Art of Chikankari
It is believed that the word “Chikan” is derived from The Ancient Persian word called “CHIKEEN” or “CHAKIN” which means a “thin cloth wrought with needle work”. There are several theories on the origin of this form of art and mentions are found as old as 3rd century BC. However, Chikankari flourished under the rule of Mughals and had become the most sought after clothing for rich and nobles. In due course of time, Chikankari grew leap and folds and became the most common garment choice for nobles and commons alike.
The art of “Chikankari” starts with the selection of very fine cloth (mostly white in colour) on which the artisans draw the patterns. These patterns are then embroidered with “White Threads” to give beautiful impressions. The beauty of this art is its finesse and richness of embroidery.
Creation of a Chikan work (Chikankari; Hindi: चिकनकारी; Urdu: چکن کاری) piece begins with the use of one or more pattern blocks that are used to block-print a pattern on the ground fabric ( mostly white, thin, rich cotton). 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. Chikankari consists of 36 different Stitches in which the major stitches are called in Lucknowi language as "Bakhiya" "Fanda" "Murri" "Bijli" "Pechni" "Ghans patti" and “Ulti Jali. The details various forms of Chikankari Stitches are beautifully described in the chart below which was developed way back by Abid Ibrahim and crafted by Sajda Khatoon( courtesy.)
The designs depend for its effect on the variety of stitches used and different grades of threads used to form the patterns which include the lace like Jali, the opaque fillings and the delicacy or boldness of outline and details. The most beautiful part of Chikan work is the open work ground, an effect of drawn thread work is achieved without drawing out any. Tiny raised flowers done in what seem to be French knots are balanced by the flat stem stitch and large areas of open work to prevent either a crowded or too scattered appearance.
A variation of the Chikan work is the “Bakhia” or shadow work. Here the work is done from the back, the stitches completely covering the design in Herringbone style. The shadow of the thread is seen through the cloth on the front side. To give a richer appearance, the designs are produced with tiny backstitches on the right side over the shadow. A similar effect is created by cutting out tiny flowers and leaves in the same material as the basic fabric and then applying them on the back side. The work is done so dexterously that the turned in edges of the cut pieces are scarcely visible from the front of the work.