Reviving Lakhnavi craftsmanship : A stitch in time.

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By Shirin Abbas, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, TIO: It was but natural that with uber-creative genes in her blood, Mansha Z Naqvi, daughter of Limca Book of Records’ holder, who has created 6000 designs on writing “Bismillah” in calligraphic art, Hashim Akhtar Naqvi and mother Shehna Naqvi, famous for her culinary art and salad decorating skills, would not take the beaten track. She is also the maternal granddaughter of the legendary Uttar Pradesh tableau artist Late Shamsul Hasan Shamsi and Late Marzia begum.

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Even as the former made his state proud by repeatedly winning prizes year after year for the Uttar Pradesh tableau at the 26th January Republic Day parade, the latter started and excelled in doll making, starting with a humble beginning in the 60s and honing it to a fine skill and artisan center within a few years.

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Author profiles this creative artiste, who is making waves with her exquisite embroidery on social media for The India Observer.

As a young artist, Mansha has successfully and single-handedly started a mission to revive interest in the famous chikankari, zardozi, and other handcrafted embroidery works of Lucknow. Her Chikan ghararas are a rage, now being copied and sold at almost every chikan shop in the city.

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Blending her traditional craftsmanship talent with modern mediums of promotion, Mansha today successfully uses social media to promote her designs that are widely acclaimed and sought not just in the state but all over India and abroad.

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TIO: What drew you to the fine art of hand embroidery?

White Gharara traditionally, done in Golden Mukeish and ring work Kamdani

MN: I first started doing embroidery work in the year 2002 while I was in class 9th. It helped me become financially strong at a young age. I used the money I earned to tide over a financial crisis in my family and become self-supportive. I used to get back home from school and work every day sometimes for 10-15 hours or even more than that if I got an assignment. During those days, I managed to earn Rs. 100 to Rs. 500 from my hand embroidery assignments. However, it was a rough road, many people took advantage of my youth and gullibility and defaulted on payments. Later, in 2009 established a page on Facebook named Thread Art & Wardrobe.

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TIO: Are you working solo or do you have a team?

MN: As of now and for years, I have working solo; like “One Woman Army” – not just doing the embroidery but even modeling my own designs. There is stiff competition from machine embroidered clothes that are available at cheap rates but I there is a discerning clientele who value hand-embroidered clothes today I am so glad I continued on my chosen path and encouraged my small enterprise. In the initial stages, I was asked often asked to quit and pay attention to other things. It’s not easy for a young mother to focus exclusively on her business, I come from a traditional, Shia Muslim family. Today I am glad I persevered. I have today a team of artisans, chikankars, mukaish artisans, and an independent few chikankari dealers who promote my hand-crafted designs.

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A-line flared Kaftan done with French embroidery. Shades of pine green, finch yellow, and ivory are used with an aqua blue base

TIO: Using Chikan in ghararas ( a traditional Muslim attire) is a new concept. What made you start on that? MN: I am a big fan of ghararas, it is always my first choice for almost all weddings. In those days it was an unaffordable passion due to the highly-priced and exclusive traditional tukdi work chatapati ghararas and the heavily zardozi embroidered designs available in the market. Then one day I had a spark of inspiration—why not easy to wear and still exquisitely beautiful CHIKANKARI GHARARAS??? I didn’t know the idea would become a trend and copied so extensively. But I am not stopping here. With the continuous support of my parents, I am hoping to keep surprising people with new designs and styles.

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TIO: Is your enterprise also backed by a wish for promoting dying crafts and helping artisans during the pandemic?

MN: As we all know Covid-19 affected the entire world, likewise it has also affected chikankari artisans too. At the start of the pandemic blocked small businesses as well as big fashion houses. However, I used my knowledge of social media to create an opportunity in adversity and find a way through the limitations imposed by the lockdown. Thankfully I had been I am sharing my work all over the internet—but while earlier despite the praise and compliments, assignments were limited. maybe due to online trust issues. The internet and social media have been a huge savior during the lockdown days, as the use of social media increased, so did interest in promoting hand-crafted ware. I would say the pandemic has raised social consciousness to a new level. People are more careful about authenticity and prefer handmade work to support artisans rather than big labels. During the pandemic social media was put to use with a vengeance, helping artisans eke a livelihood. I also support some artisans –I share their work online and try to promote their art in whichever way I can. Doing good work is good but it needs an audience. Without people’s interest, I can’t help a number of artisans. In order to preserve a form of art consideration and motivation are required, and thankfully there are a lot of people with a social conscience on the internet.

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TIO: Every artist has a dream. What is yours?

MN: I am going to take this art forward, encourage artisans and new learners who want to take up this art. I also wish to start my own website so that embroidery work can be curated from an online platform and start a workshop and a physical outlet to showcase my designs. God willing, my dream shall be realized.

Curated by Humra Kidwai


Shirin Abbas

Dr. Shirin Abbas is the Bureau Chief "TheIndiaObserver.Com". She is a world-renowned journalist, winner of several national and international awards for her contribution to Media Research.The first recipient of the prestigious British Chevening Scholarship for Print Journalism in 1999 from her state of Uttar Pradesh. Under the same, she studied at the School of Media, Communication, and Design at the University Of Westminster, London and interned with The Irish Times, Dublin. She has been a journalist for over three decades, working at several national English dailies in North India. She completed her PhD. in Mass Communication in 2016.

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