One of the greatest embroideries to have ‘walked’ this planet has to be Chikankari, which I have now learnt includes thirty-six different stitches, though most of us are aware of just a few! Can you imagine our joy when we crossed paths with Tanzeb, a company dedicated to reviving the era of embroidery from Avadh…embroidery just as it existed hundreds of years ago.
Nidhi Bala, founder of Tanzeb is from the city of Nawabs herself and poetry tahzeeb (etiquette) and chikankari are pretty much in her blood. Here is an excerpt from our Guftagu aka chit-chat, with Nidhi Bala, the founder of Tanzeb.
NJAS: How did the idea of Tanzeb come about? When did you start?
Nidhi@Tanzeb: I did not just want to be a bystander and watch the craft being imitated poorly in India as well as in the bigger world under the name of Chikankari and then sold at exorbitant prices. So, I decided to bring the artisans of this craft under an umbrella to not just protect them, but also to give the customers a pure form of Chikankari; thus doing my bit to preserve the craft that has known to be around since the time of the Mughals.
Did you know that the word ‘Tanzeb’ refers to pure white thread work on pure white muslin cloth? Tanzeb was founded to preserve the craft of Chikankari and to provide the karigars (who are mostly women) recognition and a better standard of living by rewarding them duly for their skill and expertise.
NJAS: What all does Tanzeb sell to its customers?
Nidhi@Tanzeb: We are all about Chikankari, mainly creating traditional and contemporary clothes for our customers, with exquisite embroideries; we also now and again dabble with home linens and often work with the handloom weavers and various hand-block artisans.
NJAS: How does the Chikankari process happen? What is the journey of a Tanzeb garment?
Nidhi@Tanzeb: It’s a very long but a fairly structured process to ensure that the quality is never compromised. Let me run you all through the steps that any Tanzeb product goes through:
- Decide on the yardage. If it’s going to be stitched, it goes to the tailor or else (ie: saree or dupatta) it simply goes for temporary hem or foldings
- The design is planned and where the blocks need to be exactly placed
- The size and placement of the design is estimated and the approximate time it would take to be embroidered is worked out at this stage
- Co-ordinating sizes of the blocks to create the specific designs is a fairly complex activity as finding the best karigars to use the old art is not easy
- Then, comes the decision about the threads to be used. A choice of colours, thickness are crucial as incorrect choice will ruin the embroidery completely. Do note at this point, that the finer the thread, the more delicate and complex the embroidery. Also, if a pattern is making use of several different stitches, then the fabric often moves from one karigar to the other expert, as any single karigar is not generally adept at all stitches
- Then, comes the turn of the handmade crochet laces
- The above process could take several weeks, months or longer and only when the above process is complete, the fabric/ complete product is given for washing and is thoroughly washed with water, and mind you, this isn’t just done by anyone; there are dedicated washermen for this part of the process too!
- Next comes the turn of finishing the product by applying starch, ironing and any other finishing touches
Most of the pieces we work on take about 20-25 days to complete.
NJAS: You mentioned the use of handblocks being used in the process above. How are the wooden blocks used in Chikankari? What is their purpose?
Nidhi@Tanzeb: Using the block correctly is a very special art. It may look pretty straightforward but I can tell you that using it correctly is a rather complex activity. The designs we want on the fabric have to be carved on wood blocks to begin with. Some of these pieces are sometimes over two hundred years old! Finding a karigar skilled in this age-old art isn’t a simple task either. These are used to create an impression on the fabric (so that it can be embroidered on later).
The ‘indigo’ prints or impressions made by the use of these blocks is a mixture of gum and natural indigo powder and has to be strong enough to ensure that the print lasts until such time the embroidery is finished. Also, silver powder has to be used along with indigo, if the fabric being used is dark in colour. We have been wearing Chikankari clothes for decades and had not idea of the process.
We believe that knowing is important as it that then allows us to respect the work and the craft that goes into making a single piece.
NJAS: Nidhi, you have a successful store in Bangalore and you have a loyal customer following online too. What is the one most important business advice that you would give to someone starting out today?
Nidhi@Tanzeb: If you believe in an idea, act. Be early in life. Be a glorious mess, that’s what life is about.
NJAS: Your photo shoots have the most amazing props (ie: chairs, mirrors), each one telling a story. Share with us their stories, if you can please.
Nidhi@Tanzeb: Thank you! It was my dream to create this space. Each piece in our store is a vintage pieces of furniture, mostly teak, rosewood or balinese wood pieces that have been restored beautifully.
NJAS: Where can the customer buy your products from?
Nidhi@Tanzeb: I am available on appointments, both online and offline. Our store in Bangalore is located in one of the quaint lanes (yet alive and happening), where you can shop amongst chirping birds and greenery along with comfort of tea and coffee and our personal attention. Our website will soon have a range of products for our online buyers. Meanwhile, we are present on social channels and would love to for you all to come by for a peep and a hello.
Chikankari is just phenomenal and we at Notjustashopper have a lot of love for it. We had written about this ancient beautiful craft way back in 2017 too. If you fancy a read, click here.
What is your most favourite Chikankari in your cupboard? Wear your heritage with pride; Be Notjustashopper!
All pictures: Courtesy Tanzeb