Chikan has evolved in a variety of ways but the basic charm of shadow stitch embroidery endures
The art probably originated in Persia – the persian word ‘Chakin’ or ‘Chakeen’ means embroidery.
It was the Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s wife, Noor Jehan who introduced Chikankari to artisans in the capital. With the disintegration of the Mughal empire, the artisans gravitated to Awadh, modern Lucknow, where the nawabs were known for their patronage of the arts.
Initially, white thread was used on white fabric that would vary from muslin to silk, organza, chiffon or net. Today coloured yarns too are used on varying backgrounds. Beads, sequins and mirror may also be used but the motifs continue to comprise florals and creepers.
First off, block prints are used to “stamp” the designs onto the cloth. More than 30 types of stitches, including backstitch, chain-stitch and hemstitch, create the shadow work – the embroidery is done on one side so that only its ‘shadow’ is seen on the reverse, creating a masterful effect of daintiness .The fabric is then washed to remove all traces of the block print ink. Entirely hand-embroidered, it takes a month to six months to complete a Chikan saree.