Floral white-work of India: Chikankari

The beautiful “white on white” hand embroidery is a handicraft hailing from the city of Nawabs, Lucknow. There is a long line of chikankari exponents who are promoting the craftsmanship. Entire families are involved in the chikankari work and the skill is delineated from father to daughter and previous generations to the upcoming ones. The girls and the boys in the chikankari families start embroidery as early as 11 years of age and by the time they reach adulthood their skill set is also promoted from creating ‘kurtas’, ‘topis’ and ‘angarkhas’ to Saris, fabrics for churidars and the latest in fashion!

Chikankari
The present word chikan is derived from the Persian word ‘Chakeen’ the meaning of which is a cloth wrought with needle work.

History
Looking back at the history of the chikankari it can be ascertained that its history dates back to 2 centuries ago.

The legend has it that chikankari artisans from Persia came to India looking for patrons and found an imminent patroness in Noorjahan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. She is said to have popularized and propagated this embroidery form in the 17th century. Her work was developed as an inspiration from Turkish embroidery. The present word chikan is derived from the Persian word ‘Chakeen’ the meaning of which is a cloth wrought with needle work. This art form grew to its peak during the Mughal Era.

Some are also of the opinion that the art form did not originate in Lucknow but in East Bengal. The literal meaning of word chikan in Bengali is fine. It was done using white threads on pure white muslin or ‘mulmul’ cloth. From Bengal the art moved to Lucknow, which is now an internationally known center for this art form. Chikankari today is an art form extremely popular among those courting traditional styles or those who are more contemporary in their fashion sense.

The embroidery
Chikankari is a delicate, intricate hand weaving which brings to life flowers, leaves and other motifs on cloth.

Chikankari was traditionally done on un-dyed, pure, white shazaada cotton or Dhaka ‘mulmul’ which was imported from Bangladesh. The thread used for embroidery was also white, and is known as ‘kachcha dhaga.’ This traditional form has taken various innovations today in the form of fabric dyed in light, pastel shades and the use of colored thread on white or colored background. Another change is the use of fabric other than cotton; georgettes and chiffons are popularly used today.

Entire families are involved in embroidering and stitching to produce elegant chikankari creations. Each person has developed a different expertise and the cloth is passed on from one expert to another before the final piece is ready. The inspiration for the motifs or pattern largely comes from various Mughal designs. Mughal architecture is prominently on display on the fabrics in the form of trellis, and floral motifs. The inlay pattern of Mughal monuments is embroidered on the cloth. In fact one Mughal monument whose architecture and designs are quite prominently created on the cloth is The Taj Mahal.

The technique
Before the embroidery commences, the motif or the pattern is traced on the cloth with the help of wooden blocks which are dipped in indigo (neel) dye. Thus the entire pattern is stamped on the cloth and then the specialist artisans start the more intricate work of embroidery.

The cornerstone of the chikankari work is the delicate and elegant ‘shadow’embroidery motifs. The different stitches that are used in the chikankari embroidery are 6 basic stitches and over 35 traditional stitches. These stitches are used in different combinations based on the requirement of the pattern. A few of these stitches are Phanda, chana, patti, ghaas patti, bijjli, jaali, tepchi, bakhiya, hool, zanzeera, rahet, banaarsi, kharau, keel kangan, bubul and hath kadi.

The texture of the fabric, type of the garment and the pattern to be embroidered decides which stiches or combination of stitches is to be used in the embroidery. Generally one member of a family or a group is expert in one or more than one stitches. When he finishes his stitch, the cloth is passed on to the next stitch expert and in this way the final piece is completed. This is a long, tedious, extremely skilled and difficult job and takes a long time to be completed.

The entire creation is then given a finishing touch through a series of steps inclusive of washing, bleaching, stiffening and ironing.

Chikankari in today’s fashion
The traditional intrinsic needle work gels in perfectly with the contemporary fashion style. A blend of these two has been a highlight at many National and International fashion weeks in recent times. It is heartening to see talented, top notch designers teaming up their designs with this convoluted and chic but essentially traditional hand work.

The presentation of traditional Indian handicrafts in a contemporary modern outlook is undoubtedly promoting this beautiful ancient art. Thanks to the modern fashionistas who are taking an interest in this art form Chikankari is slowly emerging as a popular art trending across the globe.

Where to buy?
Chikankari is available at many online shops such as craftsvilla.com, chikanbarn.com, and FabIndia
If travelling to India then chikankari is best bought from the markets of Ameenabad and Hazratganj in Lucknow.

Author: Pooja S. Banerjee

A pharmacist by profession,Pooja has research experience in the field of herbal medicine and medicinal chemistry. She has also authored many International and National research and review papers in peer reviewed journals. Her passion for writing has made her foray into the world of medical writing. She writes travel blogs for creative satisfaction.

Comments

  1. Resham Virk says:

    Chikankari work is indeed the best option to wear for traditional functions as well as during summers. There are so many options to collect from in Lucknow that everyone gets confused. But a must pick for the wardrobe.

  2. Well written! People ought to know this fine skill embedded in India.
    One must own one of these beautiful Chikankari kurtis or sarees! I cherish many of these>>>>

  3. Indeed a beautiful work and requires a lot of effort, I enjoy wearing a chikankari kurti on the occasion of holi festival which is a trend and also on a regular basis during summer season, love it….

  4. Zafar Durrani says:

    All of the companies that are mentioned above do not operate from Lucknow and are online stores who take limited cotton stuff from Lucknow and have limited stock. If you looking for some exclusive chikankari there are very few names like…
    Sewa Chikan: Big organization doing chikankari via huge centre set up
    Unique Chikan: One of the oldest and most popular online. They got Chikan popular on Internet and globally.
    Pragati Chikan: Oldest chikan manufacturers from the heart of city Chowk

    The above are quite old and manintain a real good stuff in terms of quality of emboridery and exclusive stuff.

  5. I feel very pleased that you all have contributed to Chikan-kaari, be it writers like Ms.Pooja S. Banerjee who is the soul of this page, buyers like Ms.Resham Virk, Ms.Preeti & Ms.Swati and additional information providers like Mr.Zafar Durrani.

    I too wish to add some information for the benefit of people arriving on this page.
    “All of the companies that are mentioned above do not operate from Lucknow and are online stores who take limited cotton stuff from Lucknow and have limited stock,” as has been posted by my brother Zafar. I’d add that ANY website selling Chikan stuff will NEVER EVER be able to stuff its website. Those who are solely dependent on online sales can post their full store, but internet driven sales mainly of Chikan goods is so less that (she or) he’ll wind it up in a year or lately by the next year.
    People who have a store & wish to increase their sales, try to become online. They wish their site to be like another high-end designers’ but are not able to reach there as the profit margin in Chikan is very less as compared to other ready-to-wear brands, so they end up creating a OK type website.
    Then comes the photographs (main content). I tell you by my own experience that modelling and model shoot prices are very high in Lucknow. Also that the models here are not as professional as you get in Mumbai or at least Delhi.
    The website designers are also not very creative. You give them a website you like and they can copy it. There is no talent in web designers of Lucknow.
    Then comes the sale. Again, as i have told you earlier, that online Chikan sales are no where when you compare it with other ready made garments and not even 0.5% of any normal mobile phone’s online sales. The products that you see on Lucknowi sites marked as SOLD may have been sold out from the physical store of the website.
    Many websites you can see who have not been updated since 2 years.
    The best option (though i sell online) is visiting your preferred store by yourself. The utmost satisfaction is only there. Its like a thirsty person going to the well. Your thirst cannot be quenched by just watching the picture of water.
    Its my own experience that customers come to me, they click pics and send to their dear ones by whatsapp. I tell you, their beauty can never be judges by a picture unless you are a regular re-seller. Whatsapp has helped me a lot monetarily when i am in contact with my regular buyers. I know their taste, they understand my work. My retail buyers have added to just 3-4% of Whatsapp sales.
    I’d also wish to add to my friend Zafar’s list of some good stores of Lucknow :
    S.E.W.A. or Self Employed Women Association : These (Ms. Sheeba Hussain & Ms.Runa Banarjee) were the true revival gurus of modern day Chikan. The art, without them would have died decades back.
    Ada is a well placed store which attracts the celebrities coming to Lucknow
    Lastly, on the last step of all great names, don’t forget our name.
    HAPPY SHOPPING

    Ladies have been mentioned as Miss (Ms.) because if marriage status of a lady is unknown, she can be referred to as Miss according to British English language. Krishna Chikan never wishes to hurt anyone’s sentiments, if arise out of this language error / guidelines.

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