Ruchira Ghose

Dr Ruchira Ghose was Chairperson of the Crafts Museum, New Delhi, and is presently Tagore National Fellow.

The exhibition, 'Mapping Indian Handcrafted Textiles', held on September 8–30, 2016, was part of a project on Indian textiles done under a Tagore National Fellowship based at and supported by the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi (IGNCA). The exhibition was on post-loom or handcrafted textiles, i.e., its focus was on interventions made on cloth after it is woven. The five broad groupings at this level are Painted, Printed, Resist-Dyed, Embroidered and Appliqué.


This image gallery presents samples of  textiles of the appliqué type. Appliqué is a decorative technique where fabric of varied shapes and colours is stitched, blindly or decoratively, onto a background fabric. Similar to patchwork, appliqué can take any form—figurative, ornamental, geometric—and is often made with old or leftover scraps of material. 


Traditional appliqué is found in many parts of India and is of several types. The most common is on-lay appliqué where the surface fabric is cut in the shapes of the desired motifs and stitched to the base fabric. In negative appliqué the surface cloth defines the outlines of the motifs, which are given 'body' by the base fabric. Inlay appliqué is where both surface and background fabrics are cut and stitched together like a jigsaw. In raised appliqué the surface fabric is padded to create a three-dimensional effect. A variant of this is folded appliqué where designs are made in the surface fabric by folding the cutting, sometimes into strips, which are stitched on the base fabric. These designs too can give a three-dimensional effect, especially when the stitching of the fabric surface is pulled. In shadow appliqué shapes are attached to the reverse of a fine, semi-transparent fabric like muslin, and are seen in the play of light—a technique used in chikan embroidery.


Some of the stitches used in appliqué are: chain, ruching, hem, buttonhole, ganthi and stem. The chain stitch or chikana is used to stitch small pieces of fabric, unturned, onto the base fabric, creating a chain decoration around the motif. The ruching stitch is used to gather fabric to create floral motifs. The hem stitch or taropa requires the edges of the cloth patch to be turned in before being sewn to the base fabric, which brings a neat finish. The buttonhole stitch is used to secure and decorate an embellishment on to the base fabric. The ganthi stitch is similar to the buttonhole stitch but more elaborate. Two variations of the buttonhole stitch, kitikiia and baiganomangia kitikitia, incorporate an extra half-stitch to secure embellishments. The stem stitch or bakhia is a type of running stitch also used to couch embellishments.


A further distinction may be made between those traditions where appliqué is used for decorative purposes and those where cloths are added to repair a damaged fabric, as in some Gujarat patchwork traditions. In certain traditions like Banjara, appliqué is combined with embroidery.


Appliqué traditions were often associated with ritual purposes. Appliquéd canopies, umbrellas, caparisons, screens etc, were used in religious festivals. Now the craft is used to make decorative household objects. Important appliqué traditions are found in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Each has a distinct format, colour scheme and a range of motifs, with varying degrees of stylisation and sophistication: Rabari, Kathi, Mochi and Muslim appliqué from Gujarat; Mahajan from Saurashtra, Gujarat; Satwara, as well as Marwari and Meghwal from Rajasthan; Tharu from Uttar Pradesh; Khatwa from Bihar; Pipli from Odisha, and Tanjore from Tamil Nadu.