Chikan, in the literal sense means 'embroidery.' The art of Chikankari belongs to Lucknow, the land of Tehzeeb and Nazaquat. It is a delicate and intricate embroidery style introduced by Nur Jehan that flourished under the patronage of the Mughals. Nur Jahan was a talented embroideress and was fond of this art. Her husband is believed to have been fascinated by the art form too and established many workshops to perfect this art form in India. After the downfall of the Mughal Empire, the chikankari artisans spread all over India, but Lucknow remained the main centre with Awadh a close second.
Chikankari is created by block printing patterns on the fabric. Craftsmen embroider stitches along the pattern and the finished piece is later washed to remove traces of the prints. Washing is the final stage of the chikankari process.
It started off as a type of white-on-white embroidery, but has evolved with white thread embroidered on soothing pastels. The preferred fabric is muslin or mulmul as it is best suited for warm and humid climate. However, cotton, chiffon, silk, net and organza is also used. The idea is to have a lightweight fabric that not just makes the embroidery process easier but also makes sure that the work stands out on its own.
What makes this art special is that the stitches are done to perfection and the quality and gracefulness is unmatched. The essence of this art lies in its simplicity. Floral patterns and chikankari go hand in hand. Owing to the strong Persian influence, flowers have always been a staple with stems, leaves and buti added in to complete the design. Other motifs include embellishments like Badla, Mukaish, Kamdani as well as mirror work, sequin and bead.
The work is done on kurtas, saris, scarves, caps and other pieces of clothing. The chikan industry has not only survived but is flourishing. Around 2,500 entrepreneurs manufacture chikan for sale in local, national and international markets. Today, Lucknow is the largest exporter of chikan embroidered garments. Chikankari may be an old form of art but is still one of the most appealing.
Hope you found this article informative!