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Timeless Chikankari


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Timeless chikankari


Chikankari has never gone out of fashion. Top designers tell you why it's the best kind of summerwear.

When the sun smiles strongly, you know it is the time to celebrate cool muslins and soft mulls. Traditional yet contoured in a modish contemporary twist, the ageless chikankari,comes to your cool rescue.

Chikan work with its gossamer quality has become one of Indian fashion's hottest exports and is an expression of haute couture, combined with mirror work, muquaish and even zardozi.


The earliest reference to chikankari dates back to as early as the 3rd century BC. Greek traveller Megasthenes mentions the use of flowered muslins by Indians. Popular folklore attributes the origin of the craft to a simple story: a traveller passing through a village near Lucknow, asked a poor peasant for water. Thankful for the peasant's hospitality, the traveller taught him chikankari so that he would never go hungry again. Craftsmen still believe that the traveller was a prophet.

Some attribute the popularity of chikankari to the Mughal harems. The word chikan is rooted in the Persian chikin, meaning needlework on colourless muslin called tanzeb (tan=body, zeb=decoration). It is also believed to be a distorted form of chikeen or siquin, a coin valued at Rs. 4, for which the embroidery was sold in Persia.

Noor Jehan, Mughal emperor Jehangir's wife, was heavily inspired by Turkish embroidery and gave impetus to this form of needle work. During the peak of its popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries, Awadh's chikankari rivalled the most exotic and frothy engineered laces of Europe. But though origins of chikankari are believed to be rooted in Awadh, the work is believed to have been part of the Indian heritage for centuries.

Fashion designer Nida Mahmud says, “From scarves, stoles, tunics, hand bags and even footwear, chikankari has spanned a spectrum.”

Exquisite needlework

Crafted on cotton, linen, georgettes and chiffons, these light and wearable creations do not stick to your body and allow your skin to breathe in the oppressive heat. The exquisite needlework has made way for diffusion wear. Cavorting darts in a multitude of threads bring to life filigreed leaves, trellised paisleys, blooming roses and soft roses, even Arabesque interpretations of birds, fishes and butterflies. Most design motifs today are stylised expressions of the Mughal era, even reminiscent of the fine karigari evident at Fatehpur Sikri.

Designer duo Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla breathed life into the art form over a decade ago by employing chikan kari in their snob ensembles worn by the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Jaya Bachchan, Dimple Kapadia and Kareena and Karishma Kapoor. Their short kurta-pyjamas are a hot favourite with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Muzzafar and Meera Ali of Kotwara label fame initiated an elegant array of gold and silver chikankari work on black for formal wear and even bridal wear. The daraz chikan kari is the most expensive, stitched-by-hand work and takes months to complete.

Designer Tarun Tahiliani can be credited with reviving the machine technique of chikan work leading to quick production of garments. What has become increasingly popular today are fruity bursts of chikan work on pre-embroidered cloth, spangled with muqaish work, jali work, beads and stones for an eclectic appeal.Duplication is evident with ramp showstoppers crafted laboriously for a few lakhs. “The best thing would be to import these craftsmen to Mumbai in order to maintain high-secrecy. But that's virtually impossible as the karigars are mostly women and even the men around don't want to shift base. So we carry on amid this cheating. Another hassle is that while earlier chikan work was done only on cotton and silk, our creations looked unique because they were on materials like georgette and chiffon. Today, every other person is using these new fabrics and, though they may be cheap imitations they come quite close to the original,” laments Abu Jani

But whether modestly priced or exhorbitant, chikan work ensembles breathe their own special magic into your being when you wear them. They make you feel like royalty.

Different stitches

Taipchi: A long running or darning to form the outline of the chosen motif

Bakhia: or shadow work has two kinds: ulti and sidhi.

Phanda: Millet-shaped stitches used to make flowers and patterns like grape vines

Murri: rice-shaped minute stitches

Jali: Normally worked by tearing apart the threads of the cloth and preparing minute buttonhole stitches

Keel kangan: is used to enhance floral motifs and butties

Hool: is a fine detached eyelet stitch. Worked with six threads it forms the heart of a flower

Zanzeera: A small extremely fine chain stitch, it is used to finally outline the leaf/petal shapes after one or more outlines have been worked

Rahet: A stem stitch, it is rarely used in its simple form but is common in the double form of dohra bakhiya

Banarsi: A twisted stitch worked with six threads on the right side of the fabric

Khatau: similar to Bakhia, but finer, it is a form of applique. The design is prepared on calico, placed over the surface of the final fabric and then paisley and floral patterns are stitched on to it

Turpai and Darzdari are also significant in chikan work.




1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
More history and cultural background

Chikankari - Not just embroidery


In India there are many popular embroidery groups such as Chikankari of Lucknow, Katha of Bengal, Fulkari of Punjab, Kutchi Embroidery of Gujarat & Kashidakari of Kashmir. Each style of embroidery is different from the other and has its own beauty and significant value.

The city of Lucknow has a prominent place in the history of India particularly for its art, historical monuments and rich cultural heritage. Besides being famous for its hot summers and a glorious past, Lucknow is also known the world over for its many fine Handicrafts. Some of the most popular names in this list are Chikankari, Hand Block Textile Printing, Zari Zardozi, Ivory or Bone Carving, Terracotta and many others that are practiced by various artisans of Lucknow. Chikankari is considered to be the most popular amongst these and is recognized worldwide.

Chikankari is a fine art of embroidery made with white untwisted yarn with the help of a needle on a fine cloth. It is done on viol, silk, cambric, georgette, terry cotton etc. At first, designs are printed on the cloth with washable colours while different stitches or embroidery work is done on cloth. This is a home based industrial activity which is mainly performed by women artisans and workers.

To note: the classic form uses white cotton threads. Today however a rainbow of colors is possible, though they are not as desirable, as are the classic yarns on pale cotton backgrounds. Chickankari used to be available through online retailers and on ebay. No longer !! If you are lucky you may find a retail item. You will be 9 times out of 10 guided to a web site where you must place a fabric order wholesale, or buy fabric from a wholesale lot already available. Always expensive, a person used to be able to find an item at an affordable price. Now, the prices have gone through the roof. But do the craftsmen and craftswomen realize these gains?

Images for this thread do come from http://sonamsrivastava.blogspot.com/search/label/lucknow
History and Tradition

The historical records of 17th century of East India Company reveal that Dhaka produced the fine embroidery called ‘Chikan’. Chikankari craft is said to be brought to Lucknow in 18th century from East Bengal by the Nawabs of Awadh. It is said that Noorjahan, wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir introduced it in Lucknow. At that time it was designed and practiced by her and other begams (wives) of Mughal Emperors. It was popular among the Nawabs and Rulers of Awadh. Chikankari flourished under the patronage of the rulers of Awadh. Later on, the craftsmen with love and devotion worked on topi-palla or angarkha, for their masters, creating designs that were unmatched in beauty. The craft passed on to the womenfolk of the community, as a source of subsidiary earning for the family. Gradually, it became the main source of earning for the family.

However, the emergence of British Raj gave the big shock to the chikankari craft. The import of super fine low priced mill textile from England caused the decline of the trade of chikan craft. Thus, the many of the fine stitchers remained confined to the homes of artisans and those who were fond of the craft. This also resulted exploitation of helpless chikan workers. Efforts to revive this industry were launched after the Independence. The chikan embroidery scheme was launched in 1947.

The Uniqueness of Chikankari Art

Due to the variety of stitching-styles involved in Chikankari, it is claimed to be one of its kind hand embroidery that is impossible to imitate in any other part of the world. Chikan embroiders claim of about thirty-two stitches, to which they give delightfully fanciful names. Some of the names in their local language are; Sidhual, Makra, Mandarzi, Bulbulchashm, Tajmahal, Phooljali, Phanda, Dhoom, Gol murri, Janjeera, Keel, Kangan, Bakhia, Dhania Patti, lambi Murri, Kapkapi, Karan Phool, Bijli, Ghaspatti, Rozan, Meharki, Kaj, Chameli, Chane ki Patti, Balda, Jora, Pachni, Tapchim Kauri, Hathkati & Daraj of various types. Closer analysis reveals that many of these are different combinations of the same few basic stitches.

The crafts sector alone provides employment to 23 million people in India. The crafts have been integral part of cultural life, though traditional craft skills need sensitive adaptation, proper quality cannot suitable pricing and improved designs to meet customer demand and their satisfaction. However, many artisans face the problems of finance, technology and skill up gradation, production and marketing of goods. The chikan industry has enjoyed the patronaged of Nawabs and rulers of Awadh. With the change of time the policies for its promotion and development were evolved by government. However, the socio-economic status of chikan workers has remained pathetic. Even, they are exploited by the private sector since there are no organized efforts to develop and promote chikan industry at present.


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
This shows the wrist ban on a kurta I bought about 7 years ago when I could afford chikankari The pattern is repeated at the neckline and also around the kurta hem. The yarns really do glow. I have one chikankari salwar suit iin the traditional white yarn in an all over pattern on pale, pink cotton gauze, and another uses pink thread in an all over pattern on black cotton. They are all now more than 6 years old, but they never wear out or lose their character.

Today I am celebrating India. Forgive my burst of enthuiasm for chikankari.


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