A Comprehensive Guide to Chikankari Work and the Fabrics Used

Chikankari, the traditional embroidery style from Lucknow, India, is a timeless art form that has captivated fashion enthusiasts around the world. Known for its delicate and intricate designs, Chikankari work transforms plain fabrics into pieces of art. In this detailed guide, we will explore the different types of Chikankari work, the various stitches involved, and the fabrics commonly used to showcase this exquisite craft.

1. History and Origins of Chikankari
Chikankari, derived from the Persian word 'Chikan,' meaning embroidery, has a rich history that dates back to the Mughal era. It is believed to have been introduced to India by Nur Jehan, the wife of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Over the centuries, the craft evolved, blending Persian influences with local Indian traditions, and establishing Lucknow as the epicenter of Chikankari work.

2. Types of Chikankari Work
Chikankari work is characterized by a variety of stitches, each contributing to the overall design and texture of the fabric. Here, we delve into the most common types of Chikankari stitches:

a. Tepchi
Tepchi is a basic running stitch that forms the foundation of many Chikankari designs. It is a straightforward, single-thread stitch used to outline patterns and create a base for more intricate stitches. Despite its simplicity, tepchi adds a subtle elegance to the fabric.

b. Bakhiya
Bakhiya, also known as shadow work, involves creating a herringbone stitch on the back of the fabric, which appears as a shadow on the front. This technique gives a delicate, shadow-like effect, adding depth and dimension to the design.
There are two types of Bakhiya:

Ulti Bakhiya: The stitches are worked on the wrong side of the fabric.
Sidhi Bakhiya: The stitches are worked on the right side of the fabric.
c. Phanda
Phanda, meaning knots, involves making tiny dot-like stitches that resemble grains or buds. This stitch is often used to create floral and leaf motifs, adding texture and a three-dimensional effect to the embroidery.

d. Murri
Murri is a variation of the phanda stitch, where the knots are more elongated and rice-shaped. This stitch is typically used to create the central part of flowers or to fill small motifs, providing a more pronounced texture.

e. Jaali
Jaali work is one of the most intricate and labor-intensive Chikankari stitches. It involves creating a mesh or net-like pattern by carefully pulling apart the threads of the fabric and securing them with tiny stitches. Jaali work adds an ethereal, lace-like quality to the fabric.

f. Keel Kangan
Keel Kangan is a combination of straight stitches (keel) and small, knotted stitches (kangan). This stitch is used to create geometric patterns and borders, adding structure and variety to the embroidery.

g. Hool
Hool, or eyelet stitch, involves creating a small hole in the fabric and stitching around it to secure the edges. This stitch is commonly used to form the center of flowers or decorative elements, giving a neat and defined appearance.

h. Zanzeera
Zanzeera, or chain stitch, is used to outline patterns and motifs. It involves creating a series of looped stitches that resemble a chain. Zanzeera is often used in conjunction with other stitches to add detail and refinement to the design.

i. Rahet
Rahet, a stem stitch, is used to create lines and outlines in Chikankari designs. This stitch involves making short, overlapping stitches that form a continuous line. Rahet is versatile and can be used for both bold and delicate patterns.

j. Banarsi
Banarsi stitch is a type of long and short stitch used to fill motifs with a gradation of color or texture. It is named after Banaras (Varanasi), another city known for its rich textile heritage. This stitch adds a shaded, dimensional effect to the embroidery.

3. Fabrics Used in Chikankari
Chikankari work can be executed on a variety of fabrics, each bringing out the beauty of the embroidery in unique ways. The choice of fabric plays a crucial role in the final look and feel of the garment. Here, we explore the most popular fabrics used for Chikankari:

Cotton is the most traditional and widely used fabric for Chikankari. Its lightweight, breathable nature makes it ideal for the intricate embroidery work. Cotton Chikankari garments are perfect for summer wear, offering comfort and elegance. The natural texture of cotton enhances the delicate stitches, making the embroidery stand out.

Georgette is a lightweight, sheer fabric with a slightly crinkled texture. It drapes beautifully and is often used for more formal Chikankari garments such as sarees, lehengas, and anarkalis. The fluidity of georgette complements the intricate embroidery, giving the garments an ethereal and elegant look.

c. Silk
Silk, with its rich texture and natural sheen, is another popular choice for Chikankari work. It adds a touch of luxury and sophistication to the garments. Chikankari on silk is often used for bridal wear, festive outfits, and special occasions, where the embroidery is enhanced by the fabric's luster.

d. Chiffon
Chiffon is a lightweight, sheer fabric with a soft drape. It is often used for dupattas, sarees, and flowing gowns. Chikankari work on chiffon creates a delicate, airy look that is perfect for evening wear and formal events. The sheer quality of chiffon allows the embroidery to be visible from both sides, adding to its charm.

e. Organza
Organza is a crisp, sheer fabric that holds its shape well. It is used for more structured Chikankari garments such as jackets, blouses, and overlays. The transparency of organza highlights the intricate embroidery, making it a popular choice for contemporary and fusion wear.

f. Linen
Linen, with its natural texture and breathability, is an excellent fabric for casual Chikankari wear. It is slightly heavier than cotton but offers a similar comfort level. Linen Chikankari garments are perfect for day-to-day wear, combining elegance with practicality.

g. Muslin
Muslin is a lightweight, plain weave cotton fabric that is extremely soft and breathable. It is traditionally used for Chikankari due to its delicate texture and ability to absorb dyes well. Muslin Chikankari garments are ideal for summer wear, offering a comfortable and stylish option.

h. Velvet
Velvet is a plush, luxurious fabric that adds a rich, opulent feel to Chikankari garments. It is typically used for winter wear and festive occasions. Chikankari on velvet creates a striking contrast between the embroidery and the fabric's deep pile, resulting in a regal and sophisticated look.

4. Contemporary Chikankari Trends
Chikankari has evolved over the years, adapting to contemporary fashion trends while preserving its traditional essence. Designers are experimenting with new silhouettes, colors, and combinations, bringing Chikankari into the modern fashion landscape.
Some current trends in Chikankari include:

a. Fusion Wear
Fusion wear combines traditional Chikankari with modern silhouettes and Western styles. This includes Chikankari crop tops, jackets, skirts, and dresses. The blend of traditional embroidery with contemporary cuts creates unique and stylish outfits suitable for a variety of occasions.

b. Pastel Shades
Pastel shades such as mint green, blush pink, and powder blue are becoming increasingly popular in Chikankari garments. These soft hues enhance the delicate nature of the embroidery, giving the outfits a fresh and modern look.

c. Statement Pieces
Designers are creating statement Chikankari pieces that serve as the focal point of an outfit. This includes heavily embroidered Chikankari jackets, capes, and dupattas that can be paired with simpler garments to create a striking ensemble.

d. Layering
Layering Chikankari garments with other fabrics and textures adds depth and dimension to the outfits. This trend includes pairing Chikankari kurtas with contrasting dupattas, or wearing an embroidered shrug over a plain dress.

e. Minimalist Chikankari
While traditional Chikankari is known for its intricate and elaborate designs, minimalist Chikankari focuses on subtle, understated embroidery. This trend is perfect for those who prefer a more contemporary and less ornate look.

5. Caring for Chikankari Garments
Proper care and maintenance are essential to preserve the beauty and longevity of Chikankari garments. Here are some tips to ensure your Chikankari pieces remain in excellent condition:

a. Washing

Hand wash Chikankari garments in cold water using a mild detergent.
Avoid wringing or twisting the fabric to prevent damage to the embroidery.
For heavily embroidered pieces, consider dry cleaning to maintain the integrity of the work.
b. Drying

Dry Chikankari garments in the shade to prevent fading and discoloration.
Lay the garment flat on a clean surface to dry, avoiding direct sunlight and heat sources.
c. Ironing

Iron Chikankari garments on the reverse side to protect the embroidery.
Use a low to medium heat setting, and place a thin cloth between the iron and the fabric to avoid direct contact.
d. Storing

Store Chikankari garments in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Use padded hangers for hanging garments, and fold.
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