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Floral fantasy

LALITHAA KRISHNAN
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CHIKANKARI Lucknow’s Rehana Begum has honed the art of embroidery to perfection. LALITHAA KRISHNAN

cLASSY work:Rehana Begum.Photo :R. Shivaji Rao.
cLASSY work:Rehana Begum.Photo :R. Shivaji Rao.

Rehana Begum, a Chikankari artist from Lucknow, U.P., unfolds her most prized possession with reverence – a breathtaking piece of embroidery on a soft white muslin. “I crafted this sample 20 years ago and it took four years to complete,” she says with justifiable pride. Created with stitches called ‘Anokhi Chikan,’ the motif embroidered in white thread resembles a round plate with a flower in the centre, surrounded by motifs inspired by Nawab of Awadh Wajid Ali Shah’s turban ornamentation and accessories. One motif is trellised with miniscule perforations while the tracery of delicate stitches that outlines vines and creepers leaves no impression on the reverse of the fabric! “I did not use a frame to stretch the cloth,” she adds, leaving you even more amazed.

It was under the guidance of her father Shiri Hasan Mirza, master embroiderer and recipient of the National award, that Rehana Begum began honing her skills at age of 13. “No tracing of the design, no outlining with pencil. I work entirely freehand. The design forms spontaneously as I proceed. It’s all stored up there,” she says, tapping her head. By age 20, she had mastered the six basic stitches as well as 35 traditional stitches used in chikankari vocabulary. Samples of her work set off ever-widening ripples of admiration.

Recognition came gradually, in stages - radio and TV interviews, exhibitions conducted by craft organisations such as the CCI, the Uttar Pradesh government’s State Award in 1976 and finally, the prestigious Shilp Guru award conferred by the Government of India in 2003.

Globe-trotter

On her fourth trip to Chennai, she declares she is happy with the response from the public and steady sales. Her trips around the globe have taken her to craft expos and workshops in Holland, Germany, Cuba and Dubai. Her study of market trends finds her team of artisans producing kurtas, kurtis, salwar kameez, saris and shirts.

“My family members assist me and are completely involved in this craft. Along with apprentices trained by me, we work from a room in my house in Thakur Ganj, Lucknow. Earlier, the fabric used was pure white Shehzada cotton or Dhaka ki mulmul, and the white thread used for embroidery called katcha dhaaga was procured from Dhaka or Kolkata. Nowadays, we use Anchor embroidery skeins on soft, thin cotton material and Resham thread on silk fabrics.

A deep purple-blue embroidered sari on display showcases all 35 stitches used in chikankari while a pristine white georgette with classic white on white embellishment radiates an ethereal beauty. “It took two years to complete each sari with such detailed workmanship.”

Chaman Suji and Rehana Begum were among the pan-Indian and international artists featured as Living Legends in recognition of their outstanding craftsmanship at Kaivalam, the World Crafts Council summit.

“No tracing of the design, no outlining with pencil. I work entirely freehand. The design forms spontaneously as I proceed.”

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