Fabric-fine muslin, semi-translucent, or very fine white cotton Thread- fine untwisted cotton or tussah silk and today rayon Embroidery-pulled work, shadow work: exquisite delicacy of detail Designs-flowing scrolls with creepers, flowers and leaves. never geometric Stitches-each has its own chikan name, with strict definitions of use Similar to back stitch, satin, stem, chain, eyelet, pulled fabric stitches characteristic texture, using one to twelve fine threads. Designs, with a preponderance of trailing stems often including the paisley shape, are carved on wooden blocks and stamped onto cotton fabric.


The origins of Chikan are uncertain. The word ‘chikan’ is derived from a Persian word meaning to render delicate patterns on fabric. So fine was chikankari that the Romans called them ‘textili venti'(woven winds).

In early times, the embroidery was done in Dacca, Calcutta, Bengal and in Lucknow by professional Muslim men under patronage of courts for courts and temples. Women stitched for domestic use dowries and animal trappings. Evident in the 16thC, chikankari reached its height in the 18th C in Lucknow and crystallized into its definitive form in the 19thC. With the advent of British rule, chikan work declined due to loss of patronage by the courts and landlords. The work changed from professional to a cottage industry for women. By the beginning of the 20thC, standards dropped as the industry became orientated towards the mass market resulting in cheap and rough work. Uttar Pradesh became the chief centre for the production, mainly of garments, for the huge export trade. Today chikan work is done on mulls, muslins, voiles, organzas and polyester. Whereas once primarily on garments, today it is also used on bed and table linen.

Chikan is the only white embroidery in the Indian sub-continent and is similar to Ayrshire work resulting from an exchange of ideas between continents during British rule.

Chikankari, has a fixed repertoire of stitches, each of which is only ever used in a certain way-a discipline shared by no other embroidery. (European embroiderers used stitches for whatever purpose they pleased.)


Paine, S. Chikan Embroidery: The Floral Whitework of India, Shire Publications
Morell, A. The Techniques of Indian Embroidery, Batsford, London, 1994
Piecework Magazine, May/June 2003
Jasleen Dhamijal, (Ed.) Asian Embroidery, New Delhi 2004
A-Z of Whitework: Book 1 Surface Embroidery, Inspiration Books, 2007
Swain, M. Ayrshire and other Whitework, Shire publications, 1982
Synge, L. Art of Embroidery: History of Style and Technique, Royal School of Needlework, 2001
Crill, R. Indian Embroidery, V&A Publications 1999

© Valerie Cavill 2007