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Chikan (embroidery)

File:Kurta closeup sandalwood buttons.jpg
Chikan embroidery on a cotton kurta

Chikan (Hindi: चिकन, Urdu: چکن‎) is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow, India. Literally translated, the word means embroidery. Believed to have been introduced by Nur Jehan, the wife of Mughal emperor Jahangir,[1] it is one of Lucknow's best known textile decoration styles.


There are several theories about the origin of Chikankari. Chikankari - the process of chikan - was basically invented in Lucknow. It developed quickly during the period when the Mughals ruled and consisted of styles inspired by foreigners.[citation needed] Lucknow grew into an international market for its renowned Chikankari work. There are references to Indian Chikan work as early as 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned the use of flowered muslins by Indians.[citation needed] There is also a tale that mentions how a traveler taught Chikankari to a peasant in return of water to drink. However, the Noor Jahan story is the most popular of the lot.[2]

Chikan began as a type of white-on-white (or whitework) embroidery.[citation needed]


The technique of creation of a chikan work is known as chikankari (चिकनकारी چکن کاری). Chikankari is a delicate and artfully done hand embroidery on a variety of textile fabric like muslin, silk, chiffon, organza, net etc. White thread is embroidered on cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments. Nowadays chikan embroidery is also done with coloured and silk threads in different colours to meet the recent fashion trends and keep chikankari up-to-date. Lucknow is the heart of the Chikankari industry today and the variety is known as Lucknawi chikan.

Chikankari or Chikan work in the recent times has also adapted additional embellishments like Mukaish, Kamdani, Badla, Kamdani, Sequin, bead and mirror work, which gives it a rich look. Chikan embroidery is mostly done on fabrics like, Cotton, Semi Georgette, Pure Georgette, Crepe, Chiffon, Silk and any other fabric which is light and which highlights the embroidery. Also, it should be taken care of that the fabric is not too thick or hard, else the embroidery needle won't pierce it.

The piece begins with the use of one or more pattern blocks that are used to block-print a pattern on the ground fabric. The embroiderer then stitches the pattern, and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printed pattern.[3] Process of Chikankari includes following steps:

  • Design
  • Engraving
  • Block printing
  • Embroidery
  • Washing & finishing

The patterns and effects created depend on the types of stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used in the embroidery. Some of the varieties of stitches used include backstitch, chain stitch and hemstitch. The result is an open work pattern, jali (lace) or shadow-work. Often the embroiderer creates mesh-like sections in the design by using a needle to separate threads in the ground fabric, and then working around the spaces.[3] It consists of 36 different stitches, which are:[4]

Front view of Chikan embroidery being done over temporary block printed pattern
Chikan embroidery from the back
  • Tepchi
  • Bakhiya
  • Hool
  • Zanzeera
  • Rahet
  • Banarsi
  • Khatau
  • Phanda''
  • Murri
  • Jali
  • Turpai
  • Darzdari
  • Pechani
  • Bijli
  • Ghaspatti
  • Makra
  • Kauri
  • Hathkadi
  • Banjkali
  • Sazi
  • Karan
  • Kapkapi
  • Madrazi
  • Bulbul-chasm
  • Taj Mahal
  • Janjeera
  • Kangan
  • Dhania-patti
  • Rozan
  • Meharki
  • Chanapatti
  • Baalda
  • Jora
  • Keel kangan
  • bulbul
  • sidhaul
  • ghas ki patti

GI status

Geographical Indication Registry (GIR) accorded the Geographical Indication (GI) status for chikankari in December 2008, which recognized Lucknow as an exclusive hub of chikankari.[5]

In popular culture

1986 Indian film, Anjuman (1986) directed by Muzaffar Ali and starring Shabana Azmi and Farooq Shaikh is set in Lucknow and deals with issues of chikan workers.[6]


  1. ^ Wilkinson-Weber, Clare M. (1999). 5. Skill and Knowledge in Fine Chikan Embroidery, Embroidering Lives: Women's Work and Skill in the Lucknow Embroidery Industry, pp. 12-13. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-4087-7.
  2. ^ "Chikankari". Cultural India. Retrieved 2013-08-11. 
  3. ^ a b Dusenbury, Mary M. (2004). Flowers, Dragons and Pine Trees: Asian Textiles in the Spencer Museum of Art, p. 42. Hudson Hills Press. ISBN 1-55595-238-0.
  4. ^ "Stitches in Chikankari". Retrieved 2013-08-11. 
  5. ^ "Chikankari GI a step towards international branding". The Times of India. Jan 16, 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2013. 
  6. ^ Anuradha Dingwaney Needham; Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (28 December 2006). The Crisis of Secularism in India. Duke University Press. pp. 235–236. ISBN 0-8223-8841-3. 

Further reading

  • Romancing With Chikankari by Veena Singh
  • Paine, Sheila (1989). Chikan embroidery: the floral whitework of India. Shire Publications. ISBN 0-7478-0009-X. 
  • Ashok Rai (1992). Chikankari Embrodery of Lucknow. National Institute of Design. 

External links