Chikan Embroidery has a unique grace and elegance and this constant presence is maintained throughout the fine cotton or the fabric used. It carefully highlights uniformity and consistency in stitches with fine thread-knots. The patterns and motifs are generally floral and geometric embroidery with exquisite delicacy of detail with even stitches or raised with designs in a mesh pattern.Traditionally, the chikan embroidery was exclusive white items, decorations similar to the cotton, jamdani, and woven traditions.
HISTORY OF CHIKANKARI
The origins of chikan are shrouded in mystery and legend. Some historians opine, that chikan is a Persian craft, brought to the Mughal Court of the Emperor Jahangir by his beautiful and talented consort Mehrunissa. The name chikan has been derived from the Persian word Chakin or Chikeen meaning a kind of cloth wrought with needlework. The queen was a talented embroiderer and she so pleased the king with this ethereal, white floral embroidery that it was soon given recognition and royal patronage. Workshops were established wherein this embroidery was practiced and perfected.
The Nawab Shirajudaula of Avadh, great lover of grace, style and beauty was greatly attracted by this craft. It was his keen in\itiative and interest, which promoted this craft in present day Lucknow. Another record of the travelers of the sixteenth century describes that during the sixteenth century, white work from Bengal, was influenced by the Portuguese traders, the residents of the port Hugli, north of Calcutta of that time. The Bengali migrants who came from Dacca in eighteenth century to settle in Lucknow brought this art of surface ornamentation to Lucknow. Chikan work came into production by the nineteenth century.
Dr. Rahul shukla in his book on the Taj Mahal, entitled Art Beyond Time, talks about chikan as being an offshoot of the Taj. This is very likely because, chikan motifs show a strong influence of the motifs and screens (jaalis) present in the Taj Mahal. ‘At present, the Taj motifs are freely used in Lucknow’s chikan work and most of its glory springs form the Taj pitra dura.’ The Persian fondness for floral patterns greatly influenced the Mughal rulers who adopted these patterns in their architecture, their paintings and even their garments. The Indian artists used more flowing designs rather than the stiffly formal Persian styles. Sheila Paine feels that ‘the floral designs of chikan share the same heritage.’
Some very fine muslin was also produced in and around Lucknow. Rosie Llewellyn- Jones, in her book, A Fatal Friendship, makes mention of it. ‘During the seventeenth century the East india company decided to send two factors or employees to live in Lucknow and buy bales of ‘dereabauds’ , a kind of muslin which was made in the Hasanganj area of Lucknow on the northern bank of the Gomti.’ This muslin became the base material for the production of good chikan embroidery. There are two/three categories of fine, white fabric that are used for chikancraft, namely Addhi, Tanzeb and Girant. These were the traditional chikan fabrics. Their sheer texture was just right for the fine white needlework.
PROCEDURE OF CHIKANKARI
There are today approximately one million people involved in the chikan industry, working at various levels of production. There are eight stages in the production of a single piece, namely:
- Choice of fabric
- Cutting & shaping
- Block printing
- Jaali, hathkati etc
Briefly, After cutting the fabric in required length, the designs are traced on the marked areas with blocks of a variety of shapes, sizes and forms. In the chikan industry the wooden block makers are very important, as they are the men or tappagars who carve the woodblocks with the intricate designs. And the cheepis or the printers transfer these designs on the fabrics to be embroidered. These blocks are quite durable as they are made Sheesham wood. These blocks are dipped in neel (a chemical dye), which is mixed with glue and is soaked in cloth pads. The block is then printed on the desired area of the design. The embroiderer uses these printed outlines as a pattern and guide. These designs are embroidered by various stitches. The stitches used for chikankari are only that applied in regular embroidery. Tepchi (stem stitch), bukhara 2(inverted stem stitch), are some of the popular stitches. Skill lies in rendering them in a specific way with the needles of the varying sizes The stitches employed for this embroidery are pulled work, which create intricate patterns, locally known as jali work; the double back stitch; running and back stitch. No hooks or frames are used while embroidering. The left hand has to continually stretch the cloth gently weft ways and warp ways to avoid puckering. The jali work in particular is done with wide blunt needle. This needle makes the holes in the fabric with ease. Intricate floral designs are indigenously embroidered using white/coloured cotton thread, on sheer white or pastel coloured muslin, organza and these days some times silk. The ingenuity of chikan-kari, the art of surface ornamentation lies in deploying up to thirty-five stitches to embroider the floral, geometrical, animal patterns.
The chikankari, therefore does not work in isolation. There is a whole group of people who are involved in the production process, even though embroidery is the most significant one. The cutter and the tailer are responsible for the styling. The printer is part of the designing strategy. The block maker is an extremely important member of the work team. In fact, the blockmaker is almost an artist, highly skilled in the art of carving and chiseling blocks. The old blocks have an amazing amount of artistry in them. Last but not the least we have the washerman. A perfectly beautiful piece can be damaged if the washing is poorly done. And yes, the most exquisite piece can sit forever on some dusty shelf, if it is not marketed.
DETAILS OF STITCHES IN CHIKANKARI
Chikan embroidery has a repertoire of about 40 stitches of which about 30 are still being used. These can be broadly divided into 3 heads – flat stitches, raised and embossed stitches, and the open trellis-like jaali work. Some of these have equivalents in other embroideries, the rest are manipulations that make them distinctive and unique. They cover almost all the embroidery stitches of the country and have interesting and descriptive names.
The main flat stitches with their traditional names are:
- Taipchi: Running stitch worked on the right side of the fabric. It is occasionally done within parallel rows to fill petals and leaves in a motif, called ghaspatti. Sometimes taipchi is used to make the bel buti all over the fabric. This is the simplest chikan stitch and often serves as a basis for further embellishment. It resembles jamdani and is considered the cheapest and the quickest stitch.
- Pechni: Taipchi is sometime used as a base for working other variations and pechni is one of them. Here the taipchi is covered by entwining the thread over it in a regular manner to provide the effect of something like a lever spring and is always done on the right side on the cloth.
- Pashni: Taipchi is worked to outline a motif and then covered with minute vertical satin stitches over about two threads and is used for fine finish on the inside of badla.
- Bakhia: It is the most common stitch and is often referred to as shadow work. It is of two types:
- Ulta Bakhia: The floats lie on the reverse of the fabric underneath the motif. The transparent muslin becomes opaque and provides a beautiful effect of light and shade.
- Sidhi Bakhia: Satin stitch with criss-crossing of individual threads. The floats of thread lie on the surface of the fabric. This is used to fill the forms and there is no light or shade effect.
- Hool is a fine detached eyelet stitch. Herein, a hole is punched in the fabric and the threads are teased apart. It is then held by small straight stitches all round and worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. It can be worked with six threads and often forms the center of a flower.
- Zanzeera is a small chain stitch worked with one thread on the right side of the fabric. Being extremely fine, it is used to finally outline the leaf or petal shapes after one or more outlines have already been worked.
- Rahet is a stem stitch worked with six threads on the wrong side of the fabric. It forms a solid line of back stitch on the right side of the fabric and is rarely used in its simple form but is common in the double form of dohra bakhiya as an outlining stitch.
- Banarsi stitch has no European equivalent and is a twisted stitch worked with six threads on the right side of the fabric. Working from the right across about five threads a small stitch is taken over about two threads vertically. The needle is reinserted halfway along and below the horizontal stitch formed and is taken out about two threads vertically on the right above the previous stitch.
- Khatau is similar to Bakhia, but finer and is a form of applique. In Khatau, the design is prepared on calico material. That is placed over the surface of the final fabric and then paisley and floral patterns are stitched on to it.
- Gitti: A combination of buttonhole and long satin stitch, usually used to make a wheel-like motif .
- Jangira: Chain stitch usually used as outlines in combination with a line of pechni or thick taipchi.
The bolder or knottier stitches include the following:
- Murri:A very minute satin stitch in which a knot is formed over already outlined taipchi stitches.
- Phanda:It is a smaller shortened form of murri. The knots are spherical and very small, not pear shaped as in murri. This is a difficult stitch and requires very good craftsmanship.
- Jaalis:The jaalis or trellises that are created in chikankari are a unique speciality of this craft. The holes are made by manipulation of the needle without cutting or drawing of thread. The threads of the fabric are teased apart to make neat regular holes or jaalis. In other centres where jaalis are done, the threads have to be drawn out. In chikankari, this is not the case. Names of jaali techniques suggest the place where they originated from — Madrasi jaali or Bengali jaali —- or possibly the place of demand for that particular jaali. The basic manner in which jaalis are created is by pushing aside wrap and weft threads in a fashion that minute openings are made in the cloth. Shape of openings and the stitches used distinguish one jaali from another.
OTHER TYPES OF STITCHES
- Turpai and Darzdari are also significant stitches in chikan work. Turpai should have an effect of a thin thread. Darzdari have several varieties, the popular ones are Kohidarz, Kamal darz, Shankarpara darz, Muchii and Singbhada darz.
- The various other types of legendary chikankari stitches are: 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.
- Drifting apart from the original pristine setting, the tone-on-tone embroidery is in vogue these days. The significant use of beads, sequin and mokaish (white flat silver strip embroidery) have gained wide acceptance. The various other type of stitches are Bijli, Ghaspatti, Makra, Kauri, Hathkati, Banjkali, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, Chashmebulbul ,Taj Mahal, Keel, Kamgan, Dhaniapatti, Rozan, Meharki, Balda, Jaora, Sidhaul Etc.
FABRIC USED IN CHIKANKARI
Traditional Chikankari is Embroidered on muslin with a white thread.General Fabric used were malmal , tanzeb ,ardi. The pattern is block printed on destarched fabric using temporary dyes. Gradually chikan work is now being done on other fabrics like organdi, Tanzeeb, cotton and silk. Presently all types of fabrics namely Voil, Chiffon, Lenin, Rubia, Khadi, handloom cloth, terry cotton,Polyesters, Georgettes, Teryvoil etc. The designs change every other month, as per the market trends, with colors that perfectly match with the season.