The Art of Chikankari!

Derived from the Persian word chakin or chakeen, Chikankari, which literally translates to embroidery, means the art of creating very intricate and delicate patterns on fabric. It is a type of embroidery that was initially done using tanzeb – colourless muslin or white yarn. The history of Chikankari in India dates back to as early as the third century BC. The beauty of this art is that it is entirely done by hand!

There are many tales related to how the art of Chikankari came into existence. One tale tells that once, a traveller was passing through a village in Lucknow and stopped in-between and requested a poor man for water. The traveller was so pleased by the hospitality offered by the poor man, that he taught him the art of Chikankari so that he could use that skill to earn money. Another tale says that the queen of Emperor Jahangir, Noorjahan introduced the art of Chikankari to India.

There are three types of stitches used in the making of Chikankari, namely flat stitches, which are subtle and remain close to the fabric, embossed stitches that give a grainy appearance and jali work that is created by thread tension to give a very delicate and intricate net effect.

The Chikankari process is an amalgamation of many processes such as cutting, stitching, printing, embroidery, washing, and finally, finishing. One person does the cutting and stitching, while the printing is done using wooden blocks that are dipped in dye. The embroidery is generally done by women and the last step of washing and finishing takes 10 to 12 days. It involves the process of bleaching, acid treatment, stiffening, and ironing.

Today, Chikankari is being done on a variety of fabrics such as chiffon, silk, organza, georgette, semi-georgette, crepe, cotton, and many others. Primarily used to decorate clothes and enhance its beauty, Chikankari is now also used to decorate table linen, cushion cover, pillow covers, bed linen and a lot of other products. In Chikankari, the most common motif used is creepers. Floral motifs such as rose, lotus, jasmine, and flowering stems are also created on fabrics. The effects and patterns that are created depend on the type of stitches such as hemstitch, backstitch, or chain stitch and the thickness of the thread that is used. Most of the time, the person doing the embroidery creates mesh-like sections, using a needle to help separate the thread in ground fabric and then works around the spaces.

In the recent past, Chikankari has adapted to the new age styles with additional embellishments such as badla work, sequin, mirror and beadwork that give the fabric a royal, rich look. Chikankari is most famous in Lucknow and is known as the city’s best textile and garment decoration style. The main market for the best Chikankari is located in Chowk in Lucknow.     --- Zainab