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Indian Lucknow Hand Embroidery
Indian Lucknow hand embroidery is a very delicate and intricate shadow work done with the needle and raw thread. Initially, this floral embroidery was done using white yarn on colorless muslin fabrics. But today georgette, chiffon, cotton and other fine fabrics are also being used.
A very delicate shadow work is done with needle and thread
History of this thread work
References of this mesmeric embroidery can be traced back as early as 3rd century B.C. in writings of Megasthenese, a Greek traveler who mentioned the use of flowered muslin by Indians. There are different stories about the origin of this hand work. Some believe that a traveler who was passing through a village in Lucknow, India, stopped and requested a poor peasant for water. Pleased with the respect shown by the peasant and his behavior, the guest taught him this art, which would ensure a regular income for him.
Another school of thought believes that Noorjahan, the Moghul queen brought this work from Persia, and under her patronage this thread work underwent further refinement.
This delicate form of hand embroidery is practiced in and around the city of Lucknow, a city of old gardens and palaces, from more than two hundred years. Lucknow was once called Constantinople of the East. This art originally flourished in the Mughal court at Delhi in the 16th century. When the Mughal court disintegrated, the artisans scattered across the country. Some of them migrated to Lucknow and developed this hand work, which later on became a cottage industry.
The beautifully done motifs are in the shape of flowers and creepers
A double back or shallow stitch is done from back side to give a herring bone appearance
An overview of the traditional Lucknow embroidery
There are around 40 stitches used in this work, out of which about 30 are still practiced. These can be mainly divided under three headings that include:
- Flat stitches (subtle stitches that remain close to the fabric).
- Embossed stitches (that give a grainy appearance).
- Open trellis-like network (created by thread tension to give a delicate net-like effect)
Some of these have equivalents in other embroideries, the rest are manipulations that make them distinctive and unique. Some stitches are worked on the wrong side (back)of the fabric while others are worked on the right side (front). The basic stitches in Lucknow embroidery include the following:
- A long running or darning stitch on the right side (front) of the fabric. This is the simplest stitch and often serves as a base for further embellishment.
- A double back or shallow stitch that is done from the wrong side (back side) of the fabric and imparts a herringbone-like appearance. The shadow of the thread is seen through the cloth on the right side.
- A fine detached eyelet stitch that often forms the center of a flower.
- A small chain stitch made on the right side of the fabric. Being extremely fine, it is used to outline the leaf and petal shapes after one or more outlines have already been worked.
- A stem stitch.
- Banarasi or the twisted stitch.
Different craftsmen work with different types of stitches
Use of beads, sequin and crystal work have brought this traditional art on fashion ramps
The making of a garment
Making of the actual garment involves a number of processes, namely cutting, stitching, printing, embroidery and finishing. A different person is involved in each process. The fabric is cut by the tailor into the required garment shape, after which basic pre-embroidery stitching is done so that correct shape is available for printing. The design to be embroidered is printed on the fabric with wooden blocks using colors, that are commonly made by mixing glue and indigo with water. For extra fine design, brass blocks are sometimes used. then the embroidery is done.
After completion, the garment is checked carefully for any defects, and wrongly done articles are discarded. But the fine flaws surface only after washing, after which the garment is starched and ironed. The entire process can take from one to six months.
Most of the designs are inspired from and attempt to replicate the Mughal and Turkish architecture. The beautifully done motifs are in the shape of unripe mangoes, flowers, creepers, leaves, fish and elephants. It is also believed that these motifs bear a strong resemblance to the motifs and screens present in the Taj Mahal.
In this hand embroidery the needle is held in the right hand, the left hand supports and controls the thread that stitches get a correct shape. Traditionally no frames were used in this thread work and the portion of the cloth to be worked on was placed over the index finger of left hand and supported by the other fingers. Nowadays embroidery frames are popular to speed up the work and provide a perfect finish to it.
This floral art form follows strict discipline in that the stitches that are meant for a particular purpose are used only for that purpose and cannot be substituted by other stitches, as for example the running stitch is done on cotton fabric while satin stitch on silk, muslin and linen.
Different craftsmen work with different types of stitches. Each worker completes his or her bit of work and then the garment is sent to the next embroiderer.
Lucknow embroidery has undergone modifications to suit best to the modern day requirements
Innovations and Experimentation in the Traditional Embroidery
Lucknow embroidery is a delicate and traditional handicraft done on a variety of fabrics like cotton, muslin, silk, chiffon, organza, cotton crepe and even on net (to make laces). Though it originated as a Mughal art, it has witnessed a lot of changes, and new additions have been done as per the latest fashion trends. Earlier garments were so fragile that they got torn off after a few washes.
Originally it consisted of thread work done on fine muslin cloth, but now beads, sequins, and crystal work has become popular.
This embroidery is done on traditional Indian outfits such as sarees, kurtas ( long Indian shirt), dupattas (an Indian long scarf or stole) and the modern funky tops and skirts. Traditionally only white and pastel colored cotton and linen were used as a base for this embroidery, but now vibrantly colored Georgette, tussar, and silk materials are in vogue. Home décor items like table linens, bed sheets, pillow covers and cushion covers are also beautified with this elegant and delicate hand embroidery.