Traditional Chikankari dress material was embroidered on Muslin cloth with a white thread. Gradually the work was started on other fabrics like Organdie, Mulmul, Tanzeeb, Cotton, and Silk. Presently all types of fabrics, namely Voil, Chiffon, Lenin, Rubia, Khadi Haldloom Cloth etc. are used in Chikan Embroidery. The pattern is Block Printed on de-starched Chikankari Fabric using temporary dyes.
The capital city of Uttar Pradesh has the distinction of producing one of the best embroideries in the world. Chikankai is an art, which results in the transformation of the plainest cotton and organdie into flowing yards of magic. The word “Chikan” steps from a Persian word derived from the Chic, which referred to the “Jali” work done on marble or wood. The craft is also well-known as “shadow work” or “white embroidery work”, traditionally practiced in the city of Lucknow and its surroundings.
Chikan is a type of whitework, that is to say, white embroidery on white fabric, with predominantly floral designs executed on fine cotton with untwisted threads of white cotton, rayon, or silk. The Chikankari embroidery has developed over centuries, reaching its peak in the late 19th Century in Lucknow. Authentic Chikankariu unstitched suits have the unique property of being limited to a fixed repertoire of stitches, each of which is only ever used in a certain way. This repertoire consists of thirty-two stitches five of which are common to other forms of embroidery, five derivatives, and seven stitches that in them form an embossed shape, usually a leaf or petal. These small individual petals help identify Chikan – In most embroidery areas of pulled thread work, balance the stitchery.
Its discipline gives Chikan a pleasing unity but allows for creativity in the choice of combinations of stitches, still within their role of infilling or outlining a design or creating a shape. It is a discipline shared by no other type of embroidery in the world.
Another major characteristic of Chikan, not shared by other whitework, is its great contrast in texture. The embroidery on one piece will range from fine pulled thread work executed with one thread to heavily embossed stitches. The best work combines the delicacy of one with the chunky quality of the other.
The uniqueness of the Lucknow Chikan Craft Iies in the following:
About 40 different stitches are used for Lucknow Chikan embroidery. These embroideries are unique in their discipline that is each stitch is used for one purpose only.
From the middle of the 16th to early 17th century, the weavers borrowed motifs from manuscripts and illustrations. In Qajar, there was much use of a motif like a billowing comma known as Buteh-bush, which was probably introduced from India and in Britain acquired the name ‘Paisley’. Abu Fazal describes Akbar as a lover of Flora and fauna. These designs were adapted to the garments and these flower patterns are found in most of the embroidery.
The most popular motif in chikan embroidery is one in by cross pollution and Western fashion taste was the one to be called Paisley. It was probably the most ubiquitous of all designs to come from India and was never out of date. From the 18th century, it was woven into exquisite Kashmiri shawls and became the favorite design all over the world.