Lucknow is most famous for two things. Tunday Kababi and Chikankari. Some say that the Imambaras and the Nawabi spirit of the city are the bottles that encapsulate Lucknow's spirit, but it is the fabric of Chikan that binds us together. People flock from all over the world to experience both of these and the birthplace of these gems is none other than Chowk.
Every tourist who comes to the city will be found asking someone or the other “Tunday Kebabi kahan hai" or “where can I find the best Chikan in Lucknow?" and the answer is Chowk. In fact, it also happens to be the birthplace of Chikankari.
Today, we take you on a journey to the unexplored routes of Chowk that bring to life your favourite handiwork and craftsmanship, while sending out a bold fashion statement.
Breathing life into the cloth
Naturally, first, one must procure the raw material and there's actually a lot more to it than you would expect. Cloth of the finest hand made quality is just the tip of the iceberg and in addition to that, vendors have to get a hold of the right ornaments, the right kadhai and even the most perfect needles for sewing up these beauties.
As you walk along Chowk, you'll find such shops in abundance. One shop that especially stood out was Mohd Imam's. In case you spot his shop, you can see for yourself the different kinds of raw materials they have here and maybe choose one of your liking.
Send out a style statement
Following that, comes the process of hand printing patterns on the cloth. Doused in paint, the block printing is an extremely essential part of Chikan making. It is perhaps also the most vital aspect and is what ultimately becomes the soul of the garment. It is along these lines that embroiders cast their spells through thread and needles.
One place where you can see block printing for yourself is at Abdul Karim's shop. He's hard at work and tells us that these blocks are made with floral prints in mind. "They're specially made to order. I usually stick with floral prints because everyone like flowers, don't they."
"New fashion is very prevalent these days but Chikankari has an unmatched charm of its own. Perhaps that is why people who come to Lucknow always want some of it for themselves," said Karim when asked if business was declining.
Weaving fashion and history into one
Now that the clothes have been significantly improved by the prints, it's time to get to the work that shows, the work makes each and every Chikan garment one of a kind- the embroidery, the lacing, the ornaments and the kadhai. Often, this is done at the stores for block printing, but where the best ornaments come from is a little shop run by one Mohd. Salim Bhai.
His tiny little store is seemingly bigger on the inside because he's got almost anything related to Zari, Zardozi and Chikan embroidery. Fancy buttons, laces, he's got them. From all sorts of ornate kadhais to the most simple ones, his store has something to fascinate each one of you.
Speaking about his store, he said "These little ornaments are the life of Chikankari and they distinguish each one from the other. No two Chikan clothes are the same and everyone who works alongside me will tell you the same."
Putting it all together
Just opposite Salim Bhai's kadhai shop, is another store that's vital in the process of bringing to life Chikan clothes- Shakeel Khan's threads and needles shop. The go-to destination for Chikankari workers, his store has every small little thing that's needed to put together all the elements of a single cloth.
Following that, the most skilled tailors put their heads together and intricately sew up these gems of Lucknow. Most of them have a lineage of doing this and their families would make clothes for the royal families of Lucknow.
Once all these various snippets from different stores and craftsmen come together, they form a complete Zari or Chikan wearable. The next stop in your journey is the market where these will be sold and what better place to sell them off than at Aminabad.
With a life of its own, Aminabad's many markets are also home to innumerable Chikan shops. Most of these shop owners get their wares from the vendors at Chowk.
Die hard Lucknowites would know Gadbad Jhala as the main market for shopping and for good reason. As far as the eye can see, there are Chikankari shops lined up. Even the most picky shoppers are going to have a field day here.
Every Lucknowite knows how crucial Chikan is to the city and it's essence. However, not many know about the hard work and effort of innumerable artisans that goes into each one of them. Though our journey, we've come to realize just how important a role these artisans play in our lives and how we tend to disregard it. At any rate, the next time someone asks you about Chikankari, you can be the expert!