Lucknow chikan, and more

Printing blocks for chikan embroidery designs, Lucknow, India (27th July 2017).

Printing blocks for chikan embroidery designs, Lucknow, India (27th July 2017).

Today (27 July 2017) has been spent wandering around the Indian city of Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. We bought several items, including two veils worn by the groom (sic) at an Indian wedding (Hindu, Muslim and Sikh). These are called sehra and can be made from flowers,, beads, etc. They are hung from the groom’s turban during the early parts of the wedding ceremony. The bride may wear a net veil or sometimes a matching sehra. The examples we bought are for the Shia Muslim community and include the name of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed.

More specifically, however, we have been learning about chikan thanks to the help of Dr Sugandha Shanker. We first went to the main museum in Lucknow (which is situated in the zoo) to see some nineteenth century examples of chikan (two types, the flat and the raised versions) and then onto the old bazaar and we talked with various craftsmen (especially the block printers) and sellers, as well as briefly discussed embroidery with some of the women who actually produce the work. Thursday is a quiet day in the bazaar and it opens up again in full force on a Friday, but we now have a shopping list for tomorrow of traditional forms, and modern examples of the latest developments, including black chikan. Can this actually be called chikan? Well, according to the people here, yes.

Detail of a pashmina shawl decorated with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, India (photograph 27th July 2017).

Detail of a pashmina shawl decorated with chikan embroidery, Lucknow, India (photograph 27th July 2017).

We also visited the most amazing designer chikan shop, called ADA, which is run by Mr Haider Ali Khan, a knowledgable and very courteous gentlement who clearly loves chikan. The shop has a wide variety of chikan forms, from traditional to modern. They are also working on sustainable forms of ground cloth, using protein fibres (milk, corn, bamboo, banana, as well as lotus – this one was a new one to me and is very soft). In addition, he very kindly brought out some of the rarest and most valuable examples in his shop, so we could appreciate their beauty. These included one form of chikan worked on a pashmina twill weave ground (extremely difficult to embroider with the chikan techniques) and a chikan sari that took about two years to make (for sale at a simple, one lakh of rupees or about 1400 euros). It is an amazing piece of work and I could just look at it for hours seeing how the stitches and designs have been brought together. In fact I ordered a small sample (A4 size) for the TRC Collection, it will take about three months to make. More about that in the future! I would also like to thank Mr. Khan for a lovely framed piece of chikan embroidery, which he very kindly gave me.

There was another type of embroidery called kamdani, which involves using narrow stripes of metal plate. A type of work that is dying out as it is so labour intensive. Unlike chikan work that is regarded as women’s embroidery, kamdani is worked by men (probably because it involves metal thread). If you are in Lucknow and have time to visit ADA (63 Hazratganj, Lucknow), then please do, it is worth it.

Gillian Vogelsang, 27th July 2017


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