India, Bhairvis Chikan / Mamta Varma, Embroidery
Indian chikan work (chikankari) was refined in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, under the patronage of the Awadh court. Worked in tiny stitches on the finest cotton or muslin, chikankari in its most refined form was integrated into Mughal court dress.
More recently, various initiatives have revived hand-made chikankari on a more ethical basis, projects that enable women – the majority of embroiderers - to support their families. One of these is Bhairvis Chikan, a co-operative founded by Mamta Varma, a native of Lucknow, in 1998. Bhairvis Chikan now employs and trains some 300 women artisans, as well as (mostly male) weavers, thappakars (block-makers), chhipi (printers) and dhobis (washermen), a traditional division of labour. The Bhairvis Chikan mission is to honour, create, revive, and preserve traditional stitches, motifs, and craftsmanship. To broaden the market for chikan, embroidery is now also worked on other Indian hand-woven fabrics besides muslin, but using traditional stitches in designs inspired by antique embroideries. These schemes perpetuate the traditions and skills of chikankari while giving women employment options and training, even if they are confined to the home.
Sonia Ashmore's full article on white-on-white embroidery is available to read on the Selvedge blog here.
To follow the story of Bhairvis Chikan / Mamta Varma, find them on social media here.