Deciphering the enchanting beauty of India's Hand Embroidered masterpiece from the lanes of Lucknow
(Image: Chikankari Collection, The Loom Studio)
India is renowned for its rich cultural heritage and traditional crafts, has gifted the world with a plethora of artistic marvels. One such gem is the Chikankari embroidery, an exquisite, handcrafted artform that epitomizes elegance, grace, and intricate craftsmanship. Originating from the city of Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Chikankari has captured the hearts of fashion enthusiasts across the globe.
The word "Chikankari" is derived from the Persian word "Chikan," which means embroidery. Over the centuries, Chikankari evolved, assimilating influences from Persian, Mughal, and local craftsmanship, resulting in a unique blend of intricate stitches and patterns.
"Do you know Chikankari embroidery has been referenced in historical texts like Ain-i-Akbari”
Chikankari: The Origins
Chikankari embroidery dates to the Mughal era in the 16th century. It was introduced to Lucknow by Nur Jehan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. It became very popular among the royal classes and soon an integral part of Lucknow’s culture ever since.
“Do you know that originally the Chikankari embroidery was done by male artisans using white thread on white cloth”
The first documented mention of Chikankari dates to 1722. It flourished under the patronage of the Nawabs of Awadh, especially Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, who patronized and promoted this delicate art form.
The undocumented mentions of Chikankari is as long back as 3rd century BC by the Greek traveler Megasthenes in his description of the intricate aspects of this craft.
Craftsmanship and Techniques of creation
Chikankari is a labor-intensive art form that involves the delicate and skilled hand embroidery of floral motifs and patterns on fine muslin or other lightweight fabrics. The artisans, known as "Chikan Karigars" meticulously create the designs using white thread on pastel-hued fabrics, adding an ethereal touch to the finished product.
“The Chikankari embroidery is done with a fine needle called Chikan needle”
The process of creating a Chikankari ensemble is really fascinating and involves elaborate steps.
Stage 1: Design
The base design for the embroidery is plotted on paper to start the process. Entire design is created to see how the creation will look on the final ensemble. Typically, the designs for Chikankari are inspired by Nature and its elements or elements from royal heritage or Islamic calligraphy
Stage 2: Engraving
Next, the design is engraved on wooden blocks which will then be used to transfer the design on the fabric to be embroidered
Stage 3: Block Printing or Chhapai
In this stage the embroidery design is transferred to the fabric by block printing with a washable ink (generally Indigo dye). Any additional embellishment work (e.g. Mukaish, Kamdani, Badla and Sequin work) is also printed over and above the base embroidery design
Stage 4: Chikankari Embroidery
This stage is the most intricate and time taking stage wherein each design is created by hand one by one. Many different types of stitches and patterns are used to create the outcome which is breathtakingly beautiful. Some of the popular stitches and patterns have been outlined in this article.
Stage 5: Washing & Finishing
This is the final stage of cleaning the Chikankari ensemble after embroidery is completed. It includes loose thread trimming, cleaning stains, multiple washing cycles and so on.
Chikankari Motifs & Patterns
Chikankari sarees showcase a wide range of motifs and patterns that reflect the rich cultural tapestry of India. These motifs often include intricate floral designs like roses, lotuses, jasmine, and
paisleys, along with delicate geometric patterns. The fine craftsmanship of Chikankari is not limited to the saree body alone but also extends to the pallu (the decorative end piece of the saree) and the borders, creating a harmonious and visually captivating ensemble.
Some popular motif and patterns in Chikankari sarees are:
Buta work patterns
Full Jaal patterns
Half Jaal patterns
Chikankari Stitches Variety
Chikankari sarees come in various styles, each representing the distinctive traditions and influences of the region. Some popular stitch types include:
Murri: Small pearl-like stitches that resemble tiny droplets, giving the saree a subtle and elegant look.
Bakhiya or Shadow Work: In this technique, the flat, square-shaped stitches are done on the wrong side of the fabric, creating a shadowy effect on the right side. It adds depth and dimension to the design.
Phanda: Intricate knot-like stitches called Phanda.
Jaali: This Chikankari has a lattice-like pattern called Jaali, creating a delicate and ornate appearance of net-like pattern
Kamdani: This variant combine Chikankari embroidery with the embellishment of tiny metallic wires called Kamdani, resulting in a saree that exudes opulence and grandeur.
Stitch names in gallery (in order of image); Images sourced
Keel Kangan: A slanted stitch used to create patterns and outlines.
Tepchi: Also known as the running stitch, Tepchi is the simplest and most basic stitch in Chikankari. It involves a straight, running stitch for outlining patterns and filling small areas.
Zanzeera: Chain-stitched pattern
Hool: Hool stitch is formed by a series of small triangular stitches placed close to each other, creating a scalloped or leaf-like pattern. It is often used to create intricate floral motifs and decorative borders.
Pechni: Pechni stitch is a combination of the Bakhiya and Phanda stitches
Rahet: Rahet stitch involves creating a series of vertical and horizontal stitches that form a grid-like pattern. It is commonly used for filling large areas and creating a textured effect, adding depth to the overall design.
The patterns and effects created depend on the type of stitches and the thicknesses of the embroidery threads used. Stitches like backstitch, chain stitch and hemstitch are articulately included in the overall design to create an open work pattern, jali (lace) or shadow-work. Often the embroiderer creates mesh-like sections by using a needle to separate threads in the ground fabric, and then working around the spaces. Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are many other types of stitches (listed below) used in a Chikankari work:
Banarsi, Khatau, Turpai, Darzdari, Bijli, Makra, Kauri, Hathkadi, Banjkali, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, Taj Mahal, Dhania patti, Rozan, Meharki, Chana patti, Baalda, Jora, Bulbul, Sidhaul, Ghas ki patti
“In total, Chikankari work may consist of 32 types of stitches”
These stitches are meticulously worked upon, following the design outlines, and often embellished with sequins (Mukaish work), beads, or Kamdani work (tiny metallic wires).
Chikankari Stitches Variety
Intricately weaving threads of tradition, artistry, and heritage, Chikankari stands as a testament to the timeless beauty that can be created when human hands and imagination intertwine. As you trace the delicate stitches that have transcended generations, you will discover more than just a craft; you get to uncover a story of passion and dedication that has endured the test of time. With each Chikan-adorned garment, you wear not just a piece of clothing, but a piece of history that continues to flourish as artisans breathe life into their creations.
“Do you know in 1986 a movie 'Anjuman' was made that depicts the Chikankari embroidery and highlights the lives of women Chikankari artisans from Lucknow.”
As we embrace the elegance of Chikankari, let us remember that its threads connect us not only to the past, but to a future where cherished traditions and boundless creativity will forever entwine, crafting a narrative that is as unceasing as the impossibly beautiful stitches themselves.
Stay tuned for the next article in the Chikankari series for more stories & insights into this timeless craft..
Chikankari by The Loom Studio
Introducing our exquisite Chikankari Collection, where timeless elegance meets intricate artistry. Inspired by the rich heritage of India's traditional hand embroidery, each piece in this collection is a labor of love, meticulously handcrafted by skilled artisans. The delicate and graceful motifs, meticulously hand-embroidered with fine threads, evoke a sense of ethereal beauty that transcends trends.
Whether you're drawn to the classic charm or seeking to adorn yourself in the essence of cultural craftsmanship, our Chikankari Collection offers a symphony of textures, patterns, and styles that celebrate the harmony between tradition and contemporary fashion. Join us at The Loom Studio on a journey to embrace the art of subtlety and sophistication, where every stitch weaves a tale of artistry and grace.