Lakhnau’s Pride : Chikankari, A shopping guide – Isha Priya Singh
Isha Priya Singh

Lakhnau’s Pride : Chikankari, A shopping guide

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Lakhnau (Lucknow) means a lot of things to Lakhnavis (Lucknowis), it is not just a city but a way of life for them. However, for most non-Lakhnavis it is synonymous only with two things : Kebabs and Chikankari. My heart is always in Lucknow, its my home but I’ve been living away from it for a decade and a half. Throughout these years, whenever I’ve come home, I’ve never left without buying a suitcase full of Chikankari for my friends and colleagues. Such is the love and demand for it. As for the Kebabs. I am a vegetarian so I gently ignore the demands for them.

I get tons of messages everyday regarding Chikankari shopping, eversince I started Desi Drapes. So I decided to write a short piece that could help Chikan shoppers make informed choices. I would not go into the history, the evolution and the process of the craft  because there is plenty of material already available on the subject. This piece would be more of a basic shopping guide. I’ve tried to keep it more like a conversation in a Q&A format. I’ve also tried to be as unbiased as possible by listing down everything that is available rather than talking about my own preferences. Aaiye Bismillah karen, let’s begin :

1. What kind of clothing is available in Chikan?

Ans : Both unstitched and readymade pieces of clothing are available in Chikan.

Unstitched : Sarees, kurta sets, kurta pieces, lehenga sets, dupattas

Readymade : kurtis, kurta, palazzo pants, bottoms and skirts (limited availability)

2. What materials are used as base fabric?
Ans : Traditionally, fine muslin was used as the base fabric but now mostly cotton (Voile), Georgette and synthetic materials are used. Kota (Mostly net passed off as Kota) and Chanderi are much in trend too. Experiments are happening on organza and silks as well.
3. What colours are available in Chikan?
Ans : Traditionally, Chikan embroidery was done with a white thread on a white base but now it is available in all possible combinations : white thread on coloured fabrics, coloured thread on white fabric and coloured thread on coloured fabric.

However, white on white is a classic, white on pastel colours (pink, blue, green, yellow, mauve) remain evergreen too.

     White on white Chikan piece in cotton
5. Are the white fabrics dye-able?
Ans : Some fabrics can be dyed, you have to ask your retailer for them. If you get it dyed from the retailer, you have the option of either dyeing the thread along with the fabric or dyeing just the base, leaving the thread white.

4. Which other crafts are used in combination with Chikankari?

The Lakhnavi crafts of Mukaish and Kamdaani (made by flattened metal wires called ‘Badla‘) are most commonly used with Chikan. Gota patti and bead-work are the recent trends.

An example of Chikan and Mukaish

Gota work in combination with Chikan

5. What is the price range for Chikan products?

Ans : Chikan products range from Rs 500 – Rs 1Lac (not considering the designer wear), it’s a wide range. The price of a piece is determined by a number of factors like the quality of the base fabric, finesse of the embroidery, number of stitches used and the spread of the embroidery on the piece. By spread I mean how much embroidery the piece has – is it only around the neck, is it a dense all-over lattice or just sparse Bootis (motifs) etc. If an additional craft like Mukaish or Gota work has been used, then the price increases accordingly. Here’s a product-wise price list but it’s not exhaustive and not as per any standard. Like I’ve already explained, prices of Chikan products vary tremendously.

A) Pure Georgette sarees : 12,000 INR and above
B) Pure Georgette suits : 10,000 – 20,000 INR
C) Cotton sarees : 1500 INR and above
D) Cotton suits : 1500 – 5000 INR
E) Cotton kurta : 1000 – 4000 INR
E) Synthetic kurta : 800 – 3000 INR
Kota (non-handloom, netlike fabric) products are of two types and available mostly in one kind of embroidery called Tepchi.
F) Kota Saree : 2000 – 3500 INR

G) Kota Dupatta : 700 – 2000 INR

Tepchi work on Kota

 

The quality of Tepchi work varies and that creates a difference in prices. genuine Kota is hardly available in the market. A fine net is passed-off as Kota, it is cheaper but doesn’t have the delicateness genuine Kota does. fThe prices for genuine Kota are much higher.
6. A question that I get asked often is that : Where do I go if I want something not very expensive? I want to buy something at reasonable prices.

If this has been your question too, I request you to read the answer number 5 again to understand, how to gauge if the price of a piece is reasonable. Most shops that I will recommend are reasonable, considering that reasonable doesn’t necessarily mean cheap. We must never forget that Chikan is hand-embroidery and one piece takes weeks and months to get ready. It doesn’t exactly come cheap.

Medium quality (thick) work on synthetic fabric

6. Where can I buy Chikan in Lucknow?
There are thousands of shops in Lakhnau, scattered all over the city but I would recommend that one goes only to the places where there are Chikan markets with several shops next to each other and not to stand-alone shops as they tend to be over-priced.
The Chikan markets are Chowk, Aminabad, Janpath in Hazratganj and Kapoorathala in Aliganj.
I will not elaborate on Kapoorathala and Aminabad in this piece as I don’t know those market very well. I’ll write about them in another article in my next trip to Lucknow.
Chaliye, let’s talk about Chowk and Ganj (Nickname for Hazratganj)
Chowk
Chowk is one of the oldest areas of Lakhnau. The Chikan market in Chowk is inside and around the Gol Darwaza. If you like roaming around old mohallas (neighbourhoods) and gullys full of endearing chaos, you’ll enjoy shopping here. The fabric and embroidery quality that you will mostly find here is low to medium. I haven’t come across many high quality products in this area. If you want to buy products of low to medium price range, Chowk is better as you’ll get slightly better prices here.
I would recommend only one shop in Chowk which is Saraswati Chikan. There are two Saraswatis in Gol Darwaza, I am talking about the second one that you see when you enter, it’s in a basement.
Janpath, Hazratganj
Hazratganj, fondly called Ganj in Lakhanau, is also an old market (two centuries old) it’s always been Lakhnau’s High-street. The Janpath market in Ganj is known for its Chikan shops. If you want to shop for medium to high-quality products you must go there. Nazrana Chikan and Nazakat are the two shops that I would recommend. Both Nazrana and Nazakat have a websites. One can order from them via whatsapp and Instagram too.
Nazrana is the only shop that sells unstiched anarkali kurtas in fine cotton (just like the one I have). At other shops you’ll find mostly stitched ones.
7. Is Chowk cheaper than Hazratganj?
(This is something most Lakhnavis believe)
There are some high-quality products that are NOT widely available in Chowk, for those Ganj is preferable. However, for medium and low price ranges, especially pieces on synthetic base fabric, Chowk works out slightly cheaper. Bargaining is the norm in Chowk while most of the shops in Janpath are ‘fixed price’. Now you can decide.
8. Where can I buy Chikan online?
There are many online retailers for Chikan especially on Instagram. I recommend only three as I have closely studied their products.
A) Meiraas
Meiraas is a Lakhnavi brand that stands out of the crowd. It’s products are a unique mix of heritage revival and experimentation with modern aesthetics. If you are looking for high-finesse, concept-based pieces reflective of Awadh’s history and culture then Meiraas is for you.
B) Aaraish by Shivika Singh
Aaraish is specialized in the Awadhi crafts of Chikankari, Mukaish and Zardozi. They have rich, aristocratic products like lehengas, sarees and anarkali suits in high-finesse Chikan. If you want bridal and wedding wear made with resplendent Awadhi crafts, Aaraish is for you. They don’t have an outlet but they work offline as well.
C) Lucknowi Andaaz

Lucknowi Andaaz is the only online brand that has the widest range of products for all needs, from partywear to casual. In addition to Mukaish-Kaamdani and Gota they use Parsi Gara embroidery with Chikan. They also have a menswear sister-concern brand called Nawabi Andaaz.

All three of them are on Instagram.

 

Chetawani/warning

There are a few things that I would like to share with you all. To ensure you don’t get cheated!
1. Beware of the name Sewa/ Seva
SEWA or Self Employed Women’s Association is a self-help group that’s been actively working with skilled Chikan Karigars. They earned a name for themselves decades ago because of their work but now there are hundreds of shops in Lucknow by the name of Sewa or Seva. These shops might have good products but they are misusing Sewa’s name. They are like the Maganlal Chikki of Lucknow (people who’ve been to Lonavala will get it). The original SEWA has only one outlet in Brahm nagar, Sitapur Road, none other.
2. Semi-georgette
This is a name most shopkeepers use for synthetic fabric. You might have no issues buying it but you must be aware that it is just synthetic.
3. False jaalis

The most intricate stitch of Chikan is the Jaali. It’s labour intensive and therefore expensive. Many shops these days have started fixing ready-made nets in the fabric in place of a handmade Jaali. It brings down the price and might appeal to some buyers but it’s not authentic Chikan.

A low quality but genuine jaali on cotton

A decent quality jaali on Chanderi

4. Hakoba is not Chikan!

There is another textile craft called Hakoba, many online retailers sell it as Chikan. Hakoba is beautiful too but it isn’t Chikan and the consumer should be aware of it

This is Hakoba not Chikan

This piece is not from the point of view of an expert on the craft, since I am not one. It’s just from the nazariya of someone who has been buying and wearing Chikan for two decades now.
There are many high-end designer labels like the House of Kotwara, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Manish Malhotra and Anjul Bhandari who work extensively with Chikankari but I have never been able to study their work closely so that segment is difficult for me to cover. Hopefully, I’ll study and write about them in the future.
That’s it Doston! Shukriya for reading such a long piece patiently. If you have any questions that have not been answered, please feel free to email them to me at desidrapesofficial@gmail.com

 

Adaab, khyaal rakhiye!

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