Lucknow is famous for chikan embroidery. The word chikan just means embroidery.
The Chikan embroidery was done on a locally woven muslin called tanzeb, the pattern being stamped with small wooden blocks using red earth colour which washed out after the embroidery was completed.
The kurtas materials of the best Chikan Embroidery artists were cut in waves along the sides. The two pieces were cut so skilfully that they fitted each other exactly. They were then stitched together to form an undulating line, a tiny piece of material being left projecting at each of the in-going waves. This was later stitched at the back of the material to create a shadow effect All the seams of the kurta –six at the sides and one each ‘down the sleeves – thus gave an appearance of fishes swimming in water.
The work is done by both men and women although the finest work is produced by men.
In 1880 William Hoey gave a graphic description of the chikan industry of Lucknow. He writes, “When one wanders through the Mohullas of the city, where reduced Muhammadan families reside and where there are poor Hindu families who need to add to the scant subsistence offered by a small shop or by service, one sees women and even small children busy with needle and muslin. Thus the labour at the manufacturer’s command is cheap and abundant. He is able to undersell those who go to the market from other places. This is one reason why the chikan business has taken deep root in Lucknow…” He noted that chikan as a commercial commodity was well established in northern, western and central India and even in Calcutta.
Apart from chikan work Lucknow and certain other cities of Uttar Pradesh excel in gold and silver embroidery.
During the summer young man would wear the flimsiest kurtas, shirts, made of the finest muslin embroidered in white to heighten the illusion of coolness.