Like patachitras, appliqué work in Odisha also originated as a temple art. Coloured cloth, after being cut and shaped into the forms of birds, animals, flowers, leaves, and other decorative motifs is stitched onto a cloth piece designed as a wall hanging, garden or beach umbrella, a lamp shade and other utility items.
Tiny mirrors in a whole range of geometrical shapes and designs are then encapsulated by thread embroidery to create a striking work of art. Four basic traditional colours- red, yellow, white and black are used, while green has been added in comparatively recent times.
'Applique', which is a French term, is a technique by which the decorative effect is obtained by superimposing patches of coloured fabrics on a basic fabric, the edges of the patches being sewn in some pattern. It is distinct from what is known as patch work in which small pieces of cut fabrics are usually joined side by side to make a large piece of fabric or for repairing a damaged fabric. Though the form is not unknown in other parts of India, it is in Odisha and especially in Pipli(20 kms from Bhubaneswar and 40 kms from Puri on NH 203) that the craft has a living and active tradition continuing for centuries. As with many other handicrafts of Odisha, the roots of the applique art/craft form is intertwined with the rituals and traditions of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of the Puri temple.
The appliqué 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. However, the applique work in its colourful best is most prominent in the canopy covers of the three chariots of the presiding deities in which they travel every year during the Ratha Yatra or Car Festival. As per tradition, the colour scheme of the three covers is predetermined. The chariot of Balabhadra known as Taladhawaja has a cloth covering of bright green and red, while that of Subhadra known as Padmadhwaja or Darpadalana has a cover of bright red and black. The chariot of Lord Jagannath called Nadighosha has a cover of bright red and yellow. The basic design of all three is similar being a combination of narrow and wide stripes while on the four sides above the openings, there are applique mythical motifs like Rahu, Chandra as well as motifs from nature like flowers etc. It is these eye catching applique covers which identify the chariots of the three deities from far away by the millions of pilgrims thronging the Badadanda or the extra wide main road of Puri in which the lords make their annual sojourn in the chariot festival. The craft is traditionally practiced by a caste of professional tailors, known as 'Darjis'. As with other services of the Lord, darji seva or the supply of applique items is rendered by the caste members. Now-a-days, non caste tailors are also engaged in the work.
The traditional items made of applique patterns and associated with religious functions are canopies, locally called 'chanduas', Chhati, a sort of big umbrella with a long wooden handle. Tarasa, a heart-shaped wooden piece covered by applique cloth and supported by a long wooden pole, both these items being carried before the deities in their ceremonial processions. 'Jhalar' another popular item is a sort of frill which is used as a border to canopies and also independently used as decorative pieces with the changing times the craft has also adopted itself to the needs of modern man. Among the more popular applique items today are garden umbrellas, a variant of chhati with wooden or aluminum stands, shoulder bags, ladies hand bags, wall hangings, lamp shades, bed covers, pillow covers, letter pouches, etc.
The basic material for applique is cloth. Flat motifs are first cut from cloth and specially prepared motifs are made separately. If more than one of the same cut motifs is required, a stencil is used. These cut and specially prepared motifs are then superposed on a base cloth in a predetermined layout and sequence. The edges of the motifs are turned in and skillfully stitched onto the base cloth or stitched by embroidery or without turning as necessary. The specially prepared motifs may be coloured or white. The base cloth is usually coloured. Some of the specially prepared motifs have exclusive embroidery work and some have mirror work. In heavy canopies, the base cloth is additionally supported by a back cloth for strength.