Fab fabric adornments

lucknow lure

Chikankari craft, involving delicate and artistic hand embroidery on various fabrics like cotton, muslin, silk, chiffon, organdy, organza and doriya, has its origin in the city of Lucknow.

Well, the art of Chikankari has come a long way and can be seen being admired on the fashion ramp, but the fact is that, it remains rooted in the city of origin. Designers in metros may have given a new dimension to the chikan work, experimenting with styles and techniques, but when it comes to its best craftsmen, they can be found in the bylanes of Lucknow.
From where first?

There are several schools of thought on the origin of this craft. According to some, there is evidence of embroidered muslin apparel depicted in the famous paintings in the Bagh and Ajanta caves of 9th century AD. Megasthenes, a third-century Greek ethnographer, has written about the use of ‘flowered muslin’ by the Indians in the court of Chandragupta Maurya. It could have been chikankari work.

Dr Rahul Shukla, in his book on the Taj Mahal, Art Beyond Time, talks about chikan as being inspired by the monument. Well, chikan motifs show a strong influence of the screens (jaalis) present in Taj Mahal. There are some very fine Mughal miniatures that depict Emperor Jahangir in white, flowing muslin garments, and it is believed this could be chikan work.
Stitch of kinds

Several charming, unique stitches characterise this embroidery:

Tepchi: It is a long-running or darning stitch worked with six strands on the right side of the fabric, taken over four threads and picking one up. Thus a line is formed. It is used as a basis for further embroidery and to form simple shapes.

Bakhiya: Double back or shadow stitch is started from the wrong side of the fabric, and the design is rendered in the herringbone style. The shadow of the thread is seen through the cloth on the right side.

Hool: It is a detached eyelet stitch. Herein, a hole is punched in the fabric and the threads are teased apart. It is then held by small, straight stitches all round and worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. It can be worked with six threads and often forms the centre of a flower.

Zanzeera: It is a small chain stitch worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. Being extremely fine, it is used to outline leaf or petal shapes.

Rahet: It is a stem stitch worked with six threads on the wrong side of the fabric. It forms a solid line of back stitch on the right side of the fabric and is rarely used in its simple form, but it is common in the double form of dohra bakhiya as an outlining stitch.

Banarsi: It is a twisted stitch worked with six threads on the right side of the fabric. Working from the right across five threads, a small stitch is taken over about two threads, vertically.

Khatau: It is similar to Bakhiya, but finer, and is a form of applique. In Khatau, the design is prepared on calico material. That is placed over the surface of the final fabric and then paisley and floral patterns are stitched on to it.

Phanda and Murri: These stitches are used to embroider the centre of the flowers in chikan work motifs. They are typically French knots, with murri being rice-shaped, and phanda, millet-shaped.

Jali: In this stitch, the thread is never drawn through the fabric, ensuring that the back portion of the garment looks as impeccable as the front. The warp and weft threads are carefully drawn apart and minute buttonhole stitches are sewn on to the cloth.

More types of chikankari stitches are pechani, bijli, ghaspatti, makra, kauri, hathkadi, banjkali, sazi, karan, kapkapi, madrazi, bulbul-chasm, Taj Mahal, janjeera, kangan, dhania-patti, rozan, meharki, chanapatti, baalda, jora, keel kangan, bulbul, sidhaul, ghas ki patti, Turpai, Darzdari etc.

The design patterns are engraved on a wooden block, or at times, sketching is done manually on the fabric. There are thousands of pre-made blocks/motifs in place. The new ones are designed from time to time to meet fashion demands.

There have been many experiments to play around with the art. For example, the tone-on-tone embroidery is in vogue. The significant use of beads, sequin and mokaish have gained popularity.

Now that chikankari has a designer stamp, the art has entered every section of the fashion world. If you find Bollywood divas donning chikan sarees, you can once again say: timeless, classic — that’s the chikan embroidery of Lucknow!

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