The noble Chikankari

Needle, thread and the finest of organic cottons make up the new line of Ethicus saris that come embellished with extraordinary embroidery from Lucknow

At the back of the Crafts Council of India meet in the city, Vijayalakshmi Nachiar of Ethicus brings another old and hallowed craft with her upcoming exhibition. This time it is the Chikankari embroidery of Lucknow.

“I was looking for ways to take our fine cotton fabric to another level by using embroidery and I researched on places where traditionally cotton was the raw material. When it came to embroidery, it was Chikankari that was traditionally done on very very fine cotton,” says Vijayalakshmi.

A lot of preparation went into the project. She went to Lucknow several times to find the right artisans (several groups of women embroider there). She finally narrowed it down to a group of 30 women “Who seemed perfect for what I had envisioned for my saris,” she says.

The noble Chikankari

In the course of her exploration, Vijayalakshmi learnt that once upon a time Chikankari used as many as 75 different kinds of stitches. “Now around 25 of them are still in existence in the really fine work. Otherwise, not more than three or four different kinds are commonly used.” A combination of stitches determine the delicacy and the cost of the sari. “Besides the shadow work, there are stitches like, Hathkadi, Phanda, Murri, Bijli, Kil, Bhakia, Karanphool, Jaali, Hul, Kate, Ghaspatti, Pechni, etc. Each stitch lends a certain appearance and texture to the fabric. Some are worked on the underside of the fabric, some stitches lie flush with the cloth, some are raised... “Since at Ethicus we have both fine plain and textured cotton, we have attempted varying combination of stitches. And they look different in each kind of sari. The saris have gold pallu and borders and we have added colourful tassels to make them dressier,” she explains.

The noble Chikankari

It took eight months to create this line. Five to six women work on one sari and it takes them anything up to six months to complete one piece depending on the work. While in days of yore the motifs were picked out in a single strand of thread (ek taar), rarely does anyone do that any more. The Ethicus saris have been embroidered with two strands of thread (do taar). In the more prevelant Chikan work available three or more strands are used.

Info you can use
  • The Chikankaari saris range from Rs 18, 000 to Rs 80, 000
  • There will also be a collection of Ajrakh and Bandhini saris upwards of Rs 6, 000.
  • Venue: Whispering Stones, Uppilipalayam, Coimbatore.
  • Date: 14 & 15 February, 2020 (Friday and Saturday)
  • Time: 10 am to 7 pm.

“The original motifs were inspired by Persian gardens, the bootis, the flowers, the bels, The jaali work is the most painstaking one. These motifs originate from the trellised screens behind which the women in Purdah lived their lives and observed the world outside. We did one sari with jaali work that was a revival of a 100-year-old design and that was snapped up as soon as we got it. It was a white on white,” says Viji, adding the fish is another motif that was the state symbol of the Nawab of Lucknow.

While one story attributes the origin of Chikankari to Mughal Royalty, there is another which says it all began with a bored princess of Murshidabad. Looking for something to do, the lady began to embroider complicated motifs with very fine thread on very fine cotton to make a cap for her husband. They say it kept her occupied for a year. The long and the short of it, the women from noble families took it up and for a long time Chikankari was a sign of the most refined and the best of blue blood fashion. Achkans, dupattas, caps...all showed off the intricate embroidery.

“Some of the incredible Chikankari embroidery still exists in private collections and in museums,” says Viji and shows an autographed copy of an edifying book by textile expert Paola Manfredi, called Chikankari A Lucknawi Tradition, which further inspired her on this project.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 7:50:36 PM |

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