Embroidery, before the advent of machines, was handcrafted art to embellish fabrics or other materials with a needle, using thread or yarn to create various designs. It is believed this art was first created by the Chinese in circa 3 B.C. In the later centuries, this art migrated to Europe and Iran where it was adopted in Chikankari.
Some of the fundamental stitches of hand embroidery are chain stitch, buttonhole stitch, running stitch, and satin stitch. Inspired by these stitches, the chikankari artisans created, with a little variation, beautifully crafted designs on fabrics for various garments. Many techniques had a practical use such as Sashiko from Japan which was used as a way to reinforce clothing, this inspired the chikankari worker to create the Daraz stitch, which had a design of a fish, star, water chestnut, etc. This stitch was mainly used for the seams of a garment.
Embroidery can be classified according to what degree the design takes into account the nature of the base material and by the relationship of stitch placement to the fabric. The main categories are free or surface embroidery counted embroidery, and needlepoint or canvas work.
In free or surface embroidery, designs are applied without regard to the weave of the underlying fabric. Chikankari, Phulkari, Kantha, Phulkari are some examples.
Counted thread embroidery patterns are created by making stitches over a predetermined number of threads in the foundation fabric. Counted-thread embroidery is more easily worked on an even-weave foundation fabric such as specially woven cotton and linen fabrics. Jaali work or the mesh stitch in chikankari is the result of this embroidery.
Women who were unable to access a formal education were often taught embroidery and utilized it as a means of documenting their lives. Thus, chikankari as a handicraft was practiced by only women and this has created employment for thousands of workers.