The history of chikankari embroidery dates back to 3rd century BC. While the word ‘chikan’ directly translates to ’embroidery’, the technique of creating chikan work is called chikankari. Taking it’s origin in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, chikankari products have made their way to all over India and world. Chikankari embroidery is one of the ancient art forms in Lucknow and is widely appreciated by Indian and global audience.
Origin of Chikankari Embroidery
There are several stories associated with the origin of chikan work in India. There is an interesting story which says that a traveler had taught chikan craft to a peasant in return for providing drinking water to him. The most known one however is the one related to Mughal Empire. In 17th century, Noor Jahan, the consort of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir is said to have introduced this Persian art form in India. She was a talented embroideress herself and has a special liking towards this embroidery art. The emperor conducted art workshops to improve and perfect the skill among people which then became quite popular.
After the fall of Mughal empire, the art form has seen it’s downfall. However, the artisans spread to different parts of the country after this and kept the art intact. There are about 2.5 lakh chikankari embroidery making artisans in India which is a huge number for the art clusters prevailing in the country.
The Process of Creating Chikan Work on Fabric
The intricate and classy chikankari embroidery work is time-taking and one of the skillful art forms out there. The entire process takes around 10-15 days depending on the intricacy of the design. The entire process can be divided into three steps as follows:
1. Hand block printing
The first step includes creating the design. For this, artisans carve the design or motif onto a wooden block. This wooden block is then dipped in paint and the design is transferred from block to fabric applying pressure. Once this is done the fabric is cut into the required garment shape before proceeding to the next step.
This is the most crucial and key step in the process. The artisans hand-stitch on top of the printed printed design to create the thread work that symbolizes the art form. A small frame, threads and needle are used for this. Initially only white threads were used for creating the design. But with advancements, multiple colored threads are being used now-a-days. The hand work takes lot of time and it depends mainly on the kind of details chosen. This is what makes it extremely special and expensive at the same time.
Once the embroidery is done, the fabric is washed to remove the paint off the fabric. The garment is then checked for fineness and consistency in work. Before taking it to the retail, the garments are starched to obtain the strength and stiffness.
More About Chikankari Embroidery
Started as white on white embroidery, this art work is now done on various colored fabrics. In general fabrics like muslin, cotton, silk, organza and net are used widely for chikan work. Despite the fact that thread work is the traditional style, sequins, beads, mirrors, etc. are incorporated often to give the palatial look to it. Over the past few decades, with the commercial mindset taking over, people started mimicking the design with machines. However, machine-made ones are easily distinguishable from the original ones. The neatness, detail and strength in the threadwork shows it all. There are about 36 different stitching techniques in this art form where backstitch, hemstitch, chainstitch are the most common ones.
Not only did it makes its statement all over India, chikan work kurtas and dresses have even made it to ramp in international shows when worn in events, shows and movies. This embroidery form can be seen in several men’s and women’s clothing and apparel like kurtas, kurtis, palazzos, anarkalis, footwear, bags, etc. The design mostly includes motifs of flowers, leaves, stems and delicate paisley motifs. The details are what makes this embroidery form classy and rich. Here are some beautiful chikankari kurtas you might wanna buy!