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Chikankari -An Unique Art from Lucknow,India

Updated on August 26, 2015

Lucknow - Location Map

Chikankari is an unique, old art from Lucknow which is passed through generations,developed and preserved here.This place has been recognized as "Exclusive hub of Chikankari" by the Art of Lucknow Geographical Indication Registry.This art is mainly practiced in and around the Lucknow, famous for its 'tehzeeb' or (In Hindi) very refined,decorative pattern of work,here in Lucknow it has reached its most elaborate and distinctive form.Chikankari is also popularly known as "shadow work" because of the peculiar kind of needle work done on a fabric.

a chikan work on saree
a chikan work on saree

Chikan has been derived from the Persian word "Chakin" or 'Chikeen' means cloth designed with needlework and the art of creating chikan work is known as 'Chikankari'.A study on the origin of Chikan reveals that this form of embroidery had come to India from Persia,though some say it was from West Bengal.

History of the Chikan Embroidery in Lucknow
It was started in Lucknow during the Mughal period,and it is believed was introduced by Noor Jehan wife of Mughal ruler Jahangir.The artistic hand embroidery was initially done on the white muslin or fine cotton or chiffon fabric with white thread, worn by the royal people to enhance the beauty of the cloth.Sometimes yellowish silk was also used in addition to the white thread.These kind of works are normally done on the Topis(caps)kurtas,saris,scarf and now on all kinds of apparel.Though the art form started as white -on -white now it is done in all kinds of fabrics with different colors of thread to cope with modern trend.

Facts about Embroidery

  • Embroidery is a very important art in medieval Islamic world.
  • The art was a sign of high social status in Muslim societies and it was known as 'craft of two hands."
  • Elaborately embroidered cloth have been a mark of wealth and status in many cultures like Persia,India,china,Japan,and Europe.
  • The Chikan embroidery is mentioned in 16th century chronicle Ain-I-Akbari and also by a chronicler Megasthenes of 3rd century .
  • Embroidery art was used to depict the historical events like Tayeux tapestry where 231 feet long cloth portrays the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Creation of Chikan fabric.
The creation of this art involves few steps,they are design,engraving the design,block printing,embroidery and washing the fabric to remove the dye marks.The source of most of the design motifs are Mughal in nature.
Mostly flowers,plants,leaves are chosen as designs.The bel or creeper was the most commonly used design, individual motifs or bhutis of animals and flowers were also made.Fish was very common motif in Lucknow and widely used because it was the emblem of the court of Oudh.
These designs are engraved in one or more dye blocks.These patterns are used to block print the design on the ground fabric.The embroider stitches the pattern using different suitable stitches, roughly there are more than 35 stitches are used.These stitches can be grouped mainly into three types they are flat stitches,raised and embossed stitches and open trellis like 'Jali' work.The refined pattern and effects are created depending on the types of stitches used and thickness of the threads used in the needlework.
In traditional chikan work no frames were used(as they are used now).The technique used was, the portion of the cloth to be embroidered is placed over the index finger in the left hand supported by the rest of the fingers leaving the thumb free.The thumb is used to hold the cloth tight in position to do the needlework.
There is a custom and method in application of stitches.It is a only kind of art where there is a strict norm is followed in application of stitches.A stitch assigned to a particular purpose is used only for that purpose not replaced by any other kind of stitches, for example, the chain stitches where used only for outlining a leaf,petal,flower or stem.The embroider creates famous 'jali' or shadow work in the design by using a needle to separate threads in the ground fabric and then working around the spaces.Noor Jehan's personal preference and desire to replicate the Turkish architectural special features like open work designs was said, to have resulted in introducing jali work in Chikan embroidery. The finished fabric is checked carefully for mistakes and washed in bhatti after which the fabric is then starched and ironed.The whole cycle can take one to six months to complete.

The unique lace or Jali work
The unique lace or Jali work

Mainly there are four kinds of Chikan work
1.Katao-where minute patterns of different materials are sewn in to the muslin.
2.Murri -a very minute satin pear shaped stitch in which a knot is formed over a pattern which is already completed.
3.Phanda-The knots are spherical and very small, not pear shaped like Murri .These stitches are very difficult and require craftsmanship,practice to do.
4.Jali Kholna-In which individual threads are carefully removed from fabric and re used in the same place to form a design.

Shops and range of price

Seva Industries
simple kurta
men's kurts

Where to shop?

There are many shops at Chowk, Hazratganj, Aminabad, and Janpath.The better place to buy is from Seva Chikan Industries this is an organization present all over the city to help self-employed women and to promote local craft.They offer great variety,and you can buy at reasonable price as it is a wholesale shop.The rate depends upon the kind of fabric used and extent of artwork.There are other shops too they sell similar kind clothes( you have to bargain),shopping with a local guide is a better option here.

What else you can buy?

There is special sweet called 'revari',(must try)marble clips,wood baskets,clay models of fruits,vegetables,and toys.Lucknow is called the city of Nawabs,as a proof there are lots of parks ,buildings built with Mughal architecture to see..

© 2013 cheeluarv


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