The evolution of Chikankari – The handcrafted needlework embroidery from Lucknow
Chikankari is a traditional handcrafted needle work embroidery from the capital of Uttar Pradesh; Lucknow. Lucknow is known for its fine culture and ethnicity. From being captured by Babur to being under British Rule, it has continued to retain purity in its art forms and architecture. For instance, it has sustained the unrivaled supremacy of creating an exclusive Chikankari ensemble for not only India but also for the entire world.
The word ‘chikan’ is perhaps derived from the Persian word ‘Chikin’ or ‘Chikeen‘ which means a kind of embroidered fabric.
It traces back to as old as the 3rd Century BC, wherein similar styles were used by Megasthenes (the ancient Greek historian) in the Mughal Courts. Interestingly, it did not originate in the city. It flourished in the Mughal Courts in Delhi in the 16th and 17th centuries. Under the Mughals, it not only enjoyed patronage, but also attained perfection. The exquisite needlework and hand work underwent further honing and refinement under them. When the Mughal Court disintegrated, the artisans scattered across the country. Some of them came and settled in Awadh (Lucknow). They brought Chikankari with them and hence charted the path for nearly 5 lakh (0.5 Million) artisans, generating a revenue of about US$1.2 billion in the state of Uttar Pradesh annually.
Lucknawi Chikankari is a delicate art of crafting intricate shadows and exclusive patterns on different textiles. The finesse of Chikankari embroidery differs vis-à-vis the thickness, stitches and cloth used. It can be done on textile fabrics like Cotton, Muslin, Silk, Chiffon, Organza, Net etc.
Chikankari is a beautiful combination of stylized, natural, geometric and abstract motifs. These figures carry the essence of this embroidery, lending it class and uniqueness.
The kurta goes through a delicate and carefully crafted procedure.
The process of the manufacturing is separated into two stages – of pre and post preparation. The pre-preparation stage commences with cutting the fabric into various sizes. After cutting, the kurti is semi-stitched. Then the technique of block printing is used to make blue-prints of the design on the semi stitched pieces. This is essentially done by “neel” (Indigo) and “safeda” dyes and glue.
Hand embroidery is the next and the last stage in the pre-production process. The embroidery is done by tracing the ink patterns on the Kurti using cotton, polyester or silk threads. The embroidered piece is then thoroughly washed and checked for neatness and consistency.
From here, the Kurti embarks upon the post-production stage. The semi stitched Kurtis are finally stitched and accurately sized and extra embroidery threads are finished.
Chikankari, in recent times, has evolved to meet the ever-changing likes and preferences of the customers. It has undergone many changes in the past few years. With Chikankari going global the designs have also evolved from the traditional kurtas, to more contemporary outfits, like one-piece dresses, tunics, frocks, hot pants and middies.
More recently, Chikankari has upgraded itself to being widely accepted throughout the world.
In Recent times, fusions such as cold-shoulder dresses and off-shoulder designs have also been introduced, enabling Chikankari to step into the contemporary world globally.
Moreover, with Bollywood playing a major role in making it a fashion trend, Chikankari has started to be likened as the ensemble of the elite and the fashion savvy. With leading film actresses donning Chikankari lehengas, gowns and Anarkali during pre-wedding/ wedding festivities that are designed by top fashion designers, Chikankari has started getting its due and much deserved media attention. With the leading ladies of Hollywood choosing Chikankari gowns at high profile award nights, Chikankari is all set to go places.
- Suvanshi Agarwal