An Artful Aesthetic: Applique Work


The breath-taking art of Applique has been inspired by our household form of re-using the old or weary cloth in a way to make it look fresh and new like a stew! The form of embroidery that employs stitching or sewing of the large fabric or cloth on the affected part of the base layer in a way to conceal the torn part of the cloth in all its entirety is what Applique all about. Coined from a French word “Appliquer” which implies to put on. This type of artform originated back in Benin, West Africa, in a small town called as Abomey, where the Applique manufacturing was treated as the crucial tradition, especially in the kingdom of Danhome in the early 18th century.

The colorful and vibrant printed artform of Applique gracing the tents of the Kings in the early medieval times when luxury in the wild meant Applique hand-woven tents on colorful cotton cloth with strikingly solid colored patchworks reflecting as a riot of colors. What started as a form of fixing the ripped clothes as a form of necessity soon became the status symbol with craftsmen sewing the bright pieces of cloth to breathe life to the plain and bland base of silhouettes. Earlier, it was also used in the clothing and drapes of women to adorn the old clothes with equal charm. Now, Applique work has become a common sight in bedspreads and quilts which are used for numerous purposes. The trend that became a household need is still used for several royal efficacies like Turkish elite political club generally employs Applique artisans to adorn their palatial homes and workplaces alike.

The age-old artform of Applique can be seen in the coastal backdrop of Bhubaneshwar in Orissa, several kilometres away lies a small village called as Pipli village, where an array of houses and shops are adorned with the beautiful blend of myths, symbols and imagination together sewed in the colourful art of Applique work immaculately handwoven on the large pieces of fabric. The much-coveted Jagannathan Yatra is incomplete without dolling up the famous lords of the city with Applique embroidered canopies of the chariots. It is believed that the King of Orissa who initiated the world-famous pilgrimage accommodated artisans. These skilled artisans crafted appealing applique wok umbrellas and canopies which are displayed and praiseworthy during the ceremonial procession of deities in Jagannathan Yatra. The color scheme of the three covers are predetermined and have been followed ever since its inception. Green and red are used for Lord Balbhadra, red and black are incorporated in the canopies of Lord Subhadra who are the siblings of Lord Jagannatha. The latter’s canopies are painted with applique and intricate thread work in yellow and red color.

The Making

The process of sewing one piece of fabric onto a larger layer of embroidery, fabric or other materials to perfectly blend on with each other through intricate work of needle art and thread technique to fuse in different designs, patterns and pictures are quite unique and attractive to look at from a distance. Since the beauty of Applique generally emanates when it is admired at a distance, it is extensively used in making quilts and bedspreads. It is used to make several types of traditional quilts like Hawaiian quilts, Ratti quilts, Baltimore album quilts, Egyptian Khayamiya, Amish quilts and also the Pakistan uses Applique for manufacturing different types of artful quilts and bedspreads. The technique is quite popular amongst the saree weavers who employ this art to adorn the pallu and grace the border with Applique embroidery.

Types of Applique

There are various types of stitching Applique to the fabric. Some of the common stitches and ways of attaching the applied pieces on the base layer is by following the straight stitch technique. Straight stitch or running stitch is the most common form of stitch practiced while attaching Applique patches onto the base material.

Reverse applique is practiced by stitching various materials and layers together. So, basically, the upper part of the top layer is stitched together while the edges are cut out. The topmost layers achieve the largest cuts.

The motifs used to stylishly personalize the Applique work varies from region to region and craftsmen generally love to weave simpler forms of motifs involving the flora and fauna. Creepers, tree, parrot, elephant, peacock, duck, sun and Rahu (mythical creatures) are embroidered carefully on the fabric.

Floral motifs are first cut from the fabric and then superimposed on the base cloth to emanate grace and poise. Such applique works are more popular amongst feminine chic women who are looking forward to adorning themselves on special occasions and events. Craftsmen use a straight stitch, blind stitch, satin stitch or button hold stitch which requires attaching pieces of the cloth and stitching them to the base cloth. Decorative pieces of applique work employ using mirrors and ostentatious stitches to up the ante and enhance the look and feel of the silhouette. In Orissa, three-dimensional applique work is quite popular wherein the upper part of the base cloth is turned into triangles and attached to the base cloth.

How to Style Applique?

Applique is a popular trend which is followed largely by young kids and adolescents alike. From pairing these chic and funky accents with accessories like bow ties, hair ties, headbands, clips, chunky neckpieces, bracelets etc., it is important to note that these accessories must match the color contrast of the base cloth.

The bold statement exuded through these colorful vivid and vivacious patterns is remarkable and often creates a dramatic look. The relaxed feel of the comfortable base fabric and the pop of color added by patches and applique work is what adds the spunk factor to your outfit and the entire look instantly. These applique work outfits can be donned on informal occasions like get-togethers, party bashes, Fridays at work etc.  But always ensure that the base fabric is never glued with patchwork since it causes melting or crushing of the fabric. Just be careful while applying patchwork on fabrics like vinyl, leather or faux leather and fleece.

Pure Elegance


Leave a comment


Please note, comments must be approved before they are published