Chikankari or Chikan work is intricate embroidery which is one more art form from the Mughal period, meant to enhance the look and appeal of the fabric it adorns. Though having its roots in Lucknow, it is widely practised today in various parts of the country. Chikankari or Chikan embroidery is an ethnic offering from Lucknow, India. It is extremely fine and intricate embroidery that raises the appeal of the fabric tremendously.
Its origin is not exactly known, and there a few stories that go with it, but the most popular or widely believed is that NoorJehan, Emperor Jehangir’s wife, introduced this art to Mughal courtiers and it has been followed since as a regular feature of adornment on certain class of fabrics, like cotton, muslin, silk, organza, chiffon, net etc.
Initially Chikan work or chikankari as it is known as, was white hand embroidery on plain white cotton fabrics. Later it was also taken up on cool light shades. Today coloured thread on light colored backgrounds have also come to be based on the demands of the market.
The process is simple but intricate. The pattern is first lightly block printed on the fabric, either on the entire body or the portion meant for it. The embroidery is then done on the pattern blocks. The block print is then washed away carefully in the embroidered portions leaving behind only the embroidery.
The outcome of this process hinges on the thickness of the threads used. There are supposed to be 36 different types of stitches with back stitch, chain stitch and hem stitch being the commonly used stitches. The more intricate variety of stitches include mesh stitch which involves delicately parting the threads of the base fabric and then weaving in and out of the slight gaps created.