Chikankari embroidery from India has long been one of my favourite fabrics since I wore my first piece 23 years ago.
It was a scorching day, but my determination did not waver.
My crinkled list held tightly in my sweaty hand. I was going to find the shop.
After weeks of research, I had a few names on a post-it note.
The search for authentic Chikankari embroidery was on. I will find it!
Rich History in India
India's heritage of textiles, arts, crafts and fine needlework is hard to match.
Scattered throughout the country are examples of artisans with honed skills passed down the generations.
It's no surprise that more than one international fashion designer utilizes these rare skills in their couture collections.
Chikankari is fine cotton embroidery work, most often seen on white (or light coloured) cotton material.
My first Chikankari outfit
It looks a little like delicate embossed patterns when placed on similar coloured backgrounds. I was interested to learn that Chikankari is also known as "shadow work" since this describes the effect perfectly. (1)
Chikankari is most famous in the city of Lucknow.
There are still artisans in Lucknow today who make the authentic version. It takes time and skill. And it costs more than the machine-made replicas.
Style and Grace
The "shadow" effect of using white on white or while on light colours is very appealing to my sedate style sensibility.
Unfortunately, I cannot generally carry off bold and bright mixes of colours.
But the subtle design in Chikankari suits me - When I wear it, it feels like "me."
The patterns carry a restrained sense; Not overly "loud;" not too "complex."
It is simple yet beautiful work. When paired with fabrics like silk, cotton and muslin, it lends an air of royal-like grace to what is often a basic outfit.
The Search - Finding Chikankari
Although very popular with the women I met in India, Chikakari is not that easy to find.
This day I was searching in Mumbai.
I could find the shops but not necessarily my preferred colour combinations.
Searching across town in traffic and summer is not an easy task.
I came across one shop in South Mumbai, hidden from sight like many gems in Mumbai.
The shop had mountains of pieces with many options in the colour combination I prefered.
I selected a gorgeous cream kurta with slightly lighter cream stitching.
It looked Royal (Am I a princess? No, Jen, you are not).
I was happy to find this piece amongst the piles of outfits.
The fine work and delicate material feel luxurious to wear. It feels 'designer.'
I like the occasional "flaw" or pulled stitch too.
It feels original and one-of-a-kind. It's not machine perfect.
Only I have this piece. It's unique.
Do you love Chikankari? Let me know where I can find more! Comment below.