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.