is a fine and intricate shadow-work type of embroidery done by white
yarn on colorless muslins called tanzeb (tan meaning body and zeb
meaning decoration). The word 'chikan' according to one school of
thought appears to have had its origin in Persia, being derivative of
chakin or chakeen. It may also be a distorted form of the work chikeen
or siquin, a coin valued at Rs. 4 for which the embroidery was sold.
Another explanation ascribes its origin to East Bengal where the word
chikan meant 'fine'.
The earliest reference
in literature to chikan dates back to the 3rd century B.C. In his
records Megasthenes, a Greek traveler, had mentioned the use of flowered
muslins by the Indians.
the origin of chikankari to various sources. It is believed by many
craftsmen that a traveler while passing through a village near Lucknow
asked for water from a poor peasant. Pleased with his hospitality, the
traveler taught him the art of chikankari that would never allow him to
go hungry. The craftsmen believe that the traveller was a prophet.
Another story imputes its origin to Queen Noor Jehan, who inspired by
Turkish embroidery, introduced this needlework. The origin of this craft
is also ascribed to the harem's of Avadh's Nawab where a seamstress from
Murshidabad embroidered a cap for the Nawab to please him. Jealous of
the attention she received from the king, other inmates of the harem
followed her and thus the art of chikankari was evolved.
- Stitches employed in chikankari are unique and can be divided into
three categories: Flat stitches, which are delicate and subtle and lie
close to the surface of the fabric giving it a distinctive textural
appearance; Embossed stitches which are highlighted from the fabric
surface lending it a characteristic grainy texture and Jali work which
is the most striking feature of chikan embroidery and which creates a
delicate net effect. The fabric is broken into holes by 'teasing' the
warp and weft yarns and holding them in position by small stitches.
- The chikan industry has five main processes
namely cutting, stitching, printing, embroidery, washing, and finishing.
Cutting is carried out in the lots of 20-50 garments. The layouts are
done to minimize wastage of materials. Stitching, often done by the same
person, may be 'civil', done exclusively for higher priced export orders
or 'commercial', which is done for cheaper goods. Printing is carried
out by the use of wooden blocks dipped in dyes like neel and safeda.
After this, the fabric is embroidered by women. The last process, which
is washing and finishing, takes about 10-12 days. This includes
bleaching, acid treatment, stiffening, and ironing.
The most common motif
used is that of a creeper. Individual floral motifs may embellish the
entire garment or just one corner. Among the floral motifs embroidered,
the jasmine, rose, flowering stems, lotus and the paisley motif are the
In recent years, the
beautiful and wide variety of stitches and designs that were on the
decline, have been revived. Concerted efforts by government and various
private organizations have paid off and today the art of chikankari is
flourishing, enriching both the domestic and export market.