Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Shadow Work and The Indian Chikankari

Check out the wonderful shadow work project tutorial here.

Shadow work is the form of embroidery that primarily requires the use of herringbone stitch.
This post is the continuation of the Basic Embroidery Stitches: Herringbone Stitch.

Shadow Work is a type of embroidery done on sheer fabric, stitching on the back side of the fabric, which appears opaque on the front. In shadow work, diagonal crisscrossed threads create a very subtle shadow, which is highlighted by small stitches. 

Most stitches used in shadow work are flat, lying close to the surface of the underside, which gives a distinctive textural appearance.

Shadow work is most commonly seen in Whitework, especially Dresden work but any tone-on-tone or color combination can be used, even red on white.
Common Motifs Used
Floral with creeping vines and leaves with long tendrils.
Flowers like, Jasmine, rose, lotus, and
The buti or paisley motifs 
Shadow work is also known as chikankari, which means “fine work,” on the Indian Subcontinent. The origins of this name are somewhat obscure, but it is probably a derivative of chikeen, a Persian coin or delicately patterned embroidered fabric.

Materials Used
Cotton, rayon, and silk embroidery thread 
Any fabric sheer enough to allow the floss to be seen can be used, including organza, organdy, voile, lawn, batiste, cambric
Tapestry needle (size 26 or 24), or
Crewel/embroidery size 8 or 10

Stitches Used
Shadow work can be done in a variety of stitches, with the most important feature that it be visible through sheer fabric. The shadow work stitch is worked on the reverse side of the fabric, on two parallel lines or an open shape, like a leaf. The herringbone stitch alternates back and forth between the lines, crossing on the back side and leaving a clean backstitch outline on the front. The finest shadow work is done in small closely packed stitches.

Traditional chikankari (shadow work) includes six basic stitches: 

herringbone stitch,  
running stitch,  
double backstitch,  
buttonhole stitch,  
chain stitch, 
stem stitch, 
running stitch.

For shadow work with threads, there are three methods

Reverse herringbone,
Indian stitch, and
Shadow darning. 

Shadow darning is lesser known,also called “Indian darning,” where the entire motif is worked in backstitch and then thread is woven between the stitches on the reverse side to create the shadow. Darning threads across the stitches on the back of the work gives greater coverage or a denser hue.
Two things are very important when executing shadow embroidery. First, you must always use the holes from the previous stitches. There should be no gaps between stitches on the surface. Second, a hoop or frame is mandatory to maintain proper stitch tension. 


This embroidery is worked on the back in closed herringbone stitch, or on front using double back stitch, producing on the right side, an outline, like a back stitch, and shadowy appearance with the longer stitches crisscrossing on the back. I was comfortable using double back stitch on the right side.
I have used two strands of the anchor thread. 


Stems or lines are made with fine back/chain stitches on the right side of the fabric. To create the center of the flower, around which the petals are, French knot clusters on the right side are used.

Now the leaves,

Check out the back side of the work .

I have joined the Chikankari Stitch along at artistic fingers , hoping to learn more.


  1. That's quite lovely. I've never seen shadow work before .... I think I'd like to try it!

  2. Nice And beautiful blog. Having a copy of all your designs. Keep it up.
    Shami (www.shamiatcraft.blogspot.com)

    1. Thank you Shami.
      Glad that you like it.


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