Kanthas exemplify thrift, as pieces of old cloth are put together to make something new. However, old cloth also has a magical purpose, as it is believed to ward off the evil eye. The kantha made of old cloth is thus supposed to keep its user safe from harm. Kantha motifs, many of them common to the alpana, also have a magical purpose and reflect both the desire of the needlewoman for happiness, prosperity, marriage, and fertility as well as wish-fulfillment.
Despite their variety, most kanthas tend to follow a basic pattern, the focal point being a central lotus motif with concentric circles of undulating vines or sari border patterns. In the four corners of the kantha, or in the four corners of the central square, tree-of-life motifs or kalka are embroidered pointing towards the central lotus motif. The empty spaces between the central and corner motifs are filled with motifs drawn from nature and the homestead or with scenes from real life or legends. Apart from floral motifs, recurrent motifs are the curvilinear swastika, kitchen utensils, ornaments, elephants, tigers, horses, peacocks, boats, palanquins, and the rath,the chariot of jagannath. Scenes from Hindu mythology juxtapose secular scenes of dancing, hunting, and boating. The areas left without motifs or scenes are quilted with the rippling kantha stitch. Other types of kanthas include the pad tola kantha, which is embroidered entirely with sari border patterns, and the lohori or lohira kantha, in which thick yarn is used for close pattern darning. In the most intricate of pad tola kanthas, there is no space between the concentric border patterns so that the entire kantha seems a piece of woven cloth.