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The delicate art of embroidery traditionally practiced in the city of Lucknow

and it’s environs is known as ‘Chikankari’. The name ‘chikan’ seems to have
been derived from the Persian word, either ‘Chikan’, ‘Chikin’ or ‘Chikeen’.

It means a kind of cloth wrought with needle–work. Although it originated

as a court craft, today it is a practiced tradition and an important commercial

Chikan work has a very light, gossamer – like quality. This makes it very
suitable for the seemingly hot climate of the northern plain region.

It can be assumed that Chikankari, using sheer fabrics evolved as a logical

answer to the problem of keeping cool and also providing adornment and
beauty to one’s person or in the surroundings.

The light chikan saris are perfect for summer wear. Men prefer to wear their
chikan kurtas during summer evenings.

There is a popular legend that a courtesan in the Nawab of Avadh’s harem

was a master. He was so impressed by the work, that he started a workshop
where this style of embroidery would be developed further.

The Nawab were the setters of fashion. The other humbler nobles and
Zamindars would imitate them in every way.

Chikankari thus received great impetus during the Nawabi period. The finely
embroidered muslin came to be closely identified with the Nawabi culture
and became an intrinsic part of it.

The Chikankari tradition gradually filtered down the masses of common

people and became a part of their daily life.

The source of most design motifs in Chikankari is Mughal. These motifs can
also be seen in the ornamentation of Mughal buildings like the Taj Mahal
and the monuments of Fatehpur Sikri.
There are various stitches used in Chikankari. They vary according to the
kind of designs and materials used. The most frequently used stitch is the
satin stitch. This is a very delicate and minute stitch.

Other stitches like the darning stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch etc. are also
used. All these stitches are sometimes used individually but more often in
combination of two or more together to fill the whole motif.

There are minute variations on these basic stitches and much manipulation
in terms of shape and size.

The chikan work of Lucknow is perhaps one of the most popular embroidery
works in India. It has a certain grace and elegance, which ensures that it
never goes out of style. The word chikan literally means embroidery. It is
said to have been originally introduced by Nur Jahan, the beautiful wife of
the Mughal emperor, Jahangir. It has since evolved and attained its glory and
perfection in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. The work became popular in a
number of important cities of the Indo-Gangetic plain such as Delhi, Agra,
Rampur, Banaras, Patna and Gaya. But the supremacy of Lucknow remained

The designs depend for its effect on the variety of stitches used and different
grades of threads used to form the patterns which include, the lace like jali,
the opaque fillings and the delicacy or boldness of outline and details. The
most beautiful part of chikan work is the open work ground, an effect of
drawn thread work is achieved without drawing out any. Tiny raised flowers
done in what seem to be French knots are balanced by the flat stem stitch
and large areas of open work to prevent either a crowded or too scattered

A variation of the chikan work is the bakhia or shadow work. Here the work
is done from the back, the stitches completely covering the design in
herringbone style. The shadow of the thread is seen through the cloth on the
right side. To give a richer appearance, the designs are produced with tiny
backstitches on the right side over the shadow. A similar effect is created by
cutting out tiny flowers and leaves in the same material as the basic fabric
and then applying them on the wrong side. The work is done so dexterously
that the turned in edges of the cut pieces are scarcely visible from the front
of the work.
The refinement of taste dictated that not even the seams should be straight.
So the material of the kurtas were cut in waves along the sides. The stitches
employed are back-stitch, chain stitch, and hemstitch forming an open work
pattern, jali or openwork ground. The introduction of color in to the kurtas is
a recent innovation.