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Chikankari work is a traditional style of embroidery that originated in Lucknow, a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The word ‘Chikankari’ comes from the Persian word ‘Chikan,’ which means ’embroidery.’ The art of Chikankari work involves delicate and intricate embroidery using white cotton threads on fine muslin or other lightweight fabrics.

The embroidery designs in Chikankari work are inspired by nature, such as flowers, birds, and leaves, as well as traditional motifs like paisleys, vines, and geometric shapes. The embroidery work is done by hand, using a needle and white cotton thread. The artisans specializing in chikankari embroidery are known as ‘Karigars’ and have been practicing this art for generations.

Chikankari work is known for its intricate detailing, exquisite patterns, and unique stitches.

The embroidery is typically done on sarees, salwar kameez, dupattas, and other traditional Indian outfits. It is also used in creating home decor items like bedspreads, cushion covers, and tablecloths.

Historical Significance of Lucknow Chikankari Work

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Chikankari embroidery is an ancient craft that has survived for centuries, with roots tracing back to the Mughal era. This exquisite handiwork is a testament to the artistry and skill of the craftsmen who have carried on this tradition through the generations, and it continues to be celebrated as a symbol of Indian heritage and culture.

Chikankari’s work technique involves intricate and delicate embroidery with fine thread on muslin or cotton fabric. The motifs used in chikankari embroidery include flowers, paisleys, vines, and other traditional Indian designs.

The Origin of Chikankari in Lucknow

Chikankari embroidery was introduced to Lucknow by Nur Jehan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Nur Jehan was known for her love of the arts, and it is believed that she brought skilled artisans from Bengal to teach the technique of Chikankari embroidery to the women of the Mughal court in Agra, which was the capital of the Mughal Empire at the time.

Chikankari work has significant historical and cultural significance. It was traditionally done by hand, and skilled artisans would spend months creating intricate designs on fabric. The popularity of chikankari work reached its peak during the Mughal era when the technique was used to embellish royal attire, including robes and tunics worn by Mughal emperors and their queens.

Chikankari: An Economic Boost for Lucknow 

The craft also played a significant role in the cultural and economic development of Lucknow. During the late 18th century, the chikankari industry in Lucknow employed over 50,000 people, including men and women from various social and economic backgrounds. It was also a means for women to earn a livelihood and gain financial independence.

Steps of Chikankari Embroidery

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Chikankari Work embroidery is done on fabrics such as cotton, silk, and chiffon, and involves several steps to create intricate and delicate designs. the basic steps involved in Chikankari work are:

1. Design Transfer

The first step in Chikankari work is to transfer the design onto the fabric. This is usually done using a stencil or tracing paper.

2. Block Printing

After the design has been transferred, the fabric is block printed with a design using a wooden block. The block is dipped in dye and stamped onto the fabric to create the design.

3. Embroidery

The fabric is then embroidered using a needle and thread. The embroidery is done on the block-printed design to create intricate patterns and designs.

4. Washing

After the embroidery is complete, the fabric is washed to remove any remaining dye or printing marks.

5. Cutting and Finishing

The final step is to cut and finish the fabric into the desired shape and size, such as a kurta, dupatta, or saree. These are the basic steps involved in Chikankari work, but there are many variations and techniques used by different artisans and regions.

Stitches used in Chikankari Work

There are several types of stitches used in chikankari work. Each stitch is used to create a different effect and can be combined in different ways to create intricate and beautiful designs. Some of which are:

  1. Tepchi stitch

This is a basic running stitch that is used to create the outlines of the design.

  1. Bakhiya stitch

This stitch is also known as shadow work, as it creates a shadow-like effect on the fabric. It is made by inserting the needle from the back of the fabric and bringing it out through the front, creating a small stitch on the surface of the fabric.

  1. Phanda stitch

This is a small, circular stitch that is used to create small, round motifs or to fill in the center of flowers.

  1. Jaali stitch

This is a net-like stitch that is created by weaving threads together to form a lattice-like pattern.

  1. Keel Kangan stitch

This stitch is used to create leaf motifs and is made by creating a series of small stitches in a row, with each stitch slanting in the same direction.

  1. Murri

This is a tiny, raised stitch that is used to create a dotted effect on the fabric.

  1. Hool stitch

This stitch is used to create openwork patterns and is made by creating a series of small stitches that are then cut to create a hole in the fabric.

  1. Zan Zeera

This is a chain stitch that is used to create intricate floral and vine patterns.

  1. Banarsi stitch

This is a twisted stitch that is used to create a raised, rope-like effect on the fabric.

  1. Ghas Patti

This is a dense stitch that is used to fill in large areas of the fabric.

Products with Chikankari Work

Many different products are made by using chikankari embroidery. These products are loved and adored by most people and have a certain royal appeal to them. Some of those are: 

1. Sarees

Chikankari work sarees are a popular choice for weddings and formal events. The embroidery is usually done on the border and pallu of the saree and can feature intricate floral or paisley designs.

2. Kurtis and Salwar Kameez

Chikankari work kurtis and salwar kameez sets are comfortable and stylish options for everyday wear. The embroidery can be done on the neckline, sleeves, or hemline of the garment.

3. Dupattas

Chikankari work dupattas are versatile accessories that can be paired with various outfits. The embroidery can be done on the entire length of the dupatta or the edges.

4. Lehengas

Chikankari work lehengas are a popular choice for brides and bridesmaids. The embroidery can be done on the blouse, skirt, or dupatta of the lehenga.

5. Home Decor Items

Chikankari work can also be used to decorate home decor items like cushion covers, tablecloths, and curtains. The embroidery can feature traditional motifs or modern designs.

6. Jackets

Chikankari work jackets can be a trendy addition to your wardrobe. The embroidery can be done on the back, front, or sleeves of the jacket.

7. Handbags

Chikankari work handbags are a unique and stylish accessory. The embroidery can be done on the entire bag or specific areas like the flap or handles.

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The Artisans Behind Chikankari Work

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Chikankari work is typically done by skilled artisans, who have learned the craft through generations of family tradition or apprenticeships. The artistry involved in Chikankari work requires a high level of expertise and precision, as the embroidery is done entirely by hand and each piece can take many hours, or even days, to complete.

The livelihood and working conditions of Chikankari artisans can vary widely depending on their location, level of skill, and the demand for their work. Many Chikankari artisans work independently or as part of small cottage industries, while others are employed by larger companies or cooperatives.

Chikankari artisans may work long hours for very low wages, particularly if they are working independently or for unscrupulous employers. They may also face other challenges such as lack of access to training and education, limited access to markets, and discrimination based on caste or gender.

Many organizations and initiatives are working to support Chikankari artisans and improve their livelihoods. These efforts include providing training and education opportunities, promoting fair trade practices, and connecting artisans with new markets and customers. Through these efforts, Chikankari artisans can continue to preserve and develop this important cultural tradition while improving their economic and social well-being.

Why is Chikankari so popular?

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Chikankari Work has evolved, and new colors and fabrics have been introduced to the art form. Chikankari work is not only popular in India but is also exported to other countries, making it a global fashion trend. Some common reasons for that are: 

  1. Attention to detail

Chikankari work requires a great deal of attention to detail, as the embroidery patterns are often very intricate and delicate.

  1. Patience

Chikankari work is a time-consuming process, as it involves a lot of hand-stitching. Patience is required to ensure that each stitch is placed perfectly and the final product is flawless.

  1. Skill

Chikankari work requires skill and expertise in embroidery techniques, such as stitching, knotting, and weaving.

  1. Creativity

Chikankari work allows for creativity, as artisans can experiment with different designs and patterns.

  1. Fine motor skills

Chikankari work requires fine motor skills, as artisans work with small needles and delicate fabric.

  1. Knowledge of fabrics

Chikankari work requires knowledge of different types of fabrics, including cotton, muslin, and silk, and how to work with them to create the desired effect.

  1. Precision

Chikankari work requires precision, as each stitch needs to be placed carefully to achieve the desired effect.

  1. Perseverance

Chikankari work can be a challenging and time-consuming process, so perseverance is required to see the project through to completion.

End Note on Chikankari Work Tradition

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in chikankari work, as designers and fashion houses have incorporated the embroidery style into their collections. This has provided a platform for chikankari artisans to showcase their skills and has helped to preserve and promote this traditional art form.

Chikankari’s work is a treasured part of India’s rich cultural heritage, and its beauty and craftsmanship continue to captivate and inspire people around the world. 

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