The art of chikankari is said to be originated from the Persian craft of creating embroidered fabrics, termed ‘chikan’ or ‘chikeen’. This technique of creation of chikan work is known as chikankari. The embroidery was brought to the Mughal Court of the Emperor Jahangir during the 16th and 17th century and quickly became very popular with the king and his nobles. It is today considered one of the most attractive regional embroidery techniques in India.
Lucknowi chikankari sarees are garments adorned with this ancient form of white floral embroidery, created using intricate needle and threadwork. It is a tribute to the skilled craftsmen who have handed down the techniques from one generation to the other and this craft has remained more or less the same over the centuries. Chikankari sarees are produced mainly in Lucknow, a large city in the northern part of India. This delicate form of fine embroidery is traditionally practiced in and around this city. It was not originated in Lucknow but arrived here when the Mughal court disintegrated, scattering the artisans all across the country. Some of these artisans settled in Awadh (ancient name of Lucknow) and laid down the roots of this fine craft. Today, it is a home based art which is mainly performed by women artisans. Designs are printed on the fabric at first with washable colors along with different stitches or embroidery.
In the modern times it has gone through several changes and has also adapted beautiful embellishments like mirror work, beads, sequins etc. Chikan embroideries on a chikankari saree are artfully done on any light fabric like cotton, georgette, silk etc. The use of these types of translucent materials ensures that the embroidery is highlighted. The patterns and effects created on the saree depend on the types of stitches and the threads used in the embroidery. When looking for beautiful and authentic chikan sarees, Lucknow is known to be the primary destination. Lucknow has remained the center for chikan work and even today Lucknow chikan sarees are the most popular, frequently worn by Bollywood celebrities like Vidya Balan on the red carpet.
Lucknowi chikan sarees are unique mainly due to the different stitching styles involved in the art of chikankari. It is also said that this kind of embroidery is absolutely one of a kind and impossible to imitate. It is not found in any other part of the world. Some of the most popular stitches that can be found on a chikan saree are:
- Phanda work: This hand embroidered design of flowers is one of the most popular chikankari patterns. It is usually combined with Murri’s work that provides a pearl-like effect on the fabric.
- Tepchi work: This embroidery, often referred to as ‘magic work’, incorporates very thin and delicate thread work. Each stitch is symmetric and one cannot find out the right or wrong side by just looking at the fabric.
- Shadow work: Just like the name indicates, this embroidery is done on the reverse side of the fabric using a different type of stitch known as the herringbone stitch that creates a shadow-like impression on the front of the fabric.
In addition to these popular variations, there are more than 30 types of stitches which can be used to make the traditional Lucknow chikankari sarees.
Styling the Lucknow Chikan Saree
Lucknow chikan sarees are now created according to the latest fashion trends and are available with various embellishments and in different colors; however, nothing can match the elegance of a classic white chikan saree. They look best when paired with simple silver and pearl jewelry. Accessories should be kept at minimum when wearing designer chikan sarees as the main focus should be the beautiful intricate chikan embroidery. An off-white georgette saree with sequins and zardozi borders can be worn with a beautiful multi-colored silk embroidered zari blouse. This saree draped in a regular way can look simply fabulous. This type of look does not require any kind of accessories because of the heavy embellishments on the blouse and borders of the saree.
Old Indian movies have always inspired the masses in India when it comes to fashion and chikankari sarees are no exception. Proper jewelry can add grace to an already gorgeous chikan saree. For instance, a plain light colored chikan sari will look best with light jewelry. One can also opt for simple gold chains and simple stud or dangles earrings without going over the top. Bangles also look quite good with these beautiful sarees; but make sure to choose the right metal and designs that would complement the saree.
A Chikan sari forms an integral part of the Indian traditional half saree and can be worn by everyone during all kinds of traditional functions or festivals. The art of chikankari has been recognized all over the world because of its unique artistry.