Norbulingka developed the art of applique in a unique way, using traditional motifs to create vibrant pieces for the home. Applique is an ancient craft abundantly found in Central Asia, where the earliest examples, made of felt, were used by nomadic people for making banners and decorating household objects. Later, it became one on the crafts for making thangkas, religious representations assembled from hundreds of silk and brocade cut outs, then sewn onto silk, the edges carefully couched in silk thread-wrapped horse hair.
In the early 90’s Norbulingka’s early recruits included skilled Tibet trained tailors, who were familiar with applique. The creative team discovered a wonderful medium for home wares, combining tradition and modernity, which soon proved to be popular with clients and visitors. Norbulingka’s applique section became a thriving workshop where this unique skill was taught to many young tailors. Thangka painters provided the drawings, inspired from the endless repertoire decorative arts, and the section produced cushion covers, bags and wall hangings, all inspired from the rich repertoire of Tibetan decorative arts. Materials used were mainly dupion silk, which lent itself well to the cutting process. This work became a showcase for the often-overlooked styles used in the backgrounds of thangkas or for painting friezes on walls, or furniture; flowers, birds, mythical animals, popular symbols, or landscapes.
In the summer of 2002, there was a scare of nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and embassies advised their citizens to return home. Norbulingka, empty of tourists and visitors became quiet, and income fizzled out, the way it has during the pandemic. To save on materials and keep our workforce occupied, the Thangka master devised a detailed wall hanging of the Potala Palace, which took weeks to complete. It was later sold, and carried things over through to better days.