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Chikankari — Facts You Should Know Before Buying a ChikanKari Outfit

Posted on December 09 2019

You will agree that the Modern Embroidery can never beat the invincible precise handwork of experienced artisans, who opened their eyes in the world with Chikanakari at their home and are drinking, eating, and breathing nothing but Chikankari.

They have Chikan work in their blood, being born in the families whose generations have spent centuries specializing this unique craft, which enthralls all but is near impossible for others to learn or imbibe, leave aside copying it. Others try to perform the way the generations-old craftsmen do but miserably fail.

Even the latest computers and the innovative software fail to deliver the quality and the real Chikankarithese generation-old and traditional artisans can deliver (rather fail to fall even closer to them when it comes the touch and the feel). So special is this art, and so are the generations-old artisans who are passionate about their work to the extent that they open their eyes in this world with this craft and close their eyes from this world specializing in this art.

Here, we will be exploring what makes it that special to not be imbibed but before we explore this art, let us dwell upon what exactly Chikankari stands for.

So, What is Chikankari all about?

The literal meaning of Chikan is ‘embroidery,’ that got re-evolved in Lucknow, the capital city of the largest state of the Republic of India, Uttar Pradesh.

Ages back, it was introduced by the Mughals. And, it was, this simple though specialized and precise art that gave a very subtle and classy feel to the Royals, the Maharajas, the Kings, and the real connoisseurs of art who always craved for the best, and never settled for the less.

The nuances of this art are so deep and intense that it took generations to learn, teach, and deliver the real Chikankari of the Royal Mughal Durbars.

From where does the Chikankari originated?

Chikankari is a century-old craft that started in India in as early as the 3rd Century BC. As per a known interesting old legend, a thirsty traveler taught Chikankarito a peasant in return for drinking water. So was the time, and so was the art at its infancy.

The other recorded story goes to the 17th Century when Noor Jahan, the wife of Mughal Emperor Jahangir, introduced the Persian art in India as she herself was a talented embroideress and had a special inclination towards Chikankari.

Jahangir, too, was rather fond of it and was influenced by this special piece of design and cloth. To promote and perfect it, he got conducted several special workshops in India.

In those days, the favorite fabric was Muslin or Mulmul, as it was best suited for warm and slightly humid climate though the art has begun with white-on-white embroidery.

The downfall of the Mughal Empire spread the artisans of this art across the country, with Lucknow left as the central hub, Awadh, a near cousin, and Hyderabad (of Pakistan) as a new center.

And today, this 3rd Century BC Chikankari has become a world sensation and darling of all.

What was the Ancient Process of Chikankari that adds to its real Magic?

Chikankariwas a straight two-step process that involves engraving the required design on a wooden block stamp and then block printing the design on the cloth with age-old Neel (Indigo Dye) and safeda dyes, which is then finally cut it to the required size.

Afterward, the cloth in small parts is then set in the small frames to do the needlework, precisely on the ink patterns, which could be back stitch, chain stitch, or hemstitch.

And yes, every stitch used to matter and was to be done to perfection with complete neatness to make it flaunt the richness of the art, the skillset of the artisan, and the taste of the connoisseur. This is exactly, why one is willing to pay for it.

The outcome of Chikankaricould be lace or shadow work.

The finished garment after qualifying a rigorous quality check is cleaned, washed, and starched to provide the final master-piece with the required stiffness and a precise delicacy and this is exactly the process that is followed nowadays in the present hand Chikankari, to let it get that royal touch.

Why Computerized Chitrakari fail to deliver this Hand Chikankari touch?

The Computerized Chitrakari can never replace the Authentic Chikankari as the hand embroidery provides the feasibility and the touch required to perform those varieties of stitches with different threads and fabrics that blend with all required subtleness and nuances together to deliver the authentic Chikakari.

Every stitch is unique as per the artisan, and has a prerequisite touch the stitch needs there, to make it look elegant, graceful and to add to the magic.

The sheen, the smoothness, the gradation, and the tone hand embroidery can deliver with different variegated threads can never be achieved from the computerized one, as a machine can never decide to that subtle level to decide from thousands of choices that a human mind can do.

And such judgments are required in such precise and delicate artworks, where blending a thousand permutations in different proportions are a must.

The different details, the unique shades, and the thickness of the thread that infuse life in the clothes can never be delivered by the computerized embroidery.

The Machine embroidery is monotonous, uniform, and with all identical and symmetrical stitches to make it look somewhat boring to see and dull to don. All designs are uniform, and every stitch is precisely the same leaving no variation and difference between the two different cloth pieces manufactured with the same design. It badly misses on the discretion, feel, and the right skill of the stitch that adds to its essence, making it different from the rest of all the stitches.

The artisans in hand Chikankari can manually divide the threads to provide them different dimensions, angles and look which can never be achieved from the computerized stitches as the threads are deliberately made of rayon, polyester or metallic in place of the cotton or the silk, in the same way as it is used in hand embroidery to provide that extra finish and the emotional touch.

How is Machine Embroidery done?

The required design or the pre-made patterns are fed to the computer that gets stitched on the embroidery machine. All the stitches are uniform and identical to deliver the exact pattern on all the clothes making them an exact copy of each other. These designs are monotonous, stereotype, and repetitive.

It is precisely where this computerized Chikankari loses its sheen and glamour to make you look different distinct and privileged from others when compared to a common man.

What are the Best Fabrics suitable for Chikankari?

The best fabrics suitable for Chikankari are-
1) Georgette,
2) Chiffon,
3) Voil Cotton

What are the Authentic Chikankari variations available in the market?

Though nowadays, Chikankari is available in various variations in the market with many of the computerized and several claiming to be Chikankari, but that has nothing to do with the Chikankari. Here are the authentic Chikankari variations available in the market:

1) Chikankari with mukaish

Mukaish is a unique form of metallic embroidery in which the embellishment work is done by strips of metallic wire that are inserted into the fabric and then twisted as per the design. These twisted thin metallic threads create unique patterns all over the fabric that makes it a masterpiece to lure anyone. Its modern form has started using the real silver and gold threads to add extra sophistication and the royal touch. Though other metals and threads are also being used. Mukaish could be done on all types of clothing from sarees to lehengas, salwar to kameez and shirts to tunics. Even Kurtis are also available in Mukaish.

2) Chikankari with gotta

Chikankari with gotta has finally traveled all the way long from the Mughal era to acquire its otherwise lost demand. The golden and silver laces are cut into the shape of a leaf to create the Gotta Ki Patti that adorns the clothing no matter whether it’s lehenga or Kurti.

3) Chikankari with kamdaani

Chikankari with kamdaani is a special form of Chikan work wherein the wire attached to a small length of thread is pulled out with a needle through the fabric to create beautiful motifs. It is referred to as Fancy Kaam. However, this art is slowly and slowly becoming rare with only a few elderly craftsmen left who know the skill in it’s real sense.

4) Chikankari with Parsi work

Chikankari with Parsi work is a renowned emblem of style and elegance, though it is one of the most under-celebrated styles in Chikankari.

Chikankkari with Parsi work is also known as Parsigara, which comes with a unique blending of three different nations. Dates back to 650 AD when the Persian women undertook the Indian clothing style, and when their men traveled to China, they brought yards of silk fabric for their women. And from this inter-cultural amalgamation evolved the Parsigara wherein the fabric was from China with Indian embroidery style with a Hindu influence and Iran’s Zoroastrian cultures.

It usually comes in three different styles-

a) A pallu and a border with tiny motifs scattered all over it.
b) An impenetrable jaal pattern
c) A consecutive border to be stitched on to a sari

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