Chikankari – The Heritage Behind This Vintage Needlework Art
Chikankari, which in literal sense means embroidery, is one of the most ancient textile decoration styles manufactured in the city of Nawabs, Lucknow (India). It is believed to have been introduced by Nur Jehan, mughal emperor Jahangir’s wife. This exquisite needlework gained popularity during the Mughal empire. Chikankari has found references as early as 3rd century BC. Megasthenes, a greek traveller has mentioned about this unique craft involving the use of flowered muslin by Indian.
In the current world, Lucknow has rapidly grown into an international market of its renowned Chikankari work. The word “Chikan” derives its meaning from the Persian word “Chakin” also pronounced as “Chikeen”. This means, cloth wrought with needlework. The process creates delicate designer patterns on a fabric. This is done 100% by hand. The designer patterns are mostly inspired by Mughal architecture and the cloth used can be cotton, muslin, chiffon, georgette, organza etc. People use the terms like, lucknawi kurtis and lucknawi Chikan whenever they are referring to Chikankari dresses for men and women. The most striking and visual appeal of Chikankari work is it’s design. These dresses do not stick to your body and are extremely light in weight. They allow your skin to have fresh air even in extreme hot conditions.
In its hay days, the Chikankari was only associated with embroidery which was white on white, known as whitework.
Chikankari Work At A Glance
As the entire work of designing is done by hand, the creation of this art involves a few steps. The process begins with the use of one or more pattern blocks which are used in block printing on a fabric. An expert embroiderer then stitches the pattern carefully which then leads to washing and removal of all traces of printed pattern (dye marks). To summarize, the entire process can be described in following steps:
- Design – The designer motifs are mostly inspired from the mughal era. More natural elements are incorporated into the design like flowers and leaves. When Chikankari was still in a very nascent stage, FISH was an integral part of the design as it was also the emblem of the court of Oudh.
- Engravings and Block Printing – Once the design is approved, it is engraved on one or more design blocks. Design blocks are then used for block printing on the ground fabric.
- Stitches (Embroidery) – A master embroiderer then create his or her magic by making use of different types of stitches. Different types of stitches are discussed below. The type of stitches and the thickness of the thread determine the patterns and effects created on the fabric. There are more than 35 stitches used in Chikankari to give a unique look to each design. All these 35 stitches are mainly classified into 3 main types. Flat, embossed, and raised stitches.Flat stitches are very subtle in nature and remain close to the fabric. Embossed stitches provide a grainy appearance to the fabric.
Different Types Of Stitches Used In Chikankari
- Tepchi: This is one of the simplest form of designing a Chikankari dress. It’s a linear, long running or darning stitch on a fabric. Six strands on the right side of the ground fabric taken over four threads and one of them is picked up. This particular style is mostly chosen to outline the design motif.
- Bakhiya: This type of stitch is known for its double back and shadow work. It’s mostly done from the wrong side of the fabric and the actual design on the front end is rendered in herringbone style. The shadow of the thread is seen on the cloth from the right side. In industry, it is also known as “Ulti” and “Seedhi” Bakhiya.
- Hool: This one is a fine detached eyelet stitch. It is made with the help of six threads and forms the heart of the flower. A hole is very delicately punched into the fabric and the threads are then separated from each other. It is then held by miniscule stitches all around with a single thread on the right side of the fabric.
- Zanzeera: This is a very small delicately handcrafted chain stitch worked with one thread being on the right side of the fabric. It’s is mostly used for enhancing the outline of a shape like flower or a petal once basic outlines have already been made.
- Rahet: An offshoot of the Bakhiya stitch, it is rarely used in its simplest form. Popularly known as “Dohra Bakhiya”, it forms a solid line of back stitch on the right side of the fabric. Mostly used to create outline stitches.
- Banarsi: A form of twisted stitch which is done with six threads on the right side of the fabric. Working on the right side and at an interval of 5 threads, a small stitch is taken over about two threads vertically. The needle is again reinserted at the half way mark just below the horizontal stitch and is taken out about two threads vertically on the right hand side just above the preceding stitch.
- Khatau: Just like Rahet, Khatau is also an offshoot of Bakhiya. The most noticeable difference is that it is finer and is a form of appliqué. The design is mostly prepared on a calico which is a plain woven unbleached textile and often not fully processes cotton.
- Phanda: This is one of the most commonly used and amongst the well known stitches along with Murri. It’s mostly used in making the center of the flowers in simple Chikankari design motifs. The basic difference between a Phanda and Murri is that Murri is a rice shaped design while a Phanda is millet shaped.
- Jali: These stitches require great level of meticulous expertise. The beauty of this design is that the threads are never drawn through the fabric making the back of the fabric as impeccable as the front. The threads are very carefully drawn apart and very small buttonhole stitches are inserted into the cloth.
- Turpai and Darzdari: These two types of stitches are integral part of Chikankari. Turpai is recognised by think thread design while Darzdari comes in various forms like “Singbhada Darz”, “kohidarz”, Kamal darz”, “Shankarpara Darz” etc.
- There are many other types of Chikankari stitches which are: Banjkali, Makra, Kauri, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, Bulbul-Chasm, Taj Mahal, Chanapatti, Keel Kangan, Sidhaul etc.
Chikankari over the years has seen a paradigm shift in innovation and experimentation done with different types of fabrics. This handicraft art has seen various stages of transformations but it remains rooted in its city of origin, Lucknow. This is where we are established “M/S Chikankaari”. We are proud to be born in Lucknow and feel grateful to the heritage of the city of Nawabs. We understand the refinement in taste of the ever changing lucknawi Chikan market and adapt accordingly. We really hope that you like our products and we are thankful to you for giving us an opportunity to serve you and making you look elegant and beautiful.