Bess Nielsen vividly remembers the day she saw an Indian woman wearing a chikankari sari in New Delhi. It was such a striking sight she became fascinated with chikan work. Traditionally, the intricate shadow work is a white-on-white embroidery worked on the back of sheer fabric to create a unique shadowy effect on the face of the fabric.
Chikankari has historically been associated with the Mughal period and Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh. Revisiting her first impressions of the languid city, she recalls the noticeable absence of tourists and feeling the City of Nawabs seemed to be lingering in the past, like a fairytale. A renowned Lucknowi Chikan manufacturer named Mr Kohli became instrumental in Nielsen’s venture. He produced chikankari embroidery for her and she purchased ancient Lucknowi chikankari from his private collection. Mr Kohli eventually received the National Award for Handicrafts for an outstanding sari a highly skilled 16-year-old girl had worked on for 2 years.
Once upon a time reserved for the Royal Courts, chikankari is a time-consuming process. Chikan artisans train for about 10 years to master the 35 stitches of the ancestral artform. The patterns are handblocked in blue ink onto fabric by men, then women do the needlework. When the embroidery work is completed, the fabric is washed to remove the blue outlines. Next, the cloth is starched to achieve the right stiffness.
Artisanship is at the core of Khadi and Co textiles. The designer relishes her rich experience with Indian craftspeople, considering each traditional skill set as an endless source of inspiration. When she learned her exclusive chikankari motifs had to be carved on wooden blocks, she designed her own blocks then often stamped the khadi fabrics herself. She brought a modern twist to chikankari, especially when she worked with SEWA (Self Employed Womens Association), an organization empowering Lucknow’s chikan craftswomen.
Khadi and Co celebrates the power of the human hand and fosters effective teamwork from India to Paris. It’s a pioneer of artisan-made luxury fashion, born to create essential clothing.
Find out more about Khadi and Co textiles here. https://www.khadiandco.com/