In the 3rd century BC, a Greek Traveller, Megasthenes, is said to have mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians. It is believed that he was talking about ‘Chikankaari’. There are quite a few legends narrating how this craft was discovered in India. However, the story which is traceable is the one of Noor Jahan, the Mughal emperor Jehangir’s wife. She was quite a connoisseur of embroideries and got enamored by the Persian art which she chose to introduce here. Jehangir was impressed with this art and offered it the royal patronage and Chikankaari grew. After the fall of the Mughal empire, the artisans got dispersed in the various parts of the country, but Lucknow and Awadh emerged as its major centres. Today, it is Lucknow which is considered to be the home of Chikankaari.
It started as a white-on-white embroidery on muslin which was best suited for the warm and humid climate. But today it is also being done on georgette, chiffon, organza, crepe, tussar, and other fine fabrics. White cotton threads still remain the most preferred but it shouldn’t be a surprise to see colourful and silk threads. Since there is a Persian inspiration in this art, the embroidered designs mostly comprise of floral patterns or motifs. The types of flowers and their stylizations have changed with the times to keep up with the trends. There are 32 stiches of Chikankaari, which are broadly classified as: Raised stitch, Embossed, Flat stitch and Open Trells.
There are three main steps in the creation of Chikankaari on the fabric:
The designs which are to be imprinted on the cloth are first carved out on the blocks. The fabric is cut as per the need of the garment to be created. Then the blocks are used to imprint the designs using blue ink.
The fabric is then set within a small frame, part by part, as the needle work begins to trace the ink printed patterns.
Washing: Once the embroidery is done, the fabric undergoes washing for the removal of outlines created by the ink.
Uses of Chikankaari
Chikankaari is primarily used for beautification of kurtas and sarees. However, lately some innovative designers have started to utilize the craft to add to the beauty of home decor products like cushion covers, pillow covers, and table linen.