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.