The word “Chikan” is believed to be taken from different etymologies since it has different meanings in different languages. For example: in East Bengal the word Chikan meant fine, in Persian, the word Chakin or Chakeen means crafting delicate patterns on a fabric. It is a popular belief according to the people that the word means distorted since Chikeen or Siquin which means Rs. 4 and the artwork is sold at a cheap price.
Chikankari is a delicate art of crafting intricate shadow and designer type of embroidery which was usually performed on the white yarn initially or colorless muslin cloths which are called as tanzeb. However, with the vastness in fabrics, georgette, cotton, chiffon etc. chikankari is done on all these and more. Chikankari embroidery is not just limited to the Indian bridal couture dresses, ladies wear dresses but it is also adorned on the pillows, bed sheets, duvet covers, bath linens, drapes etc.
The stunning handcrafted artwork was introduced by the very beautiful Noor Jaha, the Mughal Queen of the Emperor Jehangir. Chikankari has its mentions in the early works of the 3rd Century BC by the famous Greek traveler, Megasthenes, who described the utter beauty of intricate floral motifs and patterns on cloth using chikankari work. The story follows that when the traveler was passing a small village in Lucknow, his throat was sore due to thirst and there he met a man who offered him water. Ever since to express gratitude, the traveler taught the man Chikankari work to make him self-reliant so that he would never live without the basic essentials of his life.
Types of Chikankari
Chikankari work is the authentic artwork of Lucknow, native to the city of Nawabs. A majority of women are involved in the production of these breath-taking Chikankari creations by hand. An array of floral arrangement adorning the drapes with creepers being the most popular Chikankari artwork is indeed spectacular. Mostly, jasmine roses and flowering stems, lotus are also sewed on the sides.
There are mainly three categories of Chikankari work:
Flat Stitches: They are the most commonly found chikankari embroidery work which involves forming motifs and patterns on the cloth directly using the basic technique of embroidery. Earlier, chikankari was only used for embellishments in the Indian garments, however, it was later found that flat stitches in chikankari work can serve as a great alternative to Indian bridal wear or occasion wear dresses for women.
Embossed Stitches: They are bolder stitches as compared to the flat stitches and give quite a grainy appearance. It involves more labor due to intensive work with intricate artwork.
Jaali Stitches: The unique art form involving the fashion technique of using warp and weft threads to give a minute net dramatic effect.
Indian Chikan work basically involves a series of processes from cutting, stitching to printing, embroidery, washing and finishing. The same person performs cutting and stitching of the cloth and sewing together the cut parts of the fabric. Next, it consists of printing using wooden blocks which is the best method of printing. Afterwards, the women generally indulge in the intricate artwork of embroidery. It is later washed and finished by soaking in acid treatment, bleaching, stiffening, and ironing. This is done in 10 to 12 days, however, the entire process of creating a unique chikankari textile garment takes about one to six months.
The community of skilled artisans and weavers are involved in the processing of the oldest form of handcrafted embroidery. One such artisan, Rehana Begum takes her inspiration for the Mughal motifs from the architecture. She belongs to the family who has been involved in the manufacturing and processing of chikankari for decades. Her family weaves chikankari textiles together and make everything from cushion covers to table cloth, linens, pillow, kurtas, tops, angrakhas, dresses etc. Earlier, in her childhood days, she used to weave garments on her own, however, with time, she has started to supervise the apprentices working under her. She teaches them various forms of stitches and also says that it takes about 2 years to complete a chikankari work saree. For suits and lehengas, it takes about on to three years considering the work involved.
However, in earlier times, the chikankari art was practiced on white shazaada cotton or Dhaka ki mulmul which involved stitching with white thread. Rehana considers chikankari as a white on the white form of embroidery. The thread was also procured from Calcutta or Dhaka. The design element has been inspired by the Mughal period where the temples and intricate artwork alongwith parapet walls are transposed into the fabric.
The gorgeous hues of chikankari are promoted and preserved by the fashion designer council. The luminary pair of designers Sandeep Khosla and Abu Jani are the connoisseurs of preserving the heritage artwork and are referred as the royal designers of Indian fashion fraternity. Their glamourous textiles reflecting annexure of Mughal times with a touch of contemporary times adds that wow element. Judy Dench of James Bond series wore a Chikankari ensemble to receive an Oscar in the year 2004 Academy Awards and ever since, the rest remains history. Madonna also wore a stupendous chikankari work gown at an event that garnered attention and a need to preserve and promote the brilliant artwork. Lucknow has been accredited with Geographical India certificate.