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Chikankari for WomenChikankari in the eyes of the western world forms an integral part of the Indian fashion however, there is a lot more to it than what meets the eye. This hand embroidery is a part of the Indian culture and is worn by all during traditional festivities. Colloquially called Lucknow Chikan or Chikan Embroidery, Chikankari was introduced during the times of Nur Jehan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jehangir and since those times this masterpiece of fine artistry has been gracefully admired by all around the globe. Today this majestic art has reached out to most of the corners of the world fashion industry as India plays the biggest contributor to this through the various fashion events and of course the Bollywood movies.

Bollywood movies like Pakeeza, Mughal-e-Azam, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham, Hum Saath Saath Hain, Zubeida and many more have all shown the might of this beautiful embroidery with the actors and actresses donning Chikankari garments and movies have always inspired the masses in India when it comes to fashion. The women in these movies wore Embroidery dresses, Indian ethnic wear decorated with Lucknow Chikan and other forms of Ladies Chikan work that showed how beautiful and magnanimous this artistry is. The Indian ethnic wear that has Ladies Chikan Work includes Embroidered Kurtas, Embroidery Kurtis clubbed with Churidars and Salwar. Meant for the younger generation, in the movies these are worn by characters like daughters, sisters and young wives during festivities in the plot. For ladies that are more mature, Embroidery Sarees and Embroidered suits which are more graceful and elegant serve the purpose. Chikan Sari, Chikan Suits and Chikan salwar kameez form an integral part of fashion in Bollywood movies. Outside the movies also one can easily find one or more actresses of the Bollywood wearing Embroidery dresses in fashion events or Chikan kurtas with churidar and salwars in various other Tinsel town events. This results in more and more women donning Chikan garments.  Especially popular among the young women as a casual fashion are embroidred kurtis also called Chikan kurtis that are a part of more casual wear donned with a pair of jeans to get the funky look. However, one can also find them wearing embroidered skirts, Chikan churidar and Chikan salwar as the bottom wear for a casual look as well as ethnic look.

Embroidery accessories like potli and duppata that go well with Lucknow Kurtas  are a great way to accompany the beautiful Chikankari apparels and the women across the country do the same. Embroidered accessory are not just for embroidered clothing but they enhance the look of other styles of clothing as well. This is a reason why embroidered accessories are popular among women. Movies and fashion events always inspire women’s fashion sense and speaking about fashion, what becomes popular in Bollywood, definitely finds its way to the masses. This is why Embroidered saris, embroidery suits, Chikan Sarees and Lucknow suits are not only popular among the female folk of Bollywood but also among the common Indian Woman. The beautiful artistry of Lucknow Chikan enhances the beauty of Women like no other traditional fashion styles and therefore it is adored by all.

Lucknow Chikan for Men

Chikankari is a very old artistry that originated in the city of Lucknow and belongs to the period of Mughal rule in India. It started off as a court art donned by the royal family and the noble folk but later evolved as a masterpiece for the masses also. There are not many designs in fashion that have stood apart from the tides of time and among the very few entities, Chikan embroidery has its own charm. Traditionally, this embroidery is found in ethnic wear for men and women however, a more casual approach is common nowadays among the youth who wear lightly embroidered apparel over jeans and shorts.

In the beginning, Chikan garments were only white in colour however later as the demand grew and the people demanded more variety, the use of coloured cloth started. Today one can easily find Men’s kurta pajama, or men’s Chikan kurta in various colours and life like designs in the stores. Chikan garments are generally expensive than other forms of embroidery as it is made completely out of hand stitching. It can take almost 15 days for an artist to complete one piece of embroidery work if it is very elaborate. However, the hard work pays off at the end when the work is appreciated by not only local customers but people from around the world. The intricate needle work and the details that the artisans bring on a single piece of cloth is marvellous on its own. Unstitched Chikan kurta is also quite popular among the Indian men. It not only gives them freedom to get their own kurta stitched as they like but it also serves as a wonderful gift item for men, women or kids. As a casual fashion wear, men’s short kurta are very popular. These can be accompanied with a nice pair of jeans, shorts or even trousers to give the perfect casual look. When going out with friends or just to the market, Chikan kurtas are a very good alternative to t-shirts for men.

Chikan embroidery for men is not limited to just kurtas. It is also found on hand embroidery shirts as well. These shirts are worn by men in parties and occasions that make them stand out from the rest of the crowd. The kind of smartness and the magnanimity offered by these shirts is unparalleled. When it comes to traditional ceremonies and parties, a Chikan kurta and sherwani donned over an Indian pajama is the best traditional dress for men till now. The men’s chikan kurtas accompanied over men’s churidar in various hues will definitely make you a show stopper at the event. In any fashion connoisseur’s wardrobe, a Chikan kurta pajama is a regal treasure. Chikankari garments never go out of fashion and this is the best feature of this art. The centuries old tradition practiced even today is a living proof of this. Only a few minor changes in the methods of making a Chikan garment might have come in this art otherwise, it still remains a casual fashion and ethnic wear for men as it was centuries ago.

Chikankari for Kids

There are not many styles and trends in fashion that stand out and beat the passage of time. Popularity of different designs or styles changes from one period to another. The ones prevailing today will be upgraded and donned in a different manner tomorrow. Every generation adopts its own fashion in terms of clothing that is related somewhat to the trends of the earlier generation. Every occasion requires us to pursue the societal norms of trends and fashion. However, there is one fashion trend that is above all the societal whose-who and the trend setting that is always dynamic. It is Chikankari, the Indian art of embroidery.

This artistry originated as a court art during the Mughal period in the city of Lucknow but even after centuries Chikankari work remains a casual fashion trend as well donned as an ethnic wear by men women and kids alike. Not only in India but across the globe in several countries and in international fashion events, this stunning art of hand embroidery has shown its might.  Indian Ethnic wear can surely be called incomplete without this masterpiece of hand embroidery. The embroidery in coloured threads that are contrasting or that bring out the richness of the base colour of the garment always make heads turn. The different life like patterns and designs and the intricate details the artists capture in their work is just amazing.  Today even kids see this as a great art and acknowledge not only the creative aspect of it in formal, ethnic wear but also fashionable attire that can be wore to dress up casually. Chikan embroidery finds much likability among kids these days than ever before. Be it ethnic wear for boys or ethnic wear for girls, kids kurta pyjama embroidered in Lucknow Chikan always imparts a smart sensibility of fashion. For girls and boys alike, there is such a wide range of collections of Chikan embroidery that are meant for every age group. A kurta for boys or a kurta for girls it gives a very nice outlook when worn over jeans as a short top in place of a T-shirt. What really steals the show is a boy’s kurta pyjama donned on special occasions and ceremonies.

Embroidered frocks for girls have the same charm as any other trending fashion apparel. The girls love to wear it and it makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd. Chikan work amazed the royal families of Lucknow and it still mesmerises the people with its exquisite beauty and the sheer elegance. The resolute magnanimity that formal Chikan garments have and that they impart to the one wearing them is unparalleled and unbeatable. The gaudy patchwork for kids and the enriched work of sequins and threads make this art of hand embroidery the most wonderful attire to be worn. The best part about Chikan work for kids is that it not only gives a contemporary feel but it can also act as an antiquity, something that reflects the aura of the glorious and royal past.

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It is rightly said that India is a land of festivals. Very few can in the world boast of the kind of diversity that the country has an is proud of. Indians are known to be lovers of celebrations, and its diversity just gives them reasons enough to indulge in the festivities. Given that the various cultures, communities and religious identities share the same space, one cannot miss the extravaganza. No matter what season or the time of the day, if there is a reason to celebrate, Indians will jump out in their best attires to join in- be it Diwali, Id, Dushera, Holi, Rakshabandhan, etc. Ethnic dressing and Indian festivals go hand in hand. However much Indians wear western dresses on daily basis, they will always go back to traditional dresses for the festivities.

Indian festivals are never complete with the shopping for clothes. Entire family goes for a shopping binge when a festival is around the corner. Whatever the fashion of the day might be, hand embroidery clothes do not go out of fashion. India is a huge market and repository of such talent from across cultures and regions within the country. The range of these embroidery works that is found here is unparalleled. The ethnic wear section in any market, shopping mall stores or even small town shops will always have embroidered clothes among others.
Among the embroidered clothes by hand, Chikan work stands out and finds many takers.

For the ladies Chikan work ranks pretty high in the preference list. Because of the range that Chikan embroidery has, it makes it pretty accessible and versatile. The softness of the fabric as well of the thread itself gives it a rich touch and feel. Lucknow suits deserve a mention when talking about women’s wear. It is famous among women of all sections and comes in all price ranges. Suits are only second to saris and ever popular and in demand for Indian festivals. They are worn by women from all religions, and loved for the freedom it provides. It’s convenient and yet elegant at the same time.

In men’s kurtas few other threads carry the panache that Chikankari oozes with. Chikan kurta, especially in pastel colours will always take the cake. The lightness of the fabric gives it a royal look and feel. Men do not have to feel limited in their choices in ethnic wear, for within the traditional wear itself there is variety, which can be quite extensive. Men will forget about their complaints as they indulge in the fest of motifs, colours and patterns.

Chikan has one for everybody. Even kids do not get left out by Chikankari. Kids kurta pyjamas in Chikan embroidery are available for stitching in form of dress materials as well as readymade. The simplicity of the Chikankari only enhances the innocence of the little angels. Children love festivals and they like to dress up too. The easier the fabric, better it is for kids to be kids. Thanks to the Chikan embroidery, these attires are comfortable for kids and not heavy for them.

Chikan Gift Ideas

Chikan is one of the most popular and sought after embroidery works to have comeari. Every  out of India. Chikankari, the form of embroidery, done in Lucknow, derives from the word ‘Chakeen’ in Persian language that means subtle motifs on fabric. The thread used to embroider on the cloth is white cotton thread. It is also said that ‘Chikan’ could have meant ‘fine’ in East Bengal, which is where is could have originated. Whatever its origin, Chikankari embroidered clothes look really pristine and could be very good gift ideas for your loved ones. Chikan Kurtis or Lucknow Kurtas come in various sizes. Their length varies from short to long to medium and have different kinds of neck designs. They can be worn with traditional salwars, choodidars or fashionable leggings, or even with a pair of jeans. Men’s Kurta pyjamas are an intrinsic part of Indian traditional wear known for it’s ethnic look and also comfort. Chikan kurta pyjamas never go out of fashion. Whether wedding, or a party, one can always rely on their favourite pairs. It can easily switch from being on of the most formal attire to casual. Just wear it on a pair of denim and change the look. Chikan hand embroidered shirts are ‘chic’, that’s exactly the word for them. They do make a statement wherever they go. Motifs are on along the buttons, at the back or even on the shoulders. They are done on a light fabric and can be great on a summer outdoorsy occasion. Chikan Salwar suits for an Indian woman will never go out of fashion and more so if it is in Chikanwoman will have one in her wardrobe if she cares for style in ethnic wear. They come in all kinds and all ranges- from one motif to another, different in neck designs and cut work. They are a favourite among women on traditional occasions. Not only can you adorn yourself in Chikan, but also your home. Chikankari home furnishings are apt if you wish to give an ethnic feel and touch to your home. Splash you bedroom or the Divan set in your drawing room with hand embroidered bed-sheets. Crafted by creative and talented designers/embroidery workers, embroidered table linens are fine pieces for your table can make a really good impression on your guest. These table linens come in various colours and they have a very good range in terms of motifs, colours and designs.


All things Chikan gives a rich look and has always been in fashion. Other trends have come and gone, but Chikankari has stayed and will, forever. Chikan is appreciated by younger generation and older alike. Chikan did not have to reinvent itself with time, but time had to stay with Chikankari. This fine craft of Chikankari embroidery attracts many to the alleys of Lucknow, from world over. Chikan works are also heavily exported from India to other nations. Chikan is one of the foremost things that carry a mark of being Indian. These gift ideas above are great way to tell that you care while making a statement


Chikankari Lehngas

Indian marriages are an extravaganza in every other way you can think of. From food, to decoration, to jewellery, to clothes and what not. Clothes are, however, the most spent on when it comes to weddings. Everybody wants to look their best. In Hindu marriages, which are full of pre and post wedding events like Sangeet, Bhaat, Phera, Vidayi, etc., people like to dress in different clothes for each of them. Nobody can risk getting it wrong when it comes to showing off his or her style statement. Everybody carefully picks up the best according to them, which may differ from one person to another, but some clothes/fabrics are evergreen and opinions about them are set in stone- like Chikankari.
One of the most favoured clothing is the traditional Chikankari. There are various readymade options to go for in Chikan embroidered clothing, but most people still prefer to get them stitched according to their particular tastes. It is believed that there are not many options in ethnic wear for men. However, if the fabric is with Chikankari on it, men will feel no less than royal in those Kurta pyjamas that are supposed to be only option available for them on such events. In fact, if anything, it actually gives a lot of choice to them; Men can easily buy fabric and get Kurta’s custom tailored. This embroidered fabric comes in really beautiful, exotic motifs and designs. There is a huge variety in terms of colour and designs to choose from.

Now for women, in general, there is no dearth of options in clothing for traditional events. They could wear anything from suits, to saris, to lenhgas, to ghaghras, etc. But nothing beats the sari, especially if is a Chikan sari. A Chikan Sari has very little competition as far as ethnic wear for women go. The variety in patterns and shades is endless. One could go on and on if one did not stop and choose one. Looking at the fabric women want to splurge a little, and these functions give them a guilt free reason to do so.
Women’s another traditional attire in Chikankari that is equally, if not more, popular is Chikan salwar kameez. Salwar Kameez pieces come in various price ranges with myriads of motifs to choose from. Ladies can choose to get them tailored the way they like to. There is flexibility in patterns on the neck and sleeves giving them whole range of options to dig out their favourites from.

To go with the flavour of an all-traditional evening, Indian women can carry a Potli with their saris or suits. The Chikankari done on these potlis make them apt to accessorize their ethnic wear with. There are few other accessories with Chikankari on them- like belts, stoles, etc. The ladies could pair them with saris or salwar kameez and then there are stoles for the gents. Chikan has reinvented itself and branched out to show its range. This rich embroidered clothing has stayed with people from centuries and is going remain for many more to come.


Chikankari HomeDecorIndian embroidery industry has been one of the favourites world-over, especially among the western nations who admire the South Asian and Middle Eastern embroidery. India’s richness in this craft is as ancient as its civilization. With various influences over the centuries, in form of invaders, traders or travellers, India has been home to many cultures and their crafts. Indian embroidery is as diversified as the country itself. This versatile craft of embroidery has moved on from mere clothing to home décor as well. People like to indulge in ethnic dressing up of their homes.

In the recent years, home décor items have seen an increase in the embroidered linens. Hand embroidered bed sheets have never gone out of fashion. To create an ethnic look and feel for the bedroom, one chooses embroidered linens. Bed sheets, pillow covers, bedspreads, table runners, curtains, etc., all come in various embroidered patterns. One can easily decorate ones house with embroidered furnishings. The manner in which these home are kept, speak much about the taste of the host. With embroidery works one has to be careful about the kinds of colour palette to engage in. Mixing and mashing too many styles of embroidery could be a catastrophe. From wanting to decorate your interiors, you might end up actually spoiling the look making it too crowded and showing uneducated taste.

Moving on from bedroom to the drawing room, let’s jump to table linens. Tables are not only functional pieces but also things of beauty. Be it a corner table, centre table, or a dinning able, embroidered table linens come in all shapes and size. Adorn your tables with carefully picked, colour co-ordinated linens.
In table linens, embroidered napkins especially look really chic. It gives an impression of a carefully decorated home where everything is thought of, in terms of decoration, to the tee. If you make sure that even napkins are well thought of, you can be rest assured that your house will always create a lasting impression on your guests’ minds.

For the living room Divan or sofa set, embroidered cushion covers will go along with similar sofa back and they look very fine. A comfort-furniture that sofa is, it is also the first thing that your guests will use when they enter your house. They usually touch and feel the fabric because it is unavoidable to do so. A sofa set in embroidered covers makes it look cozy, yet classy. If the sofa on which your guests sit is comfy enough, then half the battle of making your guests comfortable has been won.

Ethnic look for home décor is very accessible these days, thanks to the big home stores selling these and the brands that are making them. It is a good business model that preserves and promotes the desi embroidery on such a large platform.The quality is ensured and the craftsmen get their due. Decorating your home in Indian embroidery speaks of more than just taste; it speaks of your appreciation of ethnic beauty of your own culture and your diversity in taste which living in India provides you with.

Chikankari Export

A consumer’s delight and the artisan’s pride, Chikankari forms an integral part of the Indian Ethnic Wear. Be it Ladies Chikan Work or Ethnic Wear for men, Lucknow Chikan is adorned equally by both men and women. Since time immemorial, Chikan has been accredited as a masterpiece not only in India but in other parts of the world as well. Chikan Embroidery has been famous as Indian Embroidery in different countries. Chikankari has registered and witnessed global acknowledgment and this has proved as a catalyst for the export of not only Embroidered Apparel but also Embroidered Bed Sheets, Embroidered Table Cloth, and Embroidered Cushion Covers.

Lucknow is the birthplace as well as the largest exporter of this unique Hand Embroidery. Although the charm of the city might have pined away recently but a global celebrity like Madonna donning Chikan apparel is a clear indication of the popularity the Lucknow Chikan has outside the country. MLK Exports is the leading export company that is famous for exporting product of this Hand Embroidery. Since 1975, this company has exported Chikan Embroidery products like Dresses to global brands like Amina (Japan), Fashion Fuse (United States), Ghora Tabela (Uruguay), Jackpot (Copenhagen), Betina Gers (Argentina), HHG (Spain), Coline (French), etc. Many more such brands including the aforementioned have ordered stocks worth crores of Rupees and this indicates about the reach and the global appeal of this unique hand crafted artistry. Internationally acclaimed designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have been using Chikan Embroidery in their designs for 20 years now. What makes their contribution even more uplifting for the image of this beautiful Embroidery is that the duo got an actress of James Bond series fame, Judi Dench, to wear one of their magnificent Chikan embroidery creations to receiver an Oscar in 2004. Calvin-Klein, one of the most respected and famous fashion brands of the world once gave an order of 1000 pieces to a vendor in the Chowk area of Lucknow and nobody even got as to such a high profile brand ordered the shipment until the last stock was delivered. Such anonymous and large demands for Chikan kari by famous international brands are common in Chowk area not only for garments but also for bed linen.

SEWA, an NGO to uplift the livelihood of Lucknow Chikan artisans, had Comitato, an Italian Company, as a major client for 10 years and the artisans supplied 2000-2500 pieces of Chikankari in a year. All these examples of global recognition of this unique and indigenous embroidery provide a clear picture of the exports and the popularity of Chikan products ranging from Lucknow Kurtas and kids kurta payjamas to girls salwaar kameez, throughout the globe. Through movies and fashion industry alike, this masterpiece from the bag of Indian artistry has influenced the choices of not only the common masses but also has grabbed the attention of celebrities and stars from around the planet.


Chikankari Artisans

When it comes to the art and handicraft of our country, Lucknow Chikan is one of those treasures that has been an international favourite for centuries. The enchanting city of Lucknow is known more for the craft of Chikankari than any other craft or even the monuments that exist today; such is the beauty and importance of this Chikan Embroidery. The rich and the elite of the medieval times had their silk garments of muslin and gossamer decorated with this exquisite and rich needlework and even today, Lucknow Chikan forms an integral part of the wardrobe of the rich and the elite across the country.

Since its conception, Chikankari has been inspired by the intricate and beautiful patterns and the linings on the marble jaali found during the Mughal era architecture. The Nawabs had their own personal artisans and their families trained to design Chikan Embroidery garments that suited the royal stature. With utmost devotion and passion for their masters, these artisans worked on angarkha and topi-palla creating delicate hand embroidery that was unmatched in style and charm. With time however, the encouragement and the patronage gradually diminished and these artisans were forced to look for other means of employment. With this, the art of Chikankari was passed on to the women of their community and till today, Lucknow Chikan is the main source of income for the Muslim women in and around the rural areas of Lucknow city. With around 2.5 lakh artisans presently in the business, Chikan Embroidery is by far the largest cluster of artisans in India. Workers from the stitching block printing, cutting, washing, jaali work and textile printing also form a part of this diverse cluster with all of them residing in or around Lucknow. It is surprising that this beautiful craft of hand embroidery manufactured by hand within the 125 km radius of Lucknow and adjoining districts has reached out to so many people not only in India but all around the world.

Today the artisans of Lucknow Chikan face many difficulties in the form of lack of equipment and the ever increasing costs of manual production that has diminished their profits to a large extent. Moreover the modern means to manufacture Chikankari garments are cheaper and faster than the traditional methods, which is why the craftsmen are unable to sustain a healthy livelihood for their family. Various NGOs have come forward for their welfare. Due to their initiatives in the field of hand embroidery, various State Government and Central Government schemes have been implemented. Craft Development Centres have been established in the suitable areas that have helped the artisans of Chikan Embroidery a lot in the past decades. Still much needs to be done for the development of this skilled set of artisans. One NGO that has worked tirelessly for these people is SEWA (Self Employed Women Association). With the help of the development commissioner (Handicrafts) this NGO has completely transformed the way these women Chikankari artisans earned a livelihood using their needles and threads.

Chikankari Stitches

India during the Mughal rule is known for its rich culture, heritage, food and the “Taj Mahal“. Knowingly or unknowingly our minds miss this fact that India’s gems also lie beyond just Shahjahan’s creation. Lucknow Chikankari or Chikan Embroidery is one such handicraft form. In the previous article we looked at the history of chikankari, at the popular motifs, and how they are transferred on the fabric. In this article we look at the different stitches employed which differentiate this work and mesmerize hand embroidery enthusiasts across the world.
Chikankari embroidery uses a broad repertoire of about 35 types of hand embroidery stitches including chain stitch, button hole stitch, french knots and running stitch and can be broadly divided into three types, flat, raised or embossed stitches and the jaali work.
1) Flat stitches – The flat stitches are very fine stitches. It gives the look as if the embroidery is itself the texture of the garment. Some of the popular ones as known in the local lingo are ulti bakhia1(shadow work), tepchi2 (running stitch), pechni (variation of tepchi where thread is further entwined to give a spring like design) and jangira (chain stitch)
2) Raised stitches – This stitch provides a beaded/embossed type of look to the garment. Some of the popular motifs with this kind of work include murri3 (rice or pear shaped patterns), phanda (finer and smaller than murri work), seedhi bakhiya (satin stitches with criss crossing of threadwork on fabric, reverse of shadow work), ghas patti (leaf patterns with V shaped stitches), dum patti4 (leaf patterns with cross stitches) and keel kangan5 work (nail shaped center with circular murri work around it).
3) Jaali/Jaal6 work – It is done in the form of very fine and delicate net or trellis like design.

Chikankari is known for the popular shadow work, which is work done on the opposite side of the garment so that just barest outline of the pattern appears on the surface and the crisscrossed threads underneath show through creating a “shadow” or opaque pattern. Daraz7 and Katava (similar to appliqué) work where smaller fabric pieces are joined together to create designs, requires a great amount of craft and effort and hence is one of the most sought after by the chikan enthusiasts. Use of beads, sequin, crochet8 and mokaish (white flat silver strip embroidery) have also gained wide acceptance in the original pristine chikan work.
Hand embroidery may be tedious and slow work, however compared to the mass cloned machine embroidery work the finesse and intricacy of chikankari stitches has an appeal and charm which is unparallel. In the next article in this series we look at the industry and the artisan clusters in more details.


Chikankari History

Chikankari is a form of stitching different forms of design on cloth (traditionally white) which has evolved over centuries in the capital of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow. This form of stitching which has delighted both the Kings and the commoners for centuries was patronised particularly by the Nawabs of Awadh. Though the origin of this art form is debatable, it flourished and gained its importance in the past two centuries. That it has survived the loss of royal patronage, suffered deeply at the hands of commercialization, lost its way sometimes in mediocrity and yet stayed alive, is a tribute to the skill and will of the craft persons, who have handed down this technique from one generation to another.

The word ‘Chikan’ is probably a derivative from the Persian word ‘Chikin’ or Chikeen which means a kind of embroidered fabric. This form of embroidery became very popular with the king and his nobles and was embroidered on the finest Daccai mulmuls or muslin garments which were most appropriate for the hot, tepid climate of north India. There are some very fine Mughal miniatures that depict the Emperor Jehangir in white flowing muslin garments believed by historians to be `chikan’.

Today, this delicate form of embroidery is practiced in and around the city of Lucknow, a city so favoured by European travelers once upon a time, that it was popularly called ‘the Constantinople of the East’. It is synonymous with the architectural elegance, cultural finesse, social warmth and an enduring love for gracious living associated with the city.

Creation of a chikan work (chikankari) piece begins with the use of one or more pattern blocks that are used to block-print a pattern on the ground fabric. The embroiderer then stitches the pattern, and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printed pattern.

The patterns and effects created depend on the types of stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used in the embroidery. Some of the varieties of stitches used include backstitch, chain stitch and hemstitch. The result is an open work pattern, jali (lace) or shadow-work. Often the embroiderer creates mesh-like sections in the design by using a needle to separate threads in the ground fabric, and then working around the spaces It consists of 36 different stitches in which the major stitches are called as “Bakhiya” “Fanda” “Murri” “Bijli” “Pechni” “Ghans patti” “Ulti Jali”

This art became limited to a fast depleting community of Chikankari artisans, mostly Muslims concentrated in muhallas of old Lucknow, where exploitation was rampant as the middlemen grabbed the profits, giving a pittance to the ‘kaarigars’. A day of back-breaking labor would yield just about ten or fifteen rupees. Since the payment was per piece the workers would try and turn out as many as they could, greatly compromising the quality of work. A lot of fine traditional designs and stitches were corrupted. From among 32 known stitches merely six were in common use. The good artisans were abandoning the trade for more lucrative jobs and trade. Crude and substandard shadow work was sold even in Lucknow’s posh markets in the name of Chikan.

Today this art form is thriving with some NGO’s and few companies trying to help artisans stitch better garments and sell directly to people across the globe opting to wear chikan saris, kurta, and dresses, eliminating the middlemen which in turn has resulted in better remuneration to the artisans . More monetary benefits have resulted in new generation of artisans opting to take come into the trade. With these positive changes, Chikankari has now been extended to a wide variety of home and linen products like curtains, bed spreads, table cloth, table napkins, cushion covers etc. It is exported across the world and finds place in the works of great fashion designers of the modern era.