A type of embroidery from Lucknow, the city of the Persian-loving Nawabs, and the Constantinople of India, where cultures meet. A centre of Hindu and Urdu literature, Lucknow has always been a multicultural city with beautiful gardens, poetry, music and fine cuisine. It is the centre for chikankari (see SEWA), though it is also made in Bhopal, Calcutta, Allahabad and Varanasi.
Chikankari (kari meaning work) is light and gossamer-like. The finely embroidered cottons came to be closely identified with the Nawabi culture, now the work is famous throughout the world. Chikankari kurta and saris are ideal for hot climates and for turning into lovely furnishings.
The running stitch and shadow work embroidery comprises 36 different stitches that are worked in an endless repertoire of designs onto fine fabrics of silk and cotton–muslin, chiffon, organza, doriya and organdie.
There are several folkloric stories surrounding the origins of Chikankari, all along similar lines. “A traveller passing through a village near Lucknow asked a local farmer, Ustad Mammad Shain Khan, for water. The farmer took pity on the traveller and offered him rest and hospitality. The traveller was so pleased he promised to teach him an art that would never let him go hungry, and trained him in the art of Chikankari. Once he had mastered the technique, the traveller disappeared. It is believed that the traveller was sent by God.” It may also be that Noor Jahan introduced the art, influenced by Turkish embroidery.
To make the embroidery:
3. White thread on white or coloured base cloth is traditional, but the embroidery isn’t always single coloured, designs are sometimes multi-coloured, but in my view these don’t quite have the same sophistication.
3. The fabric pieces are washed to remove the dye, then dried in the hot sun.
4. The cloth is then either made into clothes, or sold as it is – in lengths for saris or in garment shaped pieces to be made up at home.
1. Flat styles
a) Tepchi: a long running or simple darning stitch worked with six strands on the right side of the fabric, taken over four threads and picking up one, to create a line. For basic work or as the basis for further stitches.
b) Khatawa, or Khatau is similar to Bakhia but finer, very intricate, and a form of appliqué. The design is marked on calico, placed over the main cloth and floral and paisley patterns are stitched onto it.
c) Bakhija, or Bukhia: a shadow stitch and the most used stitch–this creates the typical shadow work, making the fabric almost opaque. Worked from the underside to make a double row outline showing on the right side with the thread criss-crossing beneath.
d) Hool: A very fine, detached eyelet. A hole is punched, the threads teased apart and held with fine stitches worked with a single thread. It can be worked with thicker threads to create a raised edge and be used as the centre of a design.
e) Anzeera: a very fine, small chain stitch worked with one thread only on the right side of the fabric. A very fine outline is added to leaf or petal shapes after one or more outlines have already been worked.
f) Rahet: a stem stitch worked with six threads on the wrong side of the fabric. It creates a solid back stitch on the right side of the fabric and is rarely used in a single form, but is common in the bakhiya as an outlining stitch.
g) Banarsi: a type of herringbone stitch with six threads on the right side of the fabric.
2. Raised and embossed style
a) Murri: French knots usually worked on muslin at the centre of flowers in rice shapes.
b) Phanda: French knots similar to Murri.
c) Turpai: small stitches creating the effect of fine thread.
d) Darzdai: varieties are Kohidarz, Kamla darz, Shankarpara darz, Muchi and Singbhada darz.
Other legendary stitches: Pechani, Bijli, Ghaspatti, Makra, Kauri, Hathkadi, Banjkali, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, Bulbul-chasm, Taj Mahal, Janjeera, Kangan, Dhania-patti, Rozan, Meharki, Chanapatti, Baalda, Jora, Keel kangan, bulbul, sidhaul, ghas ki patti, etc.
3. Jali work