Applique was traditionally a means of recycling leftover or unused fabric. Indian artisans create astounding applique motifs by shaping and stitching these fabrics then attaching them to a larger base fabric, creating an overall design through the harmonisation of these motifs and its contrasting colours. Usually, though not always, red, yellow, green, purple, black or white is used for the large base fabric. Motifs are not only made with small pieces of fabrics, but also with ornaments, such as small round mirrors or rings.
Motifs and colours of traditional applique from Pipli, Odisha (Orissa)
Motifs in applique are often created with the combination of embroidery work. Occasionally, motifs are made up of patchwork, which is probably why the two are sometimes confused. Generally, motifs include the following:
a) Flowers, primarily two jasmine species (malli and mogra), sunflowers (suryamukhi), a type of raised flower (utha phula) and lotuses (padma), the last of which are considered sacred in the Hindu religion.
Motifs depicting elephants, flowers and birds
b) Leaves, specifically banka, suji, betel leaves (pana) and leaves of the bael tree (bela).
c) Trees, particularly the bael tree. Also known as belagaccha, it is native to India and sacred in the Hindu religion.
d) Birds such as the swan (hansa), duck (bataka), parrot (sua), peacock (mayor) and the double-headed peacock (gandamayur or bhairaba), a symbol and motif seen across many cultures and religions throughout the world over millennia.
e) Animals, particularly the elephant (hat) and the lion (singho).
Applique motifs depicting a decorated elephant
f) Creepers such as tohi and dali.
g) Fish (matsya).
h) Celestial bodies, namely the sun (surya) and the moon (chandra).
i) Other motifs include geometric shapes and the demon named Rahu, who is said to swallow the sun and moon during eclipses and lunar eclipses.
Geometric motifs used in wall hangings
Patti is a strip of specific measurements and colours used to create motifs:
a) Flower motif (phula patti) is 7-9 inches in red, yellow, green or white against a black background.
b) Mogra flower motif (hirana patti) is 3 inches where the mogra is made with a white cloth against a red background.
c) Plain red strip (sadha patti or naafi patti) is 5-6 inches.
d) Right-facing cone pattern (nahara patti) is 5-6 inches of red, white and black colour combinations.
Fabrics and ornaments create striking motifs contrasted against the base fabric, not necessarily only in colour, but also in texture. It is this kind of simplicity that forms the theme of the piece and attains the colourful collages in applique.
A plethora of motifs and colours used in applique from Odisha (Orissa)
Images: Indus Ladies, Foundation Dezin and Decor, Camel Craft