Chikankari hand-embroidery
Traditional Chikankari hand-embroidery by Craft Artisans of India

Chikankari (Urdu: چِکن کاری, Hindi: चिकन की कढ़ाई, चिकनकारी) is a traditional embroidery style from Lucknow, India. Translated, the word means embroidery (using thread or wire), and it is one of Lucknow's best known textile decoration styles. The main market in Lucknow for Chikankari based products is Chowk. Production is mainly based in Lucknow and in the adjoining districts.


There are references to embroidery similar to chikan work in India as early as 3rd century BC by Megasthenes, who mentioned use of flowered muslins by Indians, but these embroidered patterns lacked the characteristic features of chikan, such as colour, ornamentation, or any notable embellishment.[1] According to Laila Tyabji, chikankari stems from the white-on-white embroidery of Shiraz came to India as part of a culture of Persian nobles at the Mughal court.[2] There is also a tale that mentions how a traveler taught chikan to a peasant in return of water to drink. The most popular origin story credits Noor Jahan, Mughal empress and wife of Jahangir, for introducing chikankari to India.[3][4]

Chikan began as a type of white-on-white (or whitework) embroidery.[5]


The technique of chikan embroidery is known as chikankari (चिकनकारी چکن کاری). Chikankari is a delicate and artfully done hand embroidery on a variety of textile fabrics like cotton, chanderi, muslin, georgette, viscose, silk, organza, net, etc. White thread is embroidered on cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments. Nowadays chikan embroidery is also done with colored and silk threads in colors to meet the fashion trends and keep chikankari up-to-date. Lucknow is the heart of the chikankari industry today and the variety is known as Lucknawi chikan.

Chikan work in recent times has adopted additional embellishments like Mukaish, Kamdani, Badla, sequin, bead, and mirror work, which gives it a rich look. Chikan embroidery is mostly done on fabrics like cotton, semi-Georgette, pure Georgette, crepe, chiffon, silk, and any other fabric which is light and which highlights the embroidery. The fabric cannot be too thick or hard, else the embroidery needle won't pierce it. Also, sheer fabric allows the part of the stitches on the reverse of the fabric to give a shadow effect, which is characteristic of the technique.

The piece begins with one or more pattern blocks that are used to block-print a pattern on the ground fabric. The embroiderer stitches the pattern, and the finished piece is carefully washed to remove all traces of the printed pattern.[6] The process of chikankari includes the following steps:


The patterns and effects created depend on the stitches and the thicknesses of the threads used. Some of the stitches include backstitch, chain stitch and hemstitch. The result is an open work pattern, jali (lace) or shadow-work. Often the embroiderer creates mesh-like sections by using a needle to separate threads in the ground fabric, and then working around the spaces.[6] It consists of 32 stitches:[7]

Front view of Bakhiya Chikan embroidery being done over temporary block printed pattern
Bakhiya Chikan embroidery from the back

GI status

Geographical Indication Registry (GIR) accorded Geographical Indication (GI) status for chikankari in December 2008, which recognized Lucknow as an exclusive hub of chikankari.[10]

In popular culture

The 1986 Indian film Anjuman directed by Muzaffar Ali and starring Shabana Azmi and Farooque Shaikh is set in Lucknow and deals with issues of chikan workers.[11] In fact, Farooque Shaikh was so charmed by this fabric and style that he wore chikan all his life and came to be identified as a brand ambassador of sorts of Lakhnavi chikankari.


  1. ^ Manfredi, Paola (2004). "Chikankari of Lucknow". In Dhamija, Jasleen (ed.). Asian Embroidery. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 9788170174509.
  2. ^ Manfredi, Paola (2004). "Chikankari of Lucknow". In Dhamija, Jasleen (ed.). Asian Embroidery. Abhinav Publications. ISBN 9788170174509.
  3. ^ "Chikankari". Cultural India. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  4. ^ Wilkinson-Weber, Clare M. (1999). Embroidering Lives: Women's Work and Skill in the Lucknow Embroidery Industry. State University of New York Press. pp. 12–13. ISBN 9780791440872.
  5. ^ Wilkinson-Weber, Clare M. (1999). Embroidering Lives: Women's Work and Skill in the Lucknow Embroidery Industry. State University of New York Press. p. 24. ISBN 9780791440872.
  6. ^ a b Dusenbury, Mary M. (2004). Flowers, Dragons and Pine Trees: Asian Textiles in the Spencer Museum of Art. Hudson Hills Press. p. 42. ISBN 1-55595-238-0.
  7. ^ "Stitches in Chikankari". Archived from the original on 14 June 2010. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  8. ^ "Tepchi Stitch: Running Stitches In Chikankari". Utsavpedia. 17 August 2015. Retrieved 25 October 2019.
  9. ^ Brijbhushan, Jamila (2006). Indian Embroidery. Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. p. 46. ISBN 8123013698.
  10. ^ "Chikankari GI a step towards international branding". The Times of India. 16 January 2009. Archived from the original on 31 January 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2013.
  11. ^ Anuradha Dingwaney Needham; Rajeswari Sunder Rajan (28 December 2006). The Crisis of Secularism in India. Duke University Press. pp. 235–236. ISBN 0-8223-8841-3.

Further reading