Patchwork and appliqué are very ancient techniques and sometimes referred to as one. The only difference between them is that patchwork or 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. It is a technique of forming a single pattern with different pieces of cloth. Pieces of fabric are applied on top of another for decorative or functional purposes.


The roots of the applique art/craft form are intertwined with the rituals and traditions of Lord Jagannatha, the presiding deity of the Puri temple. The applique items are mainly used during processions of the deities in their various ritual outings. Items like chhati; Tarasa and Chandua are used for the purpose. The craft is traditionally practised by a caste of professional tailors, known as Darjis. Nomadic people of the desert have long pieced together their tents and even decorated them with elaborate appliqué. 

Festive patchwork textiles created for special occasions are found in many places throughout India. Pieced and appliqué household items are made by women for dowries. These objects include decorative bags, pillows and sitting mats. Appliqué played a part in religious textiles as well. It has long been used to make decorative clothing, because most clothing is used until it is worn out and then again reused to create beautiful patterns out of the worn fabric. This serves both economic and decorative purposes. Small pieces of fabric are cut and joined side by side to make a large piece of fabric or for repairing a damaged fabric. Applique is a craft, which has waste piece of cloth as its raw material. Kings and emperors and the nobility used articles produced by this craft in the past. The shamiana and chandowa, the two principal items of this craft, continue to be used today for all religious and social ceremonies. Originally the main applique items were built up around the temple and its festivals; large highly decorated umbrellas, tents and pavilions. Now they are used as beach and garden umbrellas, smaller sizes as lampshades, canopies for parties, tents for public gatherings etc.   


Applique, the art of patchwork, is an integral part of Rajasthan and its world of folk art. The decorative needlework of Rajasthan has a distinctive style of its own. Patchwork and appliqué are done in many different geographical regions of India with each area having its own particular local aesthetic. The main centres where the crafts are practiced are: Rajasthan: Barmer, Jodhpur, Ranthambore and Jaisalmer  Gujarat: Kutch Bihar Himachal Pradesh: Kangra and Chamba Karnataka Orissa: Peepli Each of these regions used their distinct styles and colour palettes to create decorative designs. These old patterns can be found in museums; there are a few pieces that are still remaining with the craftspeople. They still use traditional motifs and unique colour schemes when making products for their own use. (This document is based on the technique followed in the region of Rajasthan.) Throughout Kutch and Kathiawar regions of Gujarat many tribes practice appliqué-embroidered work. Mutva, Hingorjah and Harijan (to name but three) are expert appliqué workers. In Orissa this craft was traditionally practiced by professional tailors know as 'Darjis', but nowadays various other castes have also taken it up. In Rajasthan the main communities practicing this craft are Rajput, Yadav, Acharya, Muslim, Lohar and Soni.

Myths & Legends



Global origins The word "appliqué" comes from French meaning "applied, fastened to. - It's the past participle of the verb "applique", to apply.  One dictionary definition of the word refers to "a decorative feature, as a sconce, applied to a surface. The word travelled with the French as they explored the world.  William the Conquer probably brought it to England in 1066; Napoleon took it to Egypt where appliquéing a design on tents was a long-established custom. Appliquè and patchwork have been known around the world and used in daily life for almost 2,500 years. Patchwork and appliquè were used in many cultures to create clothing, saddle blankets, tents, and other everyday items.  It wasn't, of course, called appliquè but whatever word their language had for that type of work. Until cloth (in particular cotton) became readily available, appliquè was not necessarily a part of patchwork or quilting but used and placed on different materials such as leather and canvas.  Designs appliquèd to everyday items were often symbols thought to be important as protection to the user, to identify families by their crests, or to depict familiar animals, flowers, and other things seen in everyday life. Quilting and appliquè originated and were extensively used in and around Asia, spreading from there to Europe during the Crusades along the Silk Road.  Channel-quilted vests and jackets were found to be effective to deflect arrows in battle.  The word "ruche" comes from Old French to describe the cork oak hives made to keep bees warm in winter and cool in summer. Appliquè enthusiasts know the word as a method of creating three-dimensional accents on appliquè quilts. 

1. One of the earliest examples of the art form is found in the Boulak Museum in Cairo, Egypt. It is a ceremonial canopy dating from 980 BC, which was part of the funeral tent of Queen Esi-mem-kev. The canopy is made of gazelle hide decorated with symbolic serpents and blossoms. The appliquèd pieces are dyed in various shades of pink, blue green and golden yellow. Appliquè usually decorated objects that were used in everyday life so not many examples have survived through the centuries. Surviving examples in museums include crusaders' banners and cloaks decorated with appliquèd motifs.   

2. For centuries in Europe crewel embroidery using wool yarn dyed in many colours was most often used to decorate household linens. Starting in the 15th Century appliquè began to replace crewelwork on bed curtains and other linens.  

 3. In America the use of appliquè to create household textiles began in the 18th Century. The first examples were in the style called 'Broderie Perse'. This name, meaning Persian embroidery in French, is thought to have originated around the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851 held in London at the Crystal Palace, though the method was actually used for many years before the Great Exhibition. Broderie perse quilts were made of shapes cut from expensive hand-coloured chintz made in India. The British shipped this fabric to America charging huge import duties. These quilts were sometimes called one-yard quilts because women would have their friends and relatives who were going to England bring back a yard of fabric concealed in their luggage. A yard of fabric was easy to hide from a nosy customs inspector. The chintz cut outs were appliquèd onto a white or unbleached muslin background, often with decorative stitches such as the blanket or buttonhole stitch. Then the background was heavily quilted in elaborate designs. Since these quilts were so expensive in time and money to produce, they were only used for show so a great many have survived to the present time. When fabric became readily available and colourfast appliquè was used more and more to create beautiful bedcovers. 

Unlike patchwork, appliquè lends itself to curve and intricate shapes so more realistic designs can be used. Flowers look like flowers and people look like people. Story quilts became popular in the early 1800s to document important historical events such as battles or presidential inaugurations. These realistic techniques reached their zenith in the 1840s and 1850s. Some of the most intricate and beautiful appliquè quilts ever made were called Baltimore Album quilts because they were produced primarily in Maryland. Baltimore Album quilts were also known as presentation quilts and autograph quilts. They were originally made to commemorate a festive event such as a wedding or as remembrances to be given to family or friends who might be moving too far away to have much hope of returning for visits. Each block was stitched and signed by a different person. The block design often had particular relevance to the person for whom the quilt was being made and the maker sometimes signed the block, hence the name autograph quilts.     

4. At about the same time as Baltimore quilts were having their heyday, the spectacular Hawaiian quilt was being developed. On March 31, 1820, the brig Thaddeus brought the first American missionaries to Hawaii. Legend has it that within hours of debarkation the missionary ladies had organized a quilting lesson. The Hawaiian ladies did not like to cut the large lengths of fabric in to small pieces so they developed a way to use as large apiece as possible. It is believed that German sailors had shown the Hawaiians how to do 'Schneerenschnit', a paper cutting technique at an earlier time. The inventive Hawaiian ladies used a similar technique to cut out what must be the largest appliquè pieces in the world for their distinctive quilts.    

5. The Hawaiians were not the only non-European people to take to appliquè. After fabric began being used for trade goods, tribal people in Central America and Asia developed some interesting and unusual forms of appliquè.  

a) The Kuna Indians of the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama use reverse appliquè techniques to make the distinctive designs called molas, which are used by the women of the tribe to decorate their traditional blouses. Molas are made in pairs and are used for the front and back of the blouses. These beautiful works usually feature fanciful forms of people, fish, animals and plant life from the maker's everyday life. Occasionally someone will make a geometrical or abstract set of molas to great effect. The colours are bright featuring red and black and are often embellished with embroidery.   

b) Pa ndau, or flower cloth appliquè is made by the Hmong tribal people of the mountainous regions of Viet Nam, Laos, and Thailand. Pa ndau is usually used for bed covers, belts, hats, and as embellishment on clothing. The work is also in reverse appliquè embellished with embroidery. Young girls begin learning the craft to attract a husband and supply their trousseaus. After the Viet Nam War many Hmong people immigrated to the United States because they supported the American Armed Forces and were in danger from the Communist government in Viet Nam after the Americans left. There is a large population in Fresno where pa ndau work can be found for at local craft fairs.  

c) Celtic appliquè developed from the decorations used on Irish step dancing costumes. The complex designs are found carved on ancient stones all over Ireland. The appliquès are usually made with bias tape. Stained glass appliquè uses bias tape to emulate leading in stained glass windows. Shadow appliquès are made by covering a coloured piece of fabric with a piece of organdie and stitching around the shape. The main styles of appliquè used by needle workers today are molas, Celtic appliquè, broderie perse, shadow appliquè, Hawaiian, pa ndau and stained glass appliquè.   Indian Origins Appliquè is found in many forms of folk art, from Gujarati Indian tent fabrics to American colonial quilts. Appliquès range from the purely decorative to the symbolic, as in African funereal cloth. 

Indian Origins- In and around the Indian subcontinent, there have been evidences of the use of a technique called 'applique' since the Indus Valley Civilization. The civilization has left pottery pieces exhibiting the applique technique or 'fastening on'. With the corrosion of textiles over time, there are no evidences of the same. However, the use of this technique in other media suggests its prevalence and its usage. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, human beings were mostly nomads. Applique can be said to have been part of nomadic tribes of civilizations. The technique has seen to have moved through the Egyptian civilization to African tribes to Europe and America and then further east. Canopies, used as tents (shelter) were made and decorated using this technique. The use of spontaneous colours of fabric suggests the need of colour for nomads who pass through grasslands and deserts where there is heavy passiveness of terrain. The culture of making decorative canopies continues till today and can be seen during religious and auspicious ceremonies in many villages of the Western and North-western parts of the country   Appliquè is an essential component of many types of ancient Indian folk art. Fabrics used for ceremonial tents and religious rituals bore appliquès of elephants, peacocks, flowers and mythical characters. Appliquè became a skilled trade, performed by a caste called Darjis. In addition to being used to decorate the fabrics and clothing of royalty, appliquè was used to decorate a temple's ceremonial umbrellas and tents. Different areas developed unique styles of appliquè. Gujarati style, for example, consists mainly of patchwork in which small, intricately cut pieces of fabric are sewn over a solid coloured base to create a larger image. Bihari style focuses more on a single large piece of appliquè, folded and tucked to create the desired shape, then sewn over the base fabric.


BARMER APPLIQUE was traditionally sewn on bedspreads of black or brown bases. Motifs were almost entirely inspired by nature: trees, leaves, flowers and animals. Women in six villages in Rajasthan produce these appliques. An elaborate bedspread may take nearly a month to complete. Most appliquè designs are shown as full-size drawings for the completed design. The drawings show dotted lines to indicate where one piece overlaps another. Other marks indicate placement of embroidery stitches for decorative purposes, marking such features as eyes, lips, flowers, trees etc. Before the actual appliquè process begins, the background block is cut and prepared for stitching. Sometimes the background fabric is prepared by joining various shaped fabric swatches (squares, rectangles, various geometric shapes etc.) and then on top of this base the appliquè work is done. Most appliquè designs are centred on the block. To find the centre of the background square, it is folded in half and in half again; and then creased with fingers. It is then unfolded and the process repeated along the diagonals. Two equal sized pieces of fabric are taken. One of these will form the base, on which the pattern will be appliquèd. The pattern will be cut out of the other piece of fabric. As per the design required, different colours of fabric are used. Sometimes the cuttings are in contrast to the base fabric. Sometimes the same colour is used for base and pattern, as in white on white, which is very much in current demand.

REVERSE APPLIQUE Reverse appliquè is cutting away part of a motif to reveal the background fabric, or another fabric. It is a sewing technique in which a top layer of fabric is cut away in the shape of a design where two or more fabrics have been stitched together. The finished edges around the revealed pattern may be turned under and sewn into place by hand, or left exposed for a raw look. This type of stitching may be completed for a wide variety of projects using many different types of materials. Unlike traditional methods, reverse applique stitches the design to the wrong side - the side without printing - of the fabric. The right side of the design fabric is sewn against the wrong side of the background fabric. Once stitching has been completed, the background fabric is cut away inside the stitched lines to reveal the design fabric beneath.      

PRODUCTS Generally women in Barmer do two types of applique work: they prepare the first type for their personal use and the second for commercial purposes. The latter is an interesting legacy of olden times when a variety of kanatas walled enclosure; samianas canopies and tents, with different types of brocades and patchwork were prepared. The samianas made with applique work designs even today continue this age-old tradition. The designs and motifs generally prepared on the kanatas the sidewall of the samianas are freer. These are cut out of a piece of the desired cloth and stitched on to the basic material with the help of a few rough stitches. Then the edges are turned quickly and motifs stitched on to the background in a beautiful cloth is generally manner. The background cloth is generally dark red or deep orange and the motifs are prepared in white with some portions in blue. The design of the samiana also is cut out of one piece of material, which is usually the size of the background material. They carefully prepare and join both the pieces, and then nip and turn the cut out portions, which are finally stitched with the original cloth. The men cut out the patterns to be stitched to samianas and kanatas and the women workers in the villages do the entire stitching. Women on their own garments also do applique. Here stylised motifs are cut and stitched on to a fabric so that the pattern emerges in two colours. Energy and passion seem to find expression through vibrant Scarlett, oranges, yellows, and provide the key to the mood and the tempo. Traditional umbrellas, canopies, trasa fans, saris, cholis, household linen, tents and pavilions, beach and garden umbrellas, lamp shades, small, shoulder bags, wall hangings, bed covers, pillow covers, letter pouches, torans, chaklas, chanderwas, Shamiana, chandowa, khatwa, cushion-cover, curtains, tea cosies, table cloths, blouse pieces, sari borders Patchwork and appliquè wall hangings, bedspreads, tablecloths, cushion covers, bolster covers and quilts have become quite popular in the urban market. Demand for appliquè work has increased over the last decade. The work is functional and decorative at the same time. Patchwork designs are timeless; they grace any setting - traditional, modern or Art Deco. Most of the patchwork products are produced in bulk for the international and domestic markets. For the international market exporters use more contemporary designs (usually geometric patterns) and pastel colours (favourites are white on white, or cream on white). Similar trends are seen in the domestic market as far as urban consumers are concerned. Designs like trees, birds, and animal motifs are also popular in the domestic market. Appliquè 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.      

MOTIFS The motifs used are fairly varied yet fixed and consist of stylised representations of flora and fauna as well as a few mythical figures. Of the more common of these motifs are elephant, parrot, peacock, ducks, creepers, trees, flowers, half-moon, the sun and Rahu (a mythical demon who devours the sun). Coloured, leftover pieces of clothe or stitched together to make toran chaklas, chanderawas etc. Motifs in brilliant colours are cut out and stitched on to the material. These are usually peacocks with their tails unfurled, elephants with a rider, or a horse carrying a warrior, in addition to floral patterns.   OTHER STATES Gujarat applique is mainly based on patchwork, in which coloured and patterned fabric is finely cut in different sizes and shapes. It is then sewn together on a plain background to form a composite piece. The whole charm of an applique lies in the contours of each individual inset piece. The stitch done on each individual bit is not hidden, but adds to the art. Infact, gaudy colours of thread are used to show out distinctly. The applique work of Bihar called khatwa is famed for decorative tents and canopies used on ceremonial occasions. The designs on tents are the usual Persian type trees, flowers, animals, and birds. The kanats tented walls carry stylised tree forms with juxtaposed animals at the base. All the basic traditional designs are collected on a piece of cloth as a master chart called awalkhana, from which the children begin to learn by copying.  


Applique, as craft of Barmer has gained much fame in the commercial world of handicrafts and is widely renowned today. But with oil refineries sprouting up throughout Barmer, regular work started coming up. A number of artisans and their families shifted their work profile from doing applique embroidery to daily wage work in factories. The number of families doing this ancient craft today has gone down in number largely