Empowering Women Artisians Preserving Legacy | Shyamal Chikan

Empowering Women Artisians Preserving Legacy

Nagma is one of the many chikan karigars of Lucknow, women who are conserving a traditional craft and also augmenting family incomes without having to leave their homes.

“We women enjoy doing it (embroidery) a lot. It helps us utilize our free time and brings money. We use the money we earn from doing chikankari for our children's education,” says Nagma, sitting on an old loosely-strung jute cot in the courtyard of her house as she expertly guides a needle through the fabric she is working on embroidering a beautiful motif.

Nagma , 28, is one of the many chikan karigars of Lucknow, women who are conserving their craft and also augmenting family incomes. She lives with her husband and children in a village of Lucknow. 

Chikan is a type of embroidery done with cotton thread on fabric — mostly soft like muslin, chiffon or cotton — in light or pastel shades. Also known as chikankari, it is the traditional embroidery of Lucknow. Encouraged by the nawabs who loved wearing diaphanous muslin, generally white, embroidered with intricate chikankari to beat the oppressive heat and humidity of the region.

Now, the embroidery is made in various vibrant colours and is in huge demand among the fashion-conscious around the world. Like Nagma, there are many women artisans for whom this traditional embroidery is a passport to self-empowerment.

“Now, we can buy groceries from the money we earn. Sometimes, I buy new dresses for my kids with my own money,” says 25-year-old Fatima.

For these women, who generally belong to conservative families in old Lucknow, the best part of being chikan karigars is that they can earn without leaving home.

Lucknow is known as the hub of chikan clothes. Chowk market in old Lucknow has numerous retailers and wholesalers of chikankari kurtas, sarees, dupattas and other apparel. They give bulk orders to people in villages for stitching, embroidery, washing and dying the clothes. Over 80% of the work of the chikan industry is done in the villages and 90% of the workers are women.

Women from almost every house in these areas are involved in this work. They understand the value of self-employment and are happy to share the responsibilities of running the homes with their men.