Chikankari Embroidery – tutorial

Learn about the stitches used in Chikankari embroidery, exquisite Indian shadow work.

Delicately worked chikankari designs embroidered on the finest of cotton mulmul (muslin) suited the aesthetics as well as climate of ancient India. It is still a popular embroidery technique used to adorn beautiful kurtas and saris and even home decor items.

Do you know that a chikankar trains for about 10 years to learn the intricate art and after training takes about 15 days to finish his work on an ensemble. So take your time to master this beautiful art, which involves most of the embroidery stitches you probably already know.



Chikankari is very similar to the Shadow work, a white embroidery work which uses herringbone stitches on the back of the fabric to fill designs, resulting in a fine shadow on the face of the fabric.

shadow embroidery

Where shadow work uses mostly herringbone stitch interspersed with some other stitches, Chikan work is a combination of many different embroidery stitches (about 32 different techniques) – some flat stiches, some raised stitches and some knot stitches. Their mughal names are beyond my brain capacity but I know their English counterparts and has been using them in  other works. Check it out.

  • Herringbone stitchto do the shadow work.This is done on the wrong side of the fabric to form running stitches on the front of the fabric as an outline.(Bakhia)
  • Double back stitch – Back stitches are done on the front face of the fabric and gives herringbone stitches on the back. 
  • Running stitch worked on the right side of the fabric. It is used to outline the motif.
  • Couched running stitch
  • Stem stitch, used to make, as you guessed it, stems
  • A combination of buttonhole stitch and satin stitch used to make a wheel shaped motif
  • Chain stitch ; this is worked as an outline of flowers and leaves.
  • Satin stitch – Used to fill the inside of outlines done in double back stitch.
  • Detached chain stitch ( Lazy daisy stitch )
  • Fish bone stitch ( Used on the face of the fabric, as a filling stitch)
  • Pulled thread work or  Jaali work , which consists of intricately made small holes made by pulling apart weft and warp threads of the fabric. Jaali means latticed screen and the delicate holes made by the work looks like those numerous window panes of Indian palaces.Checkout the tutorial for drawn thread work. The pulled work used here is somewhat similar. The picture given below explains how it is done
  • Romanian Stitch
  • Phanda stitch is a knot stitch. The instruction to make it is given below. It is a millet-shaped stitch.
  • Murri, another knot stitch which is basically satin stitch worked in a small area. The knots are as small as a rice grain.
  • Detached eyelet stitch – First, a hole is made in the fabric. Thread your needle with 1 to 6 strands of thread and work straight stitches around the hole.  

Fabric suitable for chikankari work

You can do chikan work on any fabric, but usually, sheer fabric is preferred for the shadow effect they give. They are mostly done on Mull, Cambric, muslins, voiles, organzas, silk, crepe, organdie chiffon, and tusser silk. When this work is done on net, it gives a lace-like look that is absolutely stunning.

chikan work

How to do the Chikan work

In chikan work, some of the designs are worked from the back of the fabric and other from the front. Some of the stitches used in chikankari are familiar stitches or they are already explained elsewhere.

Checkout these tutorials  Herringbone stitch, stem stitch, buttonhole stitch, lazy daisy stitch, running stitch, eyelet stitch, chain stitch

buttonhole stitch

Phanda Stitch Tutorial

Phanda stitch is basically small lazy daisy stitches worked on top of each other.

Step 1. After bringing out the needle to the front of the fabric, take a stitch upwards at B-C.

Step 2. Come back and insert the needle through the stitch you first made at A-B, without piercing the fabric.

Step 3. Make a lazy daisy stitch near B-C.

Step 4. Come back and make another lazy daisy stitch -G-H

Step 5. Bring the needle to the back at H anchoring the lazy daisy stitch.

Step 6. Insert the needle through the stitch you first made at A-B, without piercing the fabric.


Jaali work Tips 

Use a very thick needle to work this stitch so that those small holes are made. The choice of thread depends on the fabric. If the fabric is thick use thick thread and if the fabric is thin use fine thread. Basically, the thread should not overwhelm the fabric holes you are creating. The Jali work is similar to the point de Paris stitch ( drawn thread work).

Draw straight lines inside the design at equal distances to each other, vertically as well as horizontally, very close to each other. Start from the middle of the design. Make straight stitches to the four sides along these lines taking just 3-4 threads, forming nice little holes inside ( like you would for an eyelet hole).   

Draw straight lines inside the design at equal distances to each other, vertically as well as horizontally, very close to each other.Start from the middle of the design. Make straight stitches to the four sides along these lines taking just 3-4 threads , forming nice little holes inside ( like you would for an eyelet hole). 

pulled thread stitch

pulled thread work

When you are using thin fabric with a thick needle, it is easy to coax those small windows open. I think the Chikankari gods are going to kill me for this blasphemy. Use the same color thread as the fabric and you will get better uniformity with the holes forming an attractive pattern.

Check out the post on pulled thread embroidery work for more details.

The picture below is from the drawn threadwork tutorial. I suppose on the thin fabric used (organdy, mull etc) to make the chikankari work there is no need to draw the threads out. When done without the thread drawn out it is called pulled thread work.  



Double back stitch ( checkout the back stitch tutorial for more details)


chikenkari embroidery work

chikan work

Checkout the post 5 easy chikankari motifs for your embroidery project as well.

chikankari motif

Related post

easy to make embroidery motifs

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Author: Sarina Tariq

Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.

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