Chikan is an ancient form of delicate floral hand embroidery that has mesmerized men and women for centuries. The technique of creating Chikan work is known as Chikankari and Lucknow is the heart of the Chikankari industry today.
It is mostly done on fabrics like cotton, georgette, crepe, chiffon, silk and any other fabric which is light and which highlights the embroidery. Traditionally only the white thread was embroidered on cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments but nowadays Chikan embroidery is done even with colored threads to meet the fashion trends and keep Chikankari trendy. In recent times it has adapted additional embellishments, like Mukaish, Kamdani, Badla, Sequin, Bead and Mirror work, which give it a richer look.
History of Chikankari
Reference of Chikankari can be found as early as the 3rd century BC. Megasthenes, a Greek traveler, has mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians although there are different versions of the origin of Chikankari. It is said that a traveler, who was passing through a village in Lucknow, stopped and requested a poor peasant for water. Delighted at the hospitality of the peasant, the traveler taught him the art of Chikankari, which would ensure that he would never remain hungry in life. Another explanation credits Noorjahan, the queen of emperor Jahangir, with the introduction of the Chikankari in India.
The term Chikan itself has several explanations. As per one version, the word Chikan has been derived from a Persian word Chakin or Chakeen, which means creating delicate patterns on a fabric. According to others, women in Lucknow did this work by putting a chik (bamboo curtain) on the door and that’s why it’s called Chik-aan. Yet another explanation ascribes the term to the East Bengal language, in which Chikan meant fine.
Method of Chikankari Embroidery Work
The Chikankari consists of a number of processes, like printing the embroidery pattern on the fabric, doing the complete embroidery by hand, washing the pattern and finishing it. The stitches used in Chikankari of Lucknow fall into the following three categories:
- Flat Stitches - subtle stitches that remain close to the fabric
- Embossed Stitches - they give a grainy appearance
- Jali Work - created by the tension of the thread giving it a delicate net effect
There are over all 32 stitches in Chikankari but here are the most popular ones:
Tepchi work: It is also known as the magic work because the difference between the right and the wrong side cannot be made out just by looking at the fabric. Each stitch is symmetric to the other. This is a very delicate work as a very thin thread is used for this embroidery.
Shadow work: Shadow work or Bhakia is the most common stitch of Chikankari. The reason for the name shadow is that the embroidery is done on the wrong side and we see its shadow on the right side. The effect of this stitch is most visible on delicate see-through fabrics.
Phanda work: It is a hand embroidered design of flowers that gives a pearl-like effect on the fabric and it is usually combined with Murri work to give an exclusive look to the fabric.
Murri: It is the form of stitch used to embroider the center of the flowers. They are typically French knots that are rice-shaped. Murri is the oldest and the most sought-after form of Chikankari. The use of this stitch is depleting due to a decrease in the artisans doing this embroidery.
Jali: Jali stitch is one where the thread is never drawn through the fabric, ensuring that the back portion of the garment looks as impeccable as the front. The warp and weft threads are carefully drawn apart and minute buttonhole stitches are inserted into the cloth.
Here are the names of other stitches:
- Keel kangan
- Taj Mahal
Chikankari over the years has seen a lot of experimentation with different types of fabrics and different types of threads. This handicraft art has seen various stages of transformation and it is still timeless but like any other ancient art, the biggest challenge today is to keep it alive. So if you don’t have a Chikankari outfit, go out and buy one and help keep this art alive.