Adornment has always been since traditional times, used for beautifying fabrics in some way or the other. Simple to elaborate, average to exceptional, colourful embroidery or exquisite miniature thread work, adornment has always been used to decorate fabrics. Exclusive or otherwise, the additional decorating feature is an essential inclusion for fabrics that creates the extra appeal that gives the fabric its worth. The more complex it is, the more it enhances the worth of the fabric.
Patterns could be symmetrical geometrical designs or innovative combinations of artistic arrangements. There are two ways that a pattern can come up on a fabric. Becoming one with the weave during the weaving process or prepared on a separate cloth and attached to the base fabric. It is the latter way of adorning the fabric that is simpler to do and affix, which has opened up a new line of stylish designer fabrics – known as applique worked fabrics.
What is appliqué work?
Appliqué work refers to the technique by which patterns are created through the attaching of small patterns or design patches onto a larger base fabric mostly of contrasting colour or texture. The attaching could be by way of stitching, or gluing the patch on the larger fabric. The edges of the patch may have the ends folded under or left as they are. The attaching is done by straight stitch, satin stich or reverse Appliqué. During the Mughal period, the art of appliqué became a royal medium of fashioning elegant and delicate textile products. Muslin fabrics had fine architectural jal patterns to create a wonderful designer fabric, a fine example of appliqué technique.
The special features of Appliqué work
By using different patches of fabric, beautiful forms of floral and animal designs are prepared for different products and apparel. By piecing cloth together like in quilts, different patterns are made by applying cloth of different colors. Multicolored covering of jigsaw pieces formed of geometrical shapes creating a visual treat, is the impression one gets while seeing an applique or patchwork. Colorful and vivid shapes and forms of fabric patched together or on another surface creates attractive and vibrant designer fabrics.
The motifs for the Appliqué may be white or coloured with the fabric body on which it is attached being of contrasting colour. The appliqué could also have intricate embroidery and mirror work to make it highly ornamental. Traditionally motifs were elephant, parrot, peacock, duck, creepers, flowers such as lotus and jasmine. Half moon, Sun and Rahu (mythical Rakshasa) were also popular subjects. Colours used were limited to red, green, blue, brown and black. Today it is not limited to that. Designs are aplenty and appliques could be dazzling white on white, warm to cool hues, and bright neon to pastel depending upon the artist’s fancy.
Two types of Applique work
Appliqué is created by two differing techniques. Based on the way it is done or style adopted, the colours used, the composition and even the pattern forms chosen, the source can be identified by those familiar with appliqué work.
Simple applique is created by drawing on a fabric, cutting out the drawing and then stitching on to the base fabric, plain or with printed designs. The advantage of this system is that it is simple, and symmetrical and asymmetrical shapes may be cut out to form the designs on the base fabric. Stitching can be done in a variety of stitches that in addition to fixing becomes an additional decorative feature.
The more elaborate and laborious form is the Reverse appliqué where the surface fabric forms the shape and design contrasted to the top fabric in appliqué.
e.g. small abstract designer patterns on a fabric, animal motifs and vegetation on a home courtyard scene are examples of reverse appliqué work - original and creative artistry by traditional craftsmen.
Changes seen in appliqué work over time
Appliqué work in India was once mainly practised in Pipli, Odisha, especially for banners during the Lord Jagannatha Rath Yatra and also one of the oldest and finest traditional crafts on large fabrics in Gujarat and Odisha. But today it also finds use as adornment on canvas fabrics like the handloom saree, salwar kameez etc. The same principle of affixing patches is followed as was earlier but with designs that are modern, abstract and trendy that appeal to the market. Tastes have brought in innovative ideas and designs that appeal to current day women of fashion. Contrasts are followed for the attatchment and base fabric but with a wide range of colours and hues. There is a shift to chemical colours without insistence on organic dyes alone. Patterns and motifs while still including traditional ones have now become more varied and colourful.
Once done by hand, there are embroidery machines that have taken over to reduce the time taken for large and detailed appliqués that are then firmly stuck over the base fabric or lightly stuck and hand stitched at the edges of the design.
A fine distinction between appliqué work and patch work
Appliqué work and patch work, are two techniques which developed mainly for domestic purposes but have become popular in fashion adornments in fabrics.
The art of decorating a base cloth by applying fabric on fabric with the edges sewn down by stitching can be termed as appliqué. The applique could have any large design or pattern in symmetrical shape, and generally forms a central theme on the base fabric. The appliqué and base are generally contrast coloured for heightened effect.
Patchwork on the other hand is the art of sewing little patches of geometric shaped decorated fabric lengths to form a textile pattern like a designer border. Patches are meant for attachment to the edges and easily distinguished as appendages to the main garment.
Unnati Silks with its 300 + strong collection of Indian ethnic sarees and salwar kameez, includes a delightful range of applique worked sarees in Chanderi Sico, Kerala Kasavu cotton, Dupion silk etc., and brght coloured kurtis with patola weaving in handloom cottons; fabrics that have stunning looks and unique appeal. A range that is fashionably designer, fancy and stylish, worth spending time on.
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Applique work is novel and innovative, a good experiment on modern day handloom weave prints which get that flavor of exotic designs in attractive settings that has ‘wowed’ the fashion world and the average buyer alike.