Appliqué, which is derived from a French term "appliquer," meaning "applied” or “to put on”, is a technique of forming a single pattern with different pieces of cloth. Known to have been introduced in India in the 11th century, Appliqué is an ancient technique of creating beautiful and decorative items with different pieces of cloth. Nomadic people of the desert have long pieced together their tents and even decorated them with elaborate appliqué. Pieces of fabric are applied on top of another for decorative or functional purposes. The technique of appliqué goes back as far as sewing does when people began using other bits of cloth to cover up holes in clothing items. Fabrics worn by the ancient inhabitants of India, China and Egypt include cotton, linen and silk; these date back as far as 5,000 B.C. Once these enterprising civilizations standardized methods of manufacturing these fabrics, artisans could turn their attention to decorating them with appliqués.
Appliqué is found in many forms of folk art, from Gujarati Indian tent fabrics to American colonial quilts. Appliqués range from the purely decorative to the symbolic, as in African funereal cloth. Fabrics used for ceremonial tents and religious rituals bore appliqués of elephants, peacocks, flowers and mythical characters. Appliqué became a skilled trade, performed by a caste called Darjis. In addition to being used to decorate the fabrics and clothing of royalty, appliqué was used to decorate a temple's ceremonial umbrellas and tents. Different areas developed unique styles of appliqué.
The technique is very common in some kinds of textiles, but may be applied to many materials. In the context of ceramics, for example, an appliqué is a separate piece of clay added to the primary work, generally for the purpose of decoration. It is little different from patchwork. Both are very ancient techniques and sometimes referred to as one. The main difference between them is that patchwork (piecework) is the process of seaming small pieces of fabric in to a larger whole, while appliqué is the process of sewing smaller pieces of fabric onto a larger background fabric.
Patchwork and appliqué are done in many different geographical regions of India with each area having its own particular local aesthetic. The main centers where the crafts are practiced are Orissa, Gujarat, Bihar, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Himachal Pradesh. Each of these regions used their distinct styles and colour palettes to create decorative designs.
In Odisha, the Applique work of Pipili, Butapalli, Khallikote, Tushra and Chikiti is known for its bold character and vitality. Among the traditional applique work, Chandua,Chhati, Trasa, Alata,Adhoni, Mandant and Bana, used at the time of Dola Jatra for deities are quite well-known. The use of all these products are associated with the religious ceremonies of Lord Jagannath. So it can be safely concluded that this art form ascribes its origin to the Jagannath cult. Patronized by kings and nobility of Orissa, appliqué work at one time had reached the artistic heights of excellence. The kings of Puri engaged craftsmen in the service of Lord Jagannath and set up village Pipli for them to live in. They were specially skilled in designing the canvas cloth that is used to cover the chariots of Lord Jagganath,Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra.
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.
The art is also prominent in Gujarat among the Rabari community. In Rajasthan, the Marwari community are known to excel at this art. The Rabari are a population of semi-nomadic camel herders residing throughout Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana and the Punjab. 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.
Demand for appliqué work has increased over the last period. The work is functional and decorative at the same time. Appliqué does face competition in the market just as other hand printed and handmade fabrics do because of the price and the time involved in producing them in bulk.