Chikankari is one of oldest and most beautiful embroidery styles in India. This style originated and flourished in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, and it remains, till today, the epicenter of chikan work in India. There are many stories about genesis of Chikan work. There is evidence of Megasthenes, the Greek traveler, mentioning a ‘flowered muslin’ as early as 3 A.D., which might have been a reference to Chikan work. It definitely became well-known during the reign of the Mughals; in fact, one of the most popular origin stories gives the credit of inventing Chikankari to Noor Jehan. Whether or not this is true, the Mughals certainly patronized this beautiful, delicate embroidery form. Many Chikan artisans were only able to develop their art and create sartorial master pieces thanks to the patronage of Mughal kings and queens. Today, Chikankari is used to decorate wide variety of clothing items, from sarees and salwar kameez to kurtas, kameez and indo western tunics.
Chikankari tunics have become an immensely popular indo-western garment, not just in India, but in countries around the world. Tunics are much loved for the wonderful way they combine comfort and style. They are considered extremely trendy and ethnic tunics, also called kurtas, are highly in-demand amongst those with a taste for bohemian or ethnic fashion. The beauty of Chikan tunics is that they enable a woman to flaunt an exquisite and beautiful embroidery style without investing in an expensive and heavy party-wear garment. Tunics are not only comfortable they are also very versatile; you can wear them for daily wear and for special occasions, depending on their designs and the styling.
A chikan tunic is similar to a chikan kurti, kurta or kameez (top half of a salwar kameez). It is a long, loose garment that can end anywhere between the hips and the knees, with some form of Chikan work done either all over the garment or concentrated at the borders, sleeves and neckline. This form of embroidery is one of the most delicate and beautiful in the world, and the process of its creation involves several steps. First, the Chikan artisan creates detailed designs on a piece of paper. That design is then engraved on to wooden blocks, which are dipped in a light, washable dye and pressed to the cloth. The pattern is then carefully embroidered over to create the unique Chikan work effect. At the final stage, the cloth is washed and finished to remove any signs of the dye. The piece is then cut into the shape of a tunic, or any other garment, as per requirement.
You can use different stitches to create the unique jaali or net-like effect of Chikan work. Also called shadow work, it has a very intricate, attractive look, which is achieved owing to the delicacy of the embroidery and the prettiness of the designs. These are often very feminine, nature-inspired depictions, with floral effusions being the most popular. There are many different motifs which have become a characteristic of Chikan work; Tepchi, Bakhiya, Hool, Murri, Jaali and Bulbul-chasm are just a few of these charming traditional motifs. Artistic and stylized depictions of objects occurring in nature are extremely popular. From pretty birds of different types to flowering branches, from large roses and jasmines to waving lotuses, the variety of motifs used is tremendous and truly dazzling.
Chikankari tunics are more often than not made using light, pretty fabrics like muslin, silk, organza, chiffon and georgette. The less expensive, daily wear varieties are made with faux versions of chiffon and silk. At times, cotton is also used to make comfortable summer-wear Chikan tunics. The amount and types of designs on these tunics can also vary. While some have designs all over the tunic, others have work concentrated only along the borders or necklines. The classic Chikan tunic is made in the traditional style, with long sleeves and round or high v-neck, in cool, light shades of white, blue and pink. However, to keep up with the times, Chikankari artisans today produce more colorful varieties in brighter shades, with different types of sleeves and necklines to appeal to the younger generation.
Chikan Tunics: Styles and Trends
You can wear a Chikan tunic during any time of the year, in summer or winter, sans worrying about how stylish it is. This type of classic embroidery form never really goes out of fashion and is sure to add an elegant, feminine touch of ethnic beauty to any ensemble. To emphasize the classy and sophisticated aura of this type of work, women should pair up their Chikan tunics with pearl jewelry like pearl necklaces or pearl studded bracelets. With simple, every day wear tunics, simple silver jewelry such as a pendant, necklace or earrings will be a great choice.