Appliqué is one of the oldest forms of fabric decoration dating all the way back to ancient Egypt. It is done by attaching fabrics of different colours and textures to a base fabric in order to form a pattern or picture. Though it started off as a solution to add strength to fabric or repair damaged areas of garments, art found its way into the technique and it soon became a form of surface design!
Appliqué is used all over the world and its scope of design is infinite. In India, the technique exists in several regions but is prominently seen in Pipli, Orissa and Khatwa, Bihar.
It has marked its spot on the world map as the center for Indian appliqué where artisans from all over India still practice and develop this century old craft into traditional and contemporary pieces. One may notice that this craft is seen throughout religious traditions because it was patronized by kings and noblemen. The technique is painstakingly intricate and usually done solely by hand. A smaller item may take a day to finish but larger, more complicated ones may take up to 6 months.
The craft holds not just an artistic significance, but also a major historic one too. A century-old tradition of the “Rath Yatra” or Chariot Festival is held in the neighbouring city of Puri in commemoration of three deities, namely, Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. The Chariots, heavily decorated using Pipli applique-work, pass through the town of Pipli where pilgrims and tourists stop to purchase this exclusive craft to offer the Lord Jagannath or even to keep as souvenirs. Some of the popular items of purchase include umbrellas, canopies, pouches, and lampshades. Although the craft of Pipli adorns the namesake town throughout the year, a visit during the Rath Yatra should be on everyone’s bucket list as the energy is just marvellous!
Pipli has acquired such an interest that the artisans have decided to give it a modern twist. Pipli is now seen on bags, purses and blouses as well!
It is interesting about Khatwa is that it is said to have travelled to Western India from either Europe or the Middle East through trade connections. The craft usually adorns very thick surfaces and that makes sense because it was traditionally used to decorate tents, canopies and shamianas for important events. The work used to be so fine in the past that it was used to adorn the homes of kings and noblemen. Today, one can also spot this applique style on women’s garments and home décor goods like cushion covers and quilts, in which they have an abstract and artistic bend.
The patterns are usually geometric by design and reflect the way of life in India, which is why you’ll see a lot of human figures, trees and flowers. White is used on vivid backgrounds like orange, scarlet, yellow and green, that characterize the culture’s vibrancy.
Khatwa and Pipli, the nomadic Rabari tribes hailing from the Kutch region of Gujarat, also have their own indigenous style of applique that ornaments the surface of their household items and clothing which blends well with their embroidery and mirror work.