Lucknow: the traditional hub of Chikankari embroidery

Chikan labor craft often called Lucknow chikan, is over 400 years old with a firm presence in the Indian and global fashion arena. The technique of its creation is called Chikankari and its unique sensibility displays grace and elegance as subtly as the wearer desires.

The word “Chikankari” is derived from the Persian word “Chakeen”. Lucknow is also known as the hub of chikan work.

Chikankari is a very delicate and intricate type of ombre embroidery from Uttar Pradesh, India. It is mainly practiced in Lucknow and nearby areas. Initially, embroidery was performed with white thread, on so-called colorless Muslim so-called colorless, today georgette, chiffon, cotton and other thin fabrics are also used. To be an embellishment used mainly to decorate clothes, Chikankari embroidery has now spread to home decor items like cushion covers, pillowcases, table linens, etc.

There are various theories behind the naming of the term ‘chikankari’. According to one version, the word is derived from a string of Persian or shaken words, meaning to create delicate patterns on fabrics with threads. According to others, it may be a deformed version of a piece of chicken or flakes worth Rs. 4, the amount for which it was purchased. Yet another explanation attributes the term to chikan in Bengali language which means ‘good’.

This fine embroidery is popularly known as “white embroidery” because it was done primarily with white cotton threads on sheer muslin fabrics to give a very subtle yet rich texture to a plain fabric.

There are hardly any clothes with Lucknow chikan work that does not use patterns or floral designs. Due to the strong influence of Persian aesthetics on this craft, flowers have been a staple in Chikankari designs. The types of flowers (including their stems, But Ipaisley leaves and patterns), as well as their stylizations, have varied over time to keep up with fashion trends, but in general they have remained quite intricate and delicate.

Lucknow Chikankari the technique can be more easily broken down into two 2 parts; the pre and post-preparation on the steps and the 36 types of stitches that can be used in its embroidery phase. The basic 3-step process of all Chikankari The work is:

print block

This is the initial phase where the design is done on the fabric of choice. The fabric is cut according to the garment it will form and using several wooden stamps, the designs are printed in blue ink on the fabric.

Embroidery

This fabric is then placed in a small frame, part by part, as the seam begins to trace the patterns printed in ink. The type of stitch a craftsman chooses depends on the specialty of the region and the type and size of the designs.

Washing

After the embroidery work is completed, the fabric is soaked in water to remove the outlines of the design. After that it is starched to get the right stiffness depending on the fabric.

Usually there is a combination of different Lucknow Chikankari stitches used in an entire pattern. These include: Makra, Kaudi, Hatkadi, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Dhania-patti, Jora, Bulbul and much more. There are also 10 main stitches made from raw skeins of yarn:

Jali: A specialty of Lucknow; this technique uses tiny buttonhole stitches with a wide, blunt needle to make a jali or filet where the thread is never pulled through the fabric, making it impossible to tell the front from its back.

Tepchi: This is a long stitch that is woven into the right side of the fabric and forms the outline of a design.

Murry: This is a tiny rice-shaped design used in minimalist and intricate patterns.

Bakhiya: Also called shadow seam; here, the work of the yarn is done on the reverse side so that its outline and color hue are visible on the reverse side of the fabric.

Zanzaera: This is a chain stitch designed to outline leaves and petals, especially when connected within their pattern.

Hool: This is a loose eyelet stitch used to design the heart of the flower.

Panda: Millet-shaped dots; these are used to make flower and grape vines.

Rahat: This is primarily a single stitch technique used to create plant stem designs, but can also contain a double stitch using the Bakhiya technical.

Kangan Keel: This stitch is mainly used to embellish floral designs and petals.

Khatua: Considered a more refined form of Bakhiya and used for flowers and paisleys, the design is first woven onto calico and then placed onto the main fabric.

Lucknow chikan embroidery has had its ups and downs since its initial formal establishment. His golden years in the period of Mughals and Nawabs were followed by a major downfall in later years during British rule.

It was only in the industrial age that chikan start reappearing with the same popularity it had before. It didn’t take long to be marketed. The Bollywood Film fraternity, along with small design firms, have played a big role in restoring national respect and appreciation Chikan’s always deserved work.

Thus, without a doubt, the great variety of Lucknow Chikan’s work is more plentiful today than ever. It is in high demand among the general urban masses, upper classes, and celebrities in Bollywood and Hollywood.

A regular kurta or a pair of palazzo pants can cost you between Rs.1200 and Rs.5000. Beware of the cheaper versions priced between Rs.200 and Rs.500 as these are mostly made using machines and lack the precision and neatness of hand embroidery.

One of the main things to identify is the cleanliness of the work. An original handmade garment is checked for accuracy and cleanliness before it is ready for sale. Thus, a garment with uneven seams, loose threads and thicker fabric only indicates that a machine was used in production.