The term chikankari is derived from the Persian word chikan, which means embroidery on garments and kari, which means work.
There are no direct historical texts which document the arrival and development of chikankari in India. However, there are two different narratives as for its origin. The first and most famous narrative attributes its origins to the Mughal empress Noor Jahan which was later adopted by the Nawabs of Lucknow. While the second confers it to a sufi saint who taught the craft to a man in return for his hospitality. Yet another belief is that it originated in the East Bengal province, where chikan means fine.
Inspiration for the various types of motifs comes from what the embroiders see around them, their local flora and fauna. Such as the chameli phool, karn phool or earrings, cowries, murri or puffed rice, dhaniya or coriander seeds, peepal leaves, lotus, marigold, lillies turank, akheri or paisley. The crescent moon is used for prayer caps and has religious significance. The motifs are also inspired from the mountains, rivers, tree of life among others. Local fauna has also inspired the chikankari motifs as seen in the depiction of realistic or symbolic fish, as well as peacocks. The local Islamic architecture inspired the embroiders to make intricate jail patterns on the fabric.
There are as many as 40 different stitches used in Chikankari. The most famous stitches categories are flat stitch, embossed stitch and jaali stitch.There are as many as 40 different stitches used in Chikankari. The most famous stitches categories are flat stitch, embossed stitch and jaali stitch.