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Uncovering the Heritage of Applique

Applique is an ancient art that has existed for millennia across all continents of the globe. There are many traditions of this technique, each indigenous to different communities residing throughout India.

Applique wall hanging from the 16th century   Friendship blanket with applique, 1900s
L: Applique wall hanging from the 16th century
R: Friendship blanket with applique, 1900s

Darji or, alternatively, darzi, means tailor across much of India. For centuries, the most skilful darjis have been creating applique items as offerings to the triad of deities, Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra.

Applique work depicting Lord Jagannath
Applique work depicting Lord Jagannath

The roadsides of Pipli, Odisha (Orissa), are adorned with applique creations all year round, but it is particularly during the religious Chariot Festival, known as Rath Yatra, in Puri that the full extent of the art of applique can be witnessed in the canopy designs of sizeable chariots. The festival continues its annual spectacle, which sees not only Indian locals pay tribute to the deities, but also tourists from around the world flocking to witness the colourful divine ceremony.

Traditional Pipli applique work
Traditional Pipli applique work

The Rabari are a population of semi-nomadic camel herders residing throughout Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and the Punjab. Modern times have seen members of the Rabari community integrate into society through education, commerce and agriculture. However, there remains a small percentage of Rabaris who continue to live semi-nomadically, carrying on the tradition of their ancestors. It is the women of the Rabari community, particularly in Gujarat’s Kutch region, who are most famed for their skills in the hereditary art. Rabari applique often goes hand in hand with embroidery and patchwork, appearing extensively on dowry items and domestic items such as quilts. Camels and scenes of the desert and countryside inspire vivid multi-coloured motifs.

Costume of a Rabari woman featuring applique work
Costume of a Rabari woman featuring applique work

A Rajasthani woman of the Marwari community at work
A Rajasthani woman of the Marwari community at work

Applique in Rajasthan is similar to katab patchwork from Kathiawar, a peninsula in the Saurashtra region near the Gulf of Kutch and Arabian Sea in Gujarat. The base fabric is medium weighted and primarily white in colour. Patchwork motifs of various sizes, shapes and colours are arranged in a manner that produces captivating patterns. The most eminent Rajasthani applique work is produced by the Marwari community. Due to the obscure workmanship, done by both men and women, it is believed that Rajasthani applique work of the Marwari community is influenced by the Egyptians.

Khatwa is the local name for applique in Bihar, where the men’s skills lie in pattern cutting, and women’s in stitching. The art is predominantly seen on tents and canopies for religious purposes and garments such as sarees, blouses and sashes. Household items such as quilts and cushion covers are also adorned with khatwa. As garments are personal items of use, motifs that appear on them are abstract and stylised. Applique from Bihar is characterised by the use of red, yellow, green and orange motifs. These vibrant colours appear on applique textiles throughout India, reflecting the vibrant lifestyle of everyday India, and its myriad communities and cultures that live in unison.

Khatwa on natural silk
Khatwa on natural silk

 

Images: Museum of Applied Arts, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, D'source, Bhubaneswar Buzz, India Crafts Study, Sangam Project, Sue Reno