchased by the donor and her husband to celebrate their wedding anniversary.

It is thought that Bangladeshi women may have began to produce kantha, which have been part of the culture and tradition of Bangladesh for as long as anyone can remember, around the seventeenth century. Kantha means 'patched cloth', and kantha making was the equivalent of quilt-making in the West when old fabrics were given a second life by being transformed into something new. The women of Bangladesh layered old saris and dhotis one on top of the other, then covered them in either red or cream hand-woven cotton. These were then quilted through all the layers and embroidered with geometric and figurative designs using threads drawn from the borders of old saris.

Quilt making for the home had died out in Bengal by 1925 but is now being revived using old patterns and methods but with good quality materials. Traditionally, many kanthas featured a lotus flower as the central motif. The lotus was thought to provide protection from the evil eye and to be a supplication to the gods. Another popular design was the mandala - symbolising the unity of the universe. As in Western samplers, Bangladeshi women would also embroider familiar homilies into their kanthas.

A kantha is often given as a gift. Shape and size determine the kantha's usage, which can be anything from a bed cover to a cover for a Quran in a Muslim household. A pregnant women will sew a kantha for her baby and a bride-to-be will take a new kantha to her husband's household.

Christina Sumner, Curator Decorative Arts and Design, 2002


Object No.


Object Statement

Quilt, 'Nakshi kantha' (embroidered quilt), cotton / silk, designed by Surayia Rahman, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1983 - 1984

Physical Description

Quilt, 'Nakshi kantha' (embroidered quilt), cotton / silk, designed by Surayia Rahman, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1983 - 1984.

A large, square, hand embroidered quilt on a cream background. The outside edge has been bound with red stitching in a zig-zag pattern. The dominant central motif is a black elephant embroidered with trappings and flowers, surrounded by four padma (lotus), amidst a profusion of gaily coloured plants, birds and symbols of everyday life. The central panel is surrounded by dark red herringbone stitching.

The outer border consists of red and pink flowers and green leaves which are varying interpretations of the lotus flower, being different on each of the four sides. On each of the long sides the lotus are interspersed with a sweeping 's' line. Inside that border again, on a pale blue background, there is a row of yellow boteh (in Bangladesh, kalka) motifs.





2940 mm


2680 mm



The quilt was designed by a well-known local artist, Surayia Rahman in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Although this nakshi kantha was made in the early 1980s, the figurative designs used are all traditional kantha motifs - every-day items with which the embroiderer would be familiar. These include birds, flowers (eg the lotus and the sunflower), trees and animals. Also to be found on this kantha are a bed, a snake, a comb, a baby's cradle, fish, butterflies, a loti or water pot, a fan, parrots, and caterpillars - all of which are traditional motifs.

The earliest kantha were embroidered with just red, blue and black thread; yellow, green and pink colours were added later. Originally, the main stitch was simply the running stitch which created a ripple effect in and around the patterns; darning stitch was used to fill in the motifs. Nowadays the women embroiderers, while still utilising the simple running stitch, also use chain, herringbone, satin and cross stitch.

This quilt has been made using modern, new, materials but adheres faithfully to the old style and process of production. The old traditions were followed by first drawing the design free hand on the material to be embroidered; the needlework was then carried out in silk thread utilising numerous different closely set stitches with the traditional quilting running stitch giving life and movement.

This particular quilt was hand-embroidered in Bangladesh by eight women working every day for one year under a scheme to enable impoverished women to learn a craft and earn the means to keep their family. All the labour, dyes, designs etc necessary for the industry are produced locally.

This quilt was made 1983-1984.



Traditionally, kanthas were made in many different sizes and used as winter quilts, covers and wraps for books and valuables, as sitting mats for ceremonies and most often as gifts - the shape and size of each piece determining what it would be used for. A pregnant women will sew a kantha for her baby and the bride-to-be will take a new kantha to her husband's household. Nowadays they are being reproduced for the foreign market for use as bed quilts. This particular piece is thick enough to be used as a floor rug.

Purchased in Bangladesh on 28 January 1985 by the donor Sue Tuckwell and her husband Allan Tuckwell, who were at that time living in Dakha.


Credit Line

Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Susan Tuckwell, 2002

Acquisition Date

19 December 2002

Cite this Object


Nakshi kantha or embroidered quilt, Bangladesh 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 26 November 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Nakshi kantha or embroidered quilt, Bangladesh |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=26 November 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}
This object is currently on display in 100 Years of the Bauhaus at the Powerhouse Museum.