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Simply Sashiko

I wrote last month about meditative stitching and the new embroidery. Now I'd like to address an older form of stitching that goes back centuries, called "sashiko." Sashiko literally means little stabs.

During the 18th century, cloth and thread were scarce in Japan. The peasants had to make due with what they had, so clothes were patched and mended many times as things wore out from use. Usually patching was done using a thread the same color as the garment and was more utilitarian rather than decorative.

As white thread became more available it was used as a lovely contrast to the indigo fabrics that many traditional Japanese clothing are made of. Sashiko soon became a decorative medium and is sometimes used to quilt layers of fabric together.

The stitch is similar to a running stitch with the top visible stitch being slight longer than the bottom stitch. The thread about the thickness of size 8 pearl cotton and is often plain white. However, colors have been introduced more recently as variegated threads to add interest.

Sashiko designs are derived from family crests and geometric patterns that are seen all over Japan. The patterns can be stitiched not only on clothing, but bags, wallhangings, table toppers and pillows.

I was first introduced to sashiko when I purchased a Sylvia Pippen pattern and some sashiko thread. It's easy to do once you get the hang of the stitches. While at the Tokyo International Quilt Show, I saw many quilts embroidered with this stitching as an accent around the edges of applique and as an element of design in quilting lines. I was so thrilled with sashiko when I returned home, that I began stitching a small piece each day that will be incorporated later into some project. Here are three pieces I made of varying sizes and threads that I think you will enjoy seeing.

I hope you will seek out and try sashiko stitching. There are many online resources for finding preprinted cloth, stencils and thread.

Happy stitching!

Mary Ellen Straughn

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