The town of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh is often cited as its main (historical) centre, giving rise to the name of Lucknawi chikan for chikan from Lucknow. Two other places that were famous for chikan were Dakka and Calcutta in northeastern India, mainly producing for the European market. According to some scholars, chikan did actually originate there.
Chikan is characteristically worked from the back of the cloth (shadow work). Chikan probably started as a form of whitework. It is generally worked on a range of fine materials, including chiffon, muslin and silk (a Lucknow specialty). Originally white, untwisted embroidery threads were used, although pale brown muga silk may also be applied, but nowadays also coloured threads are used, and so are additional decorations, such as badla, beads, sequins and shisha. Blocks are used to imprint the motifs with a mixture of glue and indigo (often on the front of the cloth), thus to facilitate the embroidery (from the back).
The number of stitches that traditionally being used is limited. There are only six, which are only used in specific ways, plus a larger number of other stitches. The basic stitches include the backstitch, buttonhole stitch, chain stitch and hem stitch. Chikan may include pulled thread work (localled called jali work). The most common motifs of chikan are floral.
In the past, chikan was principally used to decorate garments. Nowadays, it is also used to decorate household furnishings. The craftsmen producing chikan used to be mainly muslims.
Also known as Lucknow lace or Delhi lace.
See also the film Anjuman and the entry on a 1900 AD angarkha with chikan work now in the collection of the Textile Museum of Canada. There is also an entry on a chikan now in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Source: PAINE, Sheila (1989). Chikan Embroidery. The Floral Whitework of India. Aylesbury: Shire Publications.