Chikankari in Mughal Era: Influences, Techniques, and Artistry

The art of chikankari is primarily concentrated in the northern region of India, specifically Lucknow, and hence is also known as Lucknowi embroidery. Traditional Indian embroidery has persevered despite losing royal support, suffering greatly at the hands of commercialization, and at times losing its way into mediocrity. This is a testament to the talent and determination of the artisans who have passed down this method from one generation to the next.

In this blog, we will take you through the glorious history of Mughal chikankari, various chikankari techniques, various stitches used in this hand embroidery and the artistry involved in chikan work.

Historical Background: The Mughal Empire & Chikankari

The history of this lovely and majestic craft of fine stitching dates back to the Mughal Empire and has been popular for as long as men have desired to reach new heights in sartorial taste.

Chikankari dates its beginning to the third century BC, where it is mentioned in two different stories.

The first myth is of a traveller who gave a peasant the art of Chikan needlework in exchange for water, while the second tells about a Megasthenian stitching technique that is comparable to Chikan.

However, Noor Jahan's narrative is the most accurate and thoroughly thought-out account of the origins of chikan work in India. It is believed that the fine embroidery art of chikankari was brought to India in the 17th century, by the empress of the famous Mughal emperor Jahangir and hence was also famous by the name Mughal embroidery. Renowned as a traditional white floral embroidery style, chikankari was and is painstakingly created using a needle and unprocessed thread. This exquisite white tracery on transparent white cloth has charmed the hearts of kings and commoners for centuries.

Theoretical evidence suggests that earlier artisans used themes drawn from Mughal architecture, which further supports the Mughal influence on this traditional handcrafted artwork. In the 18th century, known as the Nawabs' golden age, chikankari is thought to have become quite popular.

Taima Mulmul Straight Kurta Green

The Impressive Chikankari Techniques

Cotton threads are used in an artistic manner to create chikan work on pastel-coloured cotton and light muslin clothing. In order to stay current with fashion and make chikankari relevant, embroidery these days is also done with coloured and silk threads.

In recent years, chikan work has been mixed with other embellishments such as mukaish work, in which tiny pieces of flat wire are placed into the cloth, most often seen in zardozi embroidery, the usage of beads, and mirrors in addition to the conventional thread embroidery. In present times, the art of traditional Indian embroidery is done on a wide range of lightweight fabrics, such as cotton, semi-georgette, cotton blends, silk, chiffon, and organza.

The major steps in the creation of Chikankari include designing, engraving, block printing, stitching, and washing.

Types Of Stitches Used In Lucknowi Embroidery

There are in total 32 types of stitches in the beautiful craft of chikankari hand embroidery. Listed are a few famous stitches, have a read!

  1. Tepchi is a long-running or darning stitch applied to the right side of the fabric using six strands crossed across four threads, then one thread picked up. Consequently, a queue is created. This type of fine embroidery is occasionally done to build a simple shape, but its main usage is as a base for further stitchery.
  2. In Chikan work, the design is depicted in a herringbone pattern using the bakhiya, double back, or shadow stitch on the reverse side of the fabric. The shadow of the thread is seen on the right side of the fabric.
  3. Khatau is a finer version of bakhia, a sort of appliqué. In Khatau, the calico material used for the design is used. This is embroidered onto the surface of the completed fabric before paisley and floral designs are added.
  4. A removable aperture stitch is called hool. This method involves punching a hole in the fabric and teasing the threads apart. Then, it is secured in place all over using tiny, straight stitches that are stitched with a single thread on the fabric's right side. 
  5. In traditional Indian embroidery, the centres of flowers are embroidered using the stitches phanda and murri. Phanda is fashioned like millet, but murri is like rice, and they are frequently French knots.
  6. Jali stitch is unique in that the thread is never dragged through the fabric, ensuring that the garment's back is just as attractive as its front. Carefully divided warp and weft threads are sewn into the fabric with tiny buttonhole stitches. This is one of the finest embroidery stitches.
  7. The chikan technique relies heavily on the stitches turpai and darzdari, also referred to as darazdari. Turpai ought to resemble a fine thread. There are many variations of Darzdari, but the most well-known ones include Kohidarz, Kamal Darz, Shankarpara Darz, Muchii, and Sign Bhada Darz.

Other well-known Chikankari stitches include those seen on the Taj Mahal, Janjeera, Kangan, Dhania-Patti, Rozan, Meharki, Chanapatti, Baalda, Jora, Keel Kangan, bulbul, Sidhaul, Hathkadi, Banjkali, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, and Bulbul-Chasm.

Artistry In Chikankari

The artisans of Chikankari are crucial to understanding Indian society and culture. Every item is transformed into a work of art with a subtle, refined appeal by artisans whose fingers have become rough from life's hardships. Thousands of artisans are employed by this traditional Indian embroidery, but they still struggle to find facilities that are appropriate and to make enough money for their level of expertise and time commitment.

Artistic Motifs & Designs Used In Chikankari

  • Natural Motifs

As the name suggests, this type of artisanal embroidery is inspired by nature. Natural motifs such as flowers, leaves, vines, birds, and other animals are beautifully carved through chikan work.

  • Geometrical Motifs

Motifs and designs are created using various geometrical shapes in this type of artisanal embroidery, such as lines, circles, squares, square-shaped objects, triangles, and so forth, and are referred to as geometrical themes. By using shading and combining various shapes, geometrical themes are made more attractive.

  • Stylised Motifs

The purpose of stylised motifs is to enhance the appeal of the theme and motifs. These motifs are referred to be stylized motifs since they deviate from their usual frame and appear elevated with more bends, features, and curves.

  • Abstract Motifs

There is no clear source of inspiration for these motifs. While using similar sources of inspiration, natural and abstract motifs produced vastly different effects. The natural themes of a leaf will look like a leaf, but an abstract theme of the same can be created by simply using its surface, veins, patterns, or shading to produce an attractive theme. This type of hand-embroidery also goes by the name non-figurative outline.

AZA Modal Straight Kurta

Evolution of Chikankari Designs 

For many years, Indian fashion has been in love with this Awadhi skill. This white embroidery has now found its spot in current fashion trends, thanks in large part to the work of contemporary designers. Modern fashionistas connect with this timeless style, and it occupies a considerable spot in their closets. This glorious Indian handicraft is being revived and preserved by beautiful Indian textiles and cutting-edge chikankari embroidery. 

In present times, the Mughal chikankari is used in a variety of forms, including shirts, gowns, and, to a lesser extent, some chikankari dresses, which helps maintain the art relevant today. Complex chikankari is also woven into the large canvas of bridal ensembles, preserving the Nawabi craftsmanship.

Chikankari enthusiasts are aware that it requires time to practise. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to create an incredibly delicate and lovely shadow piece of white embroidery. Frequently, it can take months or even more than a year to complete an outfit with extensive chikankari stitching. As a result of this awareness, the appreciation for chikankari needlework has increased manyfold in present times.

Final Thoughts

The art of this traditional Indian embroidery has greatly evolved throughout the years. And in the future, the entire world will continue to see its transformation. A unique, out-of-the-ordinary design can be created by fusing traditional patterns with contemporary forms. 

As an ode to this traditional Indian embroidery, the House of Chikankari brings to you a wide range of chikankari clothing pieces for both women and men. Now, celebrate your love for chikankari with them. Happy shopping!

Frequently Asked Questions on Chikankari

Q. What technique is used in Chikankari?

A. Tepchi, also known as a long-running or darning stitch, is created with six strands on the right side of the fabric, crossing over four threads and picking up one. Thereby, a line is created. It is mostly used as a foundation for more stitchery, though it is occasionally employed to create a square shape.

Q. Which Mughal is popularly credited with Mughal Chikankari?

A. Noor Jahan, wife of the Mughal emperor Jahangir is credited to bring the art of chikankari to India. 

Q. Where is the origin of Chikankari art?

A. The origin of chikankari art dates back to the times of Mughal rule, when the wife of Jahangir, Noor Jaha bought this art to India in the city of Lucknow, hence the art is also known as Lucknowi embroidery.

Read More:

The Evolution of Chikankari Embroidery: From Tradition to Trend

Ways to Style a Chikankari Dupatta: From Classic to Contemporary

Chikankari Fusion: How to Mix and Match Chikankari with Western Wear for Women