The term appliqué is derived from French and Latin words appliquer and applicare, respectively, which both mean to join or attach.
Like embroidery, it has a humble beginning. The technique was used as a way to strengthen worn areas of items or to patch holes that had formed. Early appliqué was used to length the life of clothing and moved into artful techniques that can be seen in blankets and quilts from numerous cultures from all over the world.
Appliqué is ornamental needlework in which pieces or patch of fabric in different shapes and patterns are sewn or stuck onto a larger piece to form a picture or pattern. It is commonly used as decoration, especially on garments. The technique is accomplished either by hand stitching or machine. Appliqué is commonly practiced with textiles, but the term may be applied to similar techniques used on different materials.
In applique, pieces of cloth cut into pattern are sewn onto a fine muslin. Applique is also economical as it eliminates the need to embroider.
Applique shamiana or tents were very famous once in the city of Aligarh. Even today appliqued shamiana are commonly used but only for religious and social gatherings. The skills are now being used to ornament dress material. In patti ka kaam, the fabric is cut into motifs and hemmed onto the bare fabric. Stems are embroidered in ‘stem stitch’.
Rampur is also famous for applique. An applique called ‘daraz’ , a remarkable seam detail used in the hand – stitched garments worn by the Nawabs is unique to Lucknow. Daraz is done to join an either sides of the fabric. Motifs such as fish, leaf, flower and star are the cutout forms used.
Lucknow is famous for its Tharu Applique.
Tharu community belongs to the Terai lowlands, amid the Shivaliks or lower Himalayas. Most of them are forest dwellers, and some practice agriculture. The word tharu is believed to be derived from sthavir, meaning followers of Theravada Buddhism.
The Tharus live in both India and Nepal. In the Indian terai, they live mostly in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar.
The Tharu women use applique to ornament their traditional garments – ghaghra- choli, men’s cap, jackets and pouches. In this type of applique, incisions are made on the top fabric that is hemmed down on to a base fabric. Thus the form is revealed in the reverse. Shapes are not cut out from the fabric as is the case with most appliques.
The background fabric is darker than the colour of the applique and the appliqued layer covers the surface extensively. The patterns are rectilinear and geometric, comprising triangles, fine lines and colorful borders.
In Bihar, the technique is referred to as ‘Khatwa’. Khatwa has the same wellspring as sujuni – the desire to make the best out of waste. It consists of applique work on cloth with chain and straight stitch embroidery as a linear element.
The top layer has incisions or slashes that are folded and stitched down, revealing the pattern with the color of the base cloth.
Cut motifs are stitched on to the base material according to an abstract or narrative design. Much like sujuni, khatwa has been contemporized after the voluntary organizations took up the cause of the women artisans and their craft. Traditional motifs drawn from nature or geometry have given the way to scenes from social life as well as graphic commentary on sensitive issues like AIDS.
In Bhuj, applique work is called Katab, the Kachchhi name for both direct and reverse applique, traditionally involved the recycling of old pieces of cloth through patchwork. Squares called chitkis, triangular pieces and rectangular strips are sewn together in several compositions to construct fabrics sufficiently large for quilts, canopies, hangings and long decorative friezes.
Every bride was expected to have a minimum of three appliques pieces as part of her trousseau as a display of her ability to be a good homemaker.
While the applique serves to sufficiently strengthen the pieces of reused fabrics to withstand further usage, the selective employment of patterned textiles of Gujarat such as mashru, bandhani and ajrakh in the applique manifests the value accorded these textiles. Block printed fragments are pieced together and overdyed to form a ground. Various flowers, animals and birds are depicted with vitality, thus adding an element of color to many domestic structure of Kachchh. Brightly colored pieces of fabric are often cut out of fresh bolts of cloth in order to produce quilts.
Madurai has only a few hereditary craftsmen practicing applique. They are from the Pilamar caste and are closely related. The applique technique is used to produce decorated cloth used for religious procession of temples. The process consists of making paper stencils of the required design pinned onto a polyester cloth and cut according to the shape. This piece is then placed on the base cloth and cut according to the shape. Piping rope is run along the outline and stitched on the sewing machine in addition to outlines done in embroidery stitches.
The main product is the ‘ther seelai’ comprising many components which are part of an ensemble for decorating the temple chariot. Applique decorations are used not only in major temples but also for village festivals propitiating various forest goddesses.
Read here about the Applique work of the communities of Gujarat – Applique Kaam