‘Applique’ is a French term which translates to ‘to apply’. This term applies to the age-old technique where small embellishments are superimposed onto the surface of a larger object, mostly associated with ceramics and textiles
In India, applique has been a part of religious traditions for centuries, though it also holds historic prominence in countries such as China, Benin, Pakistan and Egypt. The technique was famously utilised in 1965 by the UK’s Royal School of Needlework in the creation of the Hastings Embroidery, which is intended to be a modern-day Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the Battle of Hastings.
In textiles, applique is sometimes confused with patchwork. Though both techniques derive from the recycling of old fabrics by sewing different fabrics to create one piece, they are quite distinguishable. Patchwork refers to a variety of fabrics sewn together to create a single textile pattern. On the other hand, applique refers to a variety of coloured fabrics and ornaments, such as small round mirrors, layered on top of one another in order to create elaborate designs by means of various forms of stitching. There is no restriction to the type of fabrics used in the creation of applique items, and may even be of varying textures. It is often found alongside embroidery and can be sub-divided into two techniques. The simple ‘play by ear’ technique consists of the open use of an assortment of materials of various shapes and sizes, stitched together without much preparation. The more complex technique involves thorough planning of the design before any work is done with the materials.
There are many forms of applique found throughout India, but it is most prominent in the state of Odisha, formerly known as Orissa. Within Odisha, Puri city and Pipli town are renowned for the origination, tradition and survival of the art and craft of applique. Today, Pipli is known worldwide to be the centre for many artisans and workshops that still practice long established techniques in the creation of traditional and contemporary applique items.
The art is also prominent in Gujarat among the Rabari community. In Rajasthan, the Marwari community are known to excel at this art. The use of fabrics of different textures is most common in Bihar, where the art is known as khatwa.