Living Green: The Making of Chikankari Tunics

Female Artisans of Northern India create the hand embroidery of tunics in their homes. The women often gather at one home in their village, and do the embroidery together while socializing with one another.  Living green creates profound changes in their lives, increasing their security, positively impacting communities, working to preserve their rich traditional art forms, as  well as their self-confidence and pride in themselves and their work.

The women learn embroidery techniques from their mothers and grandmothers. This style of embroidery is known as Chikankari and is a form of shadow-work embroidery, where the embroidery is actually done on the reverse side of the sheer cotton fabric, creating a beautiful effect. There are 36 different types of stitches that are used for Chikankari embroidery and this embroidery style dates back thousands of years, and is referenced in texts from the 3rd century B.C. 

The cotton tunics are first semi-stitched and then the design for the embroidery motif is hand block-printed. 

Once this step is done, the tunics are delivered by bicycle to the women artisans’ homes in the villages. Each woman is given one tunic to embroider for every round of production: this means that when 100 tunics are ordered, a hundred different women are getting equal work and ongoing sustainable livelihood.

For women artisans in these small villages in Northern India, this provides much-needed income that they can earn by doing the embroidery work in their homes whenever it is convenient for them.

Hand embroidered tunics is truly a work of art, made with great skill, love and dedication.  Many people are involved in each aspect of the production: 

  • Stitching the tunic
  • Carving the wooden blocks used for printing the design 
  • Block-printing the motif
  • Doing the intricate hand embroidery
  • Transporting the tunics by bicycle to and from the villages
  • Washing and ironing the finished tunic

These beautiful products showcase the rich artistic traditions of India and provide sustainable livelihood for the artisans and other people involved in each stage of the production.  This greatly benefits the local economies in the villages and helps to ensure that these rich traditions will continue for many generations to come.



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