Embellishing and ornamenting one own self has been the most attractive and passionate activities practiced for centuries all over the world. With time the same logic and passion got transferred to fabric that was used to cover the body and we were introduced to many new forms of art or handicraft aiming for fabric decoration.
Yes the art of Embroidery it was.
Another way to look at its development long long ago is that when mankind was introduced to cloth; need to tailor, patch, mend and reinforce cloth fostered the development of sewing techniques and the decorative possibilities of sewing led to the art of embroidery.
Using a thread or yarn and a needle, raised surface effects are created on the flat woven fabric surface imparting it a distinctive appearance. Initially basic stitches viz. chain, buttonhole, blanket, running, satin, cross stitch were employed and with time other materials like mirrors, pearls, beads etc. were also incorporated to build unique creations. However, those basic stitches still form the fundamental techniques of hand embroidery in India today.
India boasts a range of traditional embroideries from different states embodying their regional, cultural and social influences. Read further to get more insight on traditional embroideries of India.
Belongs to – Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Famous as shadow work, Chikankari embroidery is a very delicate and intricate work from the city of Lucknow. A skill more than 200 years old, the embroidery is famous for its timeless grace and gossamer delicacy. Also known as Chikan, the embroidery is traditionally done using a white untwisted cotton thread on colourless muslin popularly known as tanzeb (the muslim from Dacca).
This form of embroidery came to India from Persia with Noor Jehan, the queen of the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. It is also said that the word chikan is a derivative from the Persian word ‘chikaan‘ meaning drapery. The craft flourished under the benign nawabi influence and later with the British influence designs became more formal resulting in an export market in Europe and England.
Originally, chikan embroidery was done with the untwisted white cotton thread on soft, white cotton fabric like muslin or cambric. It was sometimes done on net to produce a kind of lace. Today chikan work is not only done with coloured threads but on all kinds of fabrics like silk, crepe, georgette, organdie chiffon, and tassar.
In Chikankari, the design to be embroidered is printed on the fabric using wooden blocks dipped in fugitive colours, which are commonly made by mixing a glue and indigo with water. For extra fine designs, brass-blocks are used sometimes.
Application of stitches in chikankari holds great importance and demands particular discipline. The embroidery has a repertoire of about 40 stitches which can be broadly divided into 3 heads flat, raised and embossed stitches and the open trellis-like jaali work.
Chikankari flat stitches with their traditional names are:
1. Bukhia: Most common chikan stitch to get the effect of shadow work. Bukhia is very similar to the herringbone stitch done on backside and front side to give a shadow effect.
It is done in two ways
a) From back side (ulta bakhia), the floats lie on the reverse of the fabric underneath the motif. The transparent muslin becomes opaque and provides a beautiful effect of light and shade.
b) From front side (sidha bakhia), it is the satin stitch with criss-crossing of individual threads. The floats of thread lie on the surface of the fabric. This is used to fill the forms and there is no light or shade effect.
2. Taipchi: It is the running stitch worked on the right side of the fabric. It is occasionally done within parallel rows to fill petals and leaves. Sometimes taipchi is used to make the bel buti all over the fabric. This is the simplest chikan stitch and often serves as a basis for further embellishment. It resembles jamdani and is considered the cheapest and the quickest stitch.
Pechni: It is the variation build on Taipchi where the taipchi base is covered by entwining the thread over it in a regular manner thus forming a lever spring.
3.Gitti: A combination of buttonhole and long satin stitch, usually used to make a wheel-like motif with a tiny hole in the center.
4. Jangira: It is the chain stitch usually used as outlines in combination with a line of pechni or thick taipchi.
Chikankari knotted, embossed stitches with their traditional names are:
1. Murri: It is the diagonal satin stitches worked several times with a knot on a basic taipchi stitch to form a grain shape.
2. Phanda: It is a smaller shortened form of murri. The knots made are spherical and very small. It resembles millets, gives a raised effect and is used to fill petals and leaves.
3. Dhum patti: It is the leaf pattern made of cross-stitch.
4. Ghas patti: It is the grass leaves formed by V-shaped line of stitches worked in a graduated series on the right side of the fabric.
Besides there are two other important forms of embellishments:
1. Jali work: The jaalis or trellises that are created in chikankari are a unique speciality of this craft. It gives an effect of open mesh or net created by carefully pushing warps and wefts apart by needle without cutting or drawing of thread. The act thus make neat regular holes or jaalis on the fabric.
2. Khatawa: It is an appliqué work similar to bakhia, which produces a flat effect. It is more of a technique than a stitch.
The source of most of the design motifs in chikankari is Mughal. Noor Jehan’s personal preferences and desire to replicate the Turkish architectural open-work designs is said to have that led to the introduction of jaalis in chikan embroidery. The designs in chikan are graded and used according to the stitches employed – murri ka buta and tepchi ka jaal – though terms like hathi (elephant) and kairi (mango) are also used to signify the shape of the motif. It is however the stitch employed that is the established nomenclature. Other common motifs include mostly paisley, flowers, foliages, creepers, fruits, birds like peacock and parrots.
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