Embroidered in a dream

Bakhiya or ‘Shadow work’ is one of the basic stitches of Chikankari

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There’s a lightness to her hands as she weighs thread / a mess of fine cotton / she spends days unravelling it like a mystery / until she has her skeins ready to tell a story / on cloth that feels like a dream / shadow work they call it / where the patterns are hid behind a screen / she weaves in a lattice, like a window to her soul / little knots and chains that bind her to a tale / paths around paisleys in a garden of delight / as she grows flowers along the margins of her illusions / a tapestry of memory / fruit that exist in heavens arbor / pathways never meant for walking / beautiful stitches stealing love across a pastel dream

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This post is a tribute to the wonderful women artisans of Lucknow who embroider Chikan work

Lucknow is famous for Chikankari or Chikan embroidery. I have loved it ever since I first saw it. The most basic stich involves shadow work in which the cross stitch on the underside generates a pattern that is used as the right side of the fabric. There’s a beauty to how women embroider in this technique. It’s a difficult task given that the threads have to be sorted before the embroidery itself, patterns for which are stamped by a different set of artisans. I have tons of Chikan work embroidered on sarees, table covers, bed sheets etc and I treasure them all.