The technique is said to have been brought to India from Persia by Noor Jehan, queen of mughal emperor Jehangir. The word Chikan is derived from the Persian word Chikaan which means drapery. The craft itself survived in India under the Mughal influence and later flourished in the courts of the kings of Oudh.
Traditional style Chikan Embroidery featuring White thread embroidery
Lucknow is the location that the craft is most famously practised. So much so that Lucknowi Chikan is prized and valued for the expertise of the artisans and the quality of finishing. Traditionally, Chikan was practised as a White on White embroidery technique, but as the craft evolved and in present day, coloured threads are also used. Traditionally the base cloth was fine cotton and this is still largely the case. With the evolution of the craft, embellishments like beads, mukaish, etc. have also been included alongwith the embroidery.
Coloured threads used for Chikan Embroidery
The original Chikan products being made with fine cotton, proved to be too delicate and according to legend, had to be discarded after a couple of washes. This started to change from the times of the British in India who commercialised the craft to a certain extent and even started exporting it back to England. The products found their way to some of the most exquisite homes in England and were often treasured for generations. Motifs used for embroidery included nature inspired ones like the creeper, animals and flowers. The fish was a very popular and common motif used in Lucknow.
Fish motifs were used extensively for chikan
Photos: images.ac.uk, pinterest.com, lucknowobserver.com,