The craft of Chikankari, known as Lucknow Chikan, is over 400 years old with a firm presence in the Indian and global fashion market. The technique of creating this is called Chikankari and its unique sensibility flaunts grace and exquisiteness as subtly as the wearer pleases.
While the word Chikan quite literally means embroidery, this art form incorporates approximately 36 different stitching techniques that in modern times are often combined with embellishments of pearls and mirror to meet customer needs.
Some historians have recorded the presence of Chikan back to 3rd Century AD during the reign of Changragupta Maurya. But the exact origin of this technique remains unknown till date. There is hardly any apparel with Lucknow Chikan work that doesn’t use floral patterns or motifs. Due to the strong influence of Persian aesthetics on this craft, flowers have been a staple in Chikankari designs. The types of flowers (including their stems, buds, leaves and Paisley motifs), as well as their stylizations, have varied throughout time to keep up with fashion trends, but in general have remained fairly intricate and delicate.
The Chikankari technique can be most easily broken down into two parts i.e., the pre and post preparation stages. 36 types of stitches in total are used in the whole process. The basic 3 stage process of all Chikankari saree work is as follows.
In the Initial phase the design is printed on the fabric of choice. The fabric is cut according to the pattern of the garment and later the design is printed using multiple wooden block stamps using blue ink.
After the design is printed, the fabric is then placed on a small frame and the needle starts tracing the design. The motifs to be embroidered are chosen according the region, size or occasion.
After the embroidery is done, the fabric is soaked in water to remove the design outlines. After this it is starched to obtain the right stiffness depending on the fabric. Usually different combination of Chikankari stitches is used within one whole pattern. These include: Kaudi, Hatkadi, Sazi, Kapkapi, Karan, Dhania-patti, Jora, Makra Bulbul and many more. There are also 10 principle stitches made from raw skeins of thread:
Jali: A blunt and wide needle is used to make minute button hole stitches to make it look like a jail. The thread is never drawn through the fabric, making it impossible to distinguish between the front and back.
Tepchi : This is a long running stitch that makes the outline of the motif.
Murri: Used in minimalistic and small designs, it is a minute rice shaped stitch.
Bakhiya: Here the thread work is done on the back side in order for its outline and tint of color to be seen on the front side of the fabric. It is also called shadow stitching.
Zanzeera: This is a chain stitch made to design the outline of leaves and petals.
Hool: A detached eyelet stitch used to design the heart of the flower.
Phanda: A bajra shaped stitch; these are used to make vines of grapes and flowers.
Rahet: This is a single stitch design used to make stems, however can also contain a double stitch.
Keel Kangan: This stitch is used to embellish floral motifs and petals.
Khatua: A finer form of Bakhiya , used for flowers and paisleys, the motif is first weaved on a calico and then placeD on the main fabric.
Chikankari Sarees is one of the many varieties that were made in this craft.