The craft of Chikan work, often referred to as Lucknow Chikan, is over 400 years old with a rm presence in the Indian and global fashion arena. The technique of its creation is called Chikankari and its unique sensibility aunts grace and elegance as subtly as the wearer pleases. While the word Chikan quite literally means embroidery, the art form incorporates approximately 36 different stitching techniques that in modern times are often combined with embellishments of pearls, mirror and Mukaish. Though traditionally it was done on Muslin cloth, white thread on white fabric, today it can be seen on various fabrics and colours, popularly pastels. While its central hub and place of origin is Lucknow, Chikan work has spread far and wide within India, with West Bengal and Awadh also specialising in its production.
Origin & History
Some historians have recorded the presence of Chikan as early as the 3rd Century AD during the reign of Changragupta Maurya, but the exact origin of this technique remains a mystery to date. Another common tale behind its history relates the Mughals introducing this Persian craft to India in the 17th Century. The Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s consort, Noor Jahan, was a known talented embroiderer with a particular fondness for Chikankari work. Jahangir was also enamored by this craft and lavished it with his royal patronage. He established several workshops to hone and perfect this art form. In this era, the fabrics used were mostly Muslin or Mulmul as they were best suited for the warm, humid climate. After the downfall of the Empire, Chikankari artisans spread all over India and founded various centers for re-establishment in the 18th and 19th Century. Lucknow was the main one with Awadh as a close second. The then Governor of Awadh, Burhan Ul Malk, was a Persian nobleman and Chikan work beneciary who had a major role in restoring this craft to its former glory, which in many ways stands till date.
Sources of Inspiration
There are hardly any garments with Lucknow Chikan work that don’t use oral patterns or motifs. Due to the strong influence of Persian aesthetics on this craft, powers have been a staple in Chikankari designs. The types of owers (including their stems, Buti, leaves and Paisley motifs), as well as their stylisations, have varied throughout time to keep up with fashion trends, but in general have remained fairly intricate and delicate.
1. Bakhiya, double back or shadow stitch in chikan work is done from the wrong side of the fabric and the design is rendered in the herringbone style. The shadow of the thread is seen through the cloth on the right side.
2.Tepchi is a long running or darning stitch worked with six strands on the right side of the fabric taken over four threads and picking up one. Thus, a line is formed. It is used principally as a basis for further stitchery and occasionally to form a simple shape.
3. Hool is a ne detached eyelet stitch. Herein, a hole is punched in the fabric and the threads are teased apart. It is then held by small straight stitches all round and worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. It can be worked with six threads and often forms the center of a ower.
4. Zanzeera is a small chain stitch worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. Being extremely ne, it is used to nally outline the leaf or petal shapes after one or more outlines have already been worked.
5. Rahet is a stem stitch worked with six threads on the wrong side of the fabric. It forms a solid line of back stitch on the right side of the fabric and is rarely used in its simple form but is common in the double form of dohra bakhiya as an outlining stitch.
6. Banarsi stitch has no European equivalent and is a twisted stitch worked with six threads on the right side of the fabric. Working from the right across about ve threads a small stitch is taken over about two threads vertically. The needle is reinserted halfway along and below the horizontal stitch formed and is taken out about two threads vertically on the right above the previous stitch.
7. Khatau is similar to Bakhia, but ner and is a form of applique. In Khatau, the design is prepared on calico material. That is placed over the surface of the nal fabric and then paisley and oral paerns are stitched on to it.
8. Phanda and Murri are the forms of stitches used to embroider the centre of the owers in ordinary chikan work motifs. They are typically French knots, with murri being rice-shaped and phanda millet-shaped.
9. Jali stitch is the 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.