THE SUBTLE CRAFT
The chikan work of Lucknow is the delicate and skillful embroidery done with white thread. This craft introduced by Noor Jehan, the beautiful wife of Jehangir, may have been inspired by Turkish embroidery, as the the name 'chikan' seems to have been derived from the Persian word, either 'Chikan', 'Chikin' or 'Chikeen'.
It means a kind of cloth wrought with needle-work. The designs are said to have been evolved by Noorjehan, herself. Although it originated as a court craft, today it is a practiced tradition and an important commercial activity.
The work became popular in a number of important cities of the Indo-Gangetic plains such as Delhi , Agra, Rampur, Varanasi, Patna and Gaya . But the supremacy of Lucknow remained unchallenged.
The Royal Patronage
Chikankari received great impetus during the Nawabi period. The finely embroidered muslin came to be closely identified with the Nawabi culture and became an intrinsic part of it. The Chikankari tradition gradually filtered down the masses of common people and became a part of their daily life.
The Types Of Embriodery
A variation of the chikan work is the 'Bukhia' or Shadow Work. It is a complicated style of embroidery in which the inverted satin forms are out lined on the right side with minute stitches, while the thread accummulates on the wrong side giving an opaque quality to the work. The shadow effect is created by the stitches that cover the back of the cloth in the style of the herringbone.
A similar effect is created by cutting out tiny flowers and leaves in the same material as the basic fabric and then applying them on the wrong side. The work is done so dexterously that the turned in edges of the cut pieces are scarcely visible from the front of the work.
Other stitches like the darning stitch, stem stitch, chain stitch etc. are also used. All these stitches are sometimes used individually but more often in combination of two or more together to fill the whole motif. There are minute variations on these basic stitches and much manipulation in terms of shape and size.
The design depends for its effect on the variety of stitches used and different grades of threads used to form the patterns which include, the lace like jali, the opaque fillings and the delicacy or boldness of outline and details. The most beautiful part of chikan work is the open work ground, an effect of drawn thread work is achieved without drawing out any.
The source of most design motifs in Chikankari is Mughal. These motifs can also be seen in the ornamentation of Mughal buildings like the Taj Mahal and the monuments of Fatehpur Sikri. There are various stitches used in Chikankari. They vary according to the kind of designs and materials used. The most frequently used stitch is the satin stitch. This is a very delicate and minute stitch.
Chikan work has very light, gossamer - like quality. This makes it very suitable for the seemingly hot climate of the northern plain region. It can be assumed that Chikankari, using sheer fabrics evolved as a logical answer to the problem of keeping cool and also providing adornment and beauty to one's personality. The light chikan saris are perfect for summer wear. Men prefer to wear their chikan kurtas during summer evenings.