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Chikankari: A Traditional Indian Embroidery Style

Chikankari Collection by Manish Malhotra

India is known for its diverse craft and embroidery styles that are distinctly different in each state and region. The skill level required for many of these crafts is inherited over generations and perfected over a lifetime. Chikankari embroidery is one of the most renowned traditional Indian embroidery styles dated back more than 200 years! The most authentic Chikankari is particularly known for its intricate white-on-white thread work. Typically the embroidery is done using white cotton thread over a white muslin cloth. But to keep pace with current trends and to meet demands of the modern consumer, Chikankari is now available on a variety of materials like cotton, silk, chiffon, crepe, georgette, etc.

The word ‘Chikan’ is derived from the Persian word ‘Chikeen’ which means a cloth wrought with needlework. Chikankari originated from the city of Lucknow during the period of Mughal rule in India back in the 16th century. This craft is believed to have been influenced by the intricate carving patterns of Mughal architecture at the time.

Chikankari Collection by Manish Malhotra

Chikankari Collection by Manish Malhotra

There is an elaborate process that goes into creating every square inch of Chikankari. Each ‘karigar’ or artisan specializes in the task he/she performs. We took a peek into the process through the lens of NID’s D-Source that documents various craft styles to facilitate a digital learning environment for design enthusiasts. Let’s take a look at what it takes to create this magnificent and extremely intricate piece of art:

Step 1 – Chapayi or Printing: Hand-carved wooden blocks are selected in three different sizes for different parts of the cloth. These wooden blocks are stained with easily washable indigo ink to print a pattern on the cloth that will later be embroidered. The imprints will provide the basic outline for the embroiders to work with.

Wooden Blocks used for printing a base pattern for Chikankari embroidery

Washable Indigo color tray for Block Printing on cloth

Block Printing pattern for Chikankari embroidery

Step 3 – Taanka or embroidery: Once the printing is done, the cloth is ready. It is tightly fitted on a circular wooden or cloth frame that holds the cloth in place and keeps it taut. This enables the needle work to be done neatly with ease and speed. Based on the design and desired intricacy, several different types of stitches are used to sew within the patterned boundaries.

Step 4 – Dhulayi or washing: Finally when the embroidery is complete, the cloth is soaked in water and then washed to remove the indigo color imprints. The cloth is then starched and ironed.

Types of threads used for Chikankari embroidery

Tools for Chikankari embroidery

Wooden or cloth frames used for Chikankari Embroidery

Different types of stitches used in Chikankari

Washing, Drying and Ironing of Chikankari garments after completion of embroidery

Chikankari collection by Manish Malhotra

Chikankari collection by Manish Malhotra

Chikankari shoes made by Ticket to TimbuktuImage from Ticket to Timbuktu

 We found a cool 2min 45sec video that pulls it all together for us. 

Chikan work is no longer confined to traditional Indian clothes like the salwar-kameez and sari. Top Indian designers like Manish Malhotra and Sandeep-Abu have designed their entire Indo-Western collections using Chikankari. It is now available in a variety of western outfits including many top styles, skirts, pants and even shoes.

If you have fallen in love with these patterns, can you imagine transferring them to your home walls? Let us know what do you think about the following stencil designs by Royal Design Studio!

Images from Akanksha Redhu & D-Source

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