Charming Chikankari: The famous Chikan Embroidery of Lucknow

08-03-2021

Charming Chikankari

I am a big fan of all things handcrafted and the Indian embroideries top the list. Hailing from Delhi that experiences hot and muggy summers, I bet nothing can beat the heat better than a crisp cotton attire with handsome Chikankari embroidery on it.

Chikankari is a conventional needle art from the city of Nawabs, Lucknow in U.P. It is believed that Mughal empress Noor Jahan, wife of Emperor Jehangir introduced Chikankari art to India. The influence of Persian art can therefore be seen in the patterns of chikan work. This intricate hand stitch gives a sophisticated look and feel to both the garment and the wearer. Started as a white-on-white embroidery form, that is embroidery done with white thread on white muslin (cotton) cloth, chikankari is a charming and extremely aesthetic form of white floral embroidery. To meet the modern demands, this art form has widened its horizons with the use of multi coloured cotton and silk threads on a range of coloured fabrics like cotton, silk, muslin, georgette, chiffon and even the delicate organza and net.

The process Involved

Unlike other embroideries chikankari is done on a thin cloth so that the effect can be felt well and needle can be used with ease on the cloth. The base fabric is printed with a pattern and then the embroiderer works on the pattern. The basic steps involved in Chikankari include:

Block Printing

Firstly, a design is imprinted in blue ink on the fabric using wooden block stamps.

Embroidery

This fabric is tightly fixed on a frame and the thread work is done using a needle on the defined patterns. On the basis of the motifs, different types of stitches are made on the pattern.

Washing and Finishing

Once the embroidery work is complete, the fabric is soaked in water to remove the traces of printed design. The fabric is then starched to give it the desired stiffness and sheen.

The stitches form the prominent feature of any embroidery. Chikankari is one needle craft form where an artisan pays a lot of attention so that delicate stitches are made manually to give a regal and a perfect look to the garment. Chikankari embroidery includes almost 32 different types of stitches done on the fabrics. Some of them are:

Tepchi  

It’s a long running stitch done on the fabric and is mainly used to outline the motifs of chikankari.

Bakhiya  

Bakhiya is one of the major stitches of chikan embroidery. It is also known as shadow work. In this, the embroidery is done on the opposite side of the fabric and it results in a shadow effect on the right side.

Hool

This one looks like a fine eyelet stitch, done mainly in the centre of the floral motifs with small buttonhole stitches. Generally, the stitch is made to give circular effects in the pattern.

Zanjeera

These are chain stitches worked with one thread being on the right side of the fabric. It is also used for enhancing the outline of shapes like flowers or leaves once the basic outlines are done.

Murri

The central motif of the embroidery is generally a floral pattern and Murri is a typical French knots that are rice-shaped. Murri is the oldest and most sought-after form of chikankari.

Jaali

The jaali effect resembles the cut work effect but it is created by pulling the threads strongly so that holes/openings are visible. These stitches require great precision as the threads are pulled from different directions to give a jaali effect.

Chikankari embroidery usually involves floral patterns. Generally designs, borders and corner motifs are common in this embroidery. The major motifs of this needle art are inspired by the themes like flora, fauna and fishes, crescent of moon, mountains, rivers, trees, different varieties of flowers like lotus, marigold, lily etc, and jaalis and trellis. The modern embroiderers have also added embellishments to these designs. These include Kamdani, Mukaish, sequin, badla, mirror and beadwork, thereby giving an altogether different appeal to this threadwork. From being an exclusive art for decorating clothes, Chikankari embroidery can also be seen on home decor items like curtains, cushion and pillow covers, table linen, bed sheets, lampshades, etc.  

Chikankari is perhaps the only Indian traditional art form that has never faded with time. Always in demand due to its versatility and popularity among both men and women, Chikankari products are simply beautiful, regal and elegant.

Though accepted globally as one of the most mesmerizing Indian handicraft, Chikankari never fails to impress and is a must have for every wardrobe collection.

However, to protect the identity of the handicraft, Geographical Indication (GI tag) is given to Lucknow Chikankari or Lucknow Chikan Craft in the year 2008.