Chikankari is a rare form of embroidery that is completely handwoven. ‘Chikan’ in the literal sense means embroidery. It has its roots in Lucknow and hence is popularly known as Lucknowi Chikankari. The word ‘Chikan’ is basically derived from Persian word ‘Chikeen’. It is also referred to as ‘shadow work’. Each embroidery is unique owing to the handcrafted nature of this art. Chikankari is regarded as an exclusive art worldwide and has gained a lot of recognition and has become a major style statement in India. The main significance of the embroidery is the subtle classy look that it exudes. This impeccable handcrafted beauty with its elegance and finesse has intrigued us to find out more about the story behind the Chikankari heritage and how it is crafted.

Traditional Lucknowi Chikankari saree

History of the Art

Lucknow is the state capital of Uttar Pradesh and is world renowned for its traditional Chikankari embroidery. This traditional embroidery style is one of Lucknow’s most ancient and well-known art forms, believed to be introduced by the Mughals. It is said that the art drew inspiration from the intricately carved patterns of the Mughal architecture. It is believed that Noor Jahan, the wife of the Mughal emperor introduced the Persian Art in India during the 17th Century. She was a talented embroideress herself who had a passion for this art.
There are also mentions about the Chikankari work by a famous Greek traveller, Megasthanese as early as the 3rd Century B.C who described the floral work on muslin clothes used by the Indians. Chikankari in Lucknow is older than 400 years. There are 5000 families involved in Chikankari embroidery in and around villages of Lucknow. Till date, Lucknow remains as the main centre for Chikan embroidery and Awadh a close second.

Lucknow- The birth place of the art of chikankari

Tools used

The main tools used in creating this magnificent art are carved blocks for printing, wooden frames for fixing the fabric on which it is embroidered, needles, resham and cotton threads, removable inks for printing and the base fabric.

Carved blocks used in printing designs on fabric

Process of making the Chikan embroidery

In the earlier days the Chikan embroidery was mainly done on white fabrics like muslin or mulmul with white threads.Nowadays, we can find many variations in colours and fabrics like silk, tusser, organza, chiffon and georgette are also used. The process of creating the embroidery on garments involve a few steps like-

Printing:- The design to be printed on the fabric is visualised. The design is then carved on a wooden block which is dipped into the dye and stamped on the fabric by skilled printing artisans.

Pre-work. Printing patterns with blocks dipped in dyes

Embroidery:– During the embroidery process, the printed fabric is stretched out on a frame called Adda and the needlework is done on top of the printed designs.The type of stitching used depends on the specialty of the region and the type and size of the motifs. Some of the most popular stitches in Lucknow chikankari include the backstitch, chain stitch and hemstitch. The result is an open work pattern, a jail (lace) or shadow work. A majority of women are involved in embroidery.

Chikan embroidery using resham threads

Washing:- After the completion of the embroidery work the fabric is then rinsed to remove any dirt and the printed outlines. Any minor snags are rectified during this stage. The fabric is then starched to give the right stiffness.

Washing the embroidered fabric to remove the dirt and print marks

Types of stitches

This unique embroidery consists of a variety of stitching styles that may take years for an artisan to master the skill of chikankari embroidery. Focus and precision of details are pivotal in bringing out the exclusive designs hence, recreating a design is not easy. Each embroidery is unique mainly because they are hand work and not done by machines. There are 32 stitches of chikankari, which are broadly classified into Raised stitch, Embossed and Flat stitch and Open Trellis.
*Flat Stitches: these stitches merge with the fabric and give an impression that embroidery is itself the texture of the fabric.

Different kinds of stitches used

Open Trellis: stitch is one where the thread is never drawn through the fabric, they are made by teasing the warps and weft yarns apart by needle and holding them in position by small stitches to give it a net effect. This process creates jaalis and regular holes in the fabric.

There are many other types of Chikankari stitches which are: Banjkali, Makra, Kauri, Sazi, Karan, Kapkapi, Madrazi, Bulbul-Chasm, Taj Mahal, Chanapatti, Keel Kangan, Sidhaul etc.


Floral motifs and foliate patterns are indispensable when it comes to chikankari work. This is owing to the Persian influence. Embellishments like Mukaish, Kamdani, Badla as well as Sequin, Bead and mirror work add richness and a luxurious look to the outfit.

Mughal inspired foliate patterns on chikankari embroidery

The Chikankari trend in Bollywood

Chikankari garments are not only a traditional go-to outfit for celebrations and festivals but have also gained great recognition on ramps and it’s rich craftsmanship has been welcomed and admired even in the western world. The Bollywood divas flaunting elegant Chikan embroidered outfits are creating a lot of sensation. The B town heartthrobs like Deepika Padukone, Aalia Bhatt, Aishwarya Rai, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra have been spotted flaunting dainty drapes in Chikankari at various occasions making this celebrated art even more desirable.

Bollywood sensation Deepika Padukone slaying it in a gorgeous aqua Chikankari saree

Needless to say that Indian designers like Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla have been dedicated to uplifting the status of traditional crafts in India and chikankari has remained their specialty, with actress Judi Dench, of the James Bond series, wearing one of their stunning creations while receiving an Oscar in the year 2004.

Hollywood actress flaunting Indian Chikankari garment at the Oscars awards.

This Lucknowi art was first seen on Bollywood screens in the movie Anjuman that was set in Lucknow which revolved around the theme of women exploitation and the problems faced by the local Chikan embroidery workers.

Interesting Facts

The Chikankari industry consists of more than 2.5lakh artisans which is the biggest artisans cluster in India.
This time consuming and highly skilled art can take up to 20 years for a person to master it. Depending upon the intricacy and complexity of the designs it can take upto 10 days to complete an embroidery process.
The famous Hollywood pop singer Madonna wore a chikankari embroidered outfit in the film, The Next Big Thing.
Ustad Faiyaaz Khanand Hasan Mirza Saheb are two of the most renowned Chikan artisans of Lucknow and have mentored many students under them.
The Geographical Indication Registry accorded Lucknow Chikan the GI status in December 2008.

Other uses

Chikan embroidery is not only used to adorn garments like sarees, lehengas, salwars, kurtas and kurtis but has also been used to beautify household items like cushion covers, table cloths, wall art and lampshades. It is so versatile that it can be made on a multitude of fabrics.

Chikankari embroidery used to beautify household items like lamp shades
Cushion cover in chikan work


It is always best to dry clean Chikan embroidered outfits when made on delicate and sheen fabrics like silk, chiffon, georgette etc. Gentle hand wash is advisable if the fabric is cotton.


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