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Chikankari – The Floral White Work of India – Guest Blogger: Penny Peters

April 27, 2017

A story is told about the origins of Chikankari, the floral white work of India, that hundreds of years ago a Mughal emperor was scandalized because he could see the body of one of the women in his harem through her garment.  When the lady was asked to explain her immodesty, she showed that she was in fact covered in seven layers of embroidered gauzy white fabric.  Its sheerness was said to be so fine that even seven layers would not entirely hide the body.  Well, true or not, the story explains a lot about Chikankari, Indian white work done on the sheerest of handwoven cotton fabric called mul mul. However, the story goes that Chikankari became a favorite of the Mughal courts during the hot dry summer seasons.  According to Sheila Paine in her book Chikan Embroidery—The Floral Whitework of India, it was a craft practiced by Muslims primarily in the Dacca, Calcutta and Lucknow areas, and reached its peak of popularity in the 19th Century. 

When in Lucknow, I had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Ruth Chakravarty who employs women to embroider colorful non- traditional textiles (silk, wool and cotton) using Chikankari motifs.  She kindly showed historical as well as modern examples of this beautiful work, and allowed me to photograph a few.  The photos I have included here illustrate both antique and modern examples of Chikankari.  In the modern examples at least three strands of embroidery floss are used, even on the sheerest fabric, thereby giving a great contrast in texture. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Barbara Fox permalink
    April 27, 2017 4:43 am

    Beautiful embroidery with an almost contemporary look.

  2. April 27, 2017 6:03 pm

    Those designs look almost Victorian. Thanks for sharing.

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