Sashiko is pronounced “sash (i) ko” with the “i” almost silent. It means little stab and was used to reinforce clothes and recycle the used clothes into household objects. Even the colors have meaning. Traditionally the white stitches were on indigo fabric which represented the falling snow around the farmstead. Sashiko became a rural home craft from about 1615 to 1868. By the 1870’s, this needlework was primarily done in the north where the winters caused people to remain inside.
There are two basic sashiko “styles”: moyozashi (patterns) and hitomezashi (one stitch). Moyozashi uses continuous lines of stitches to make larger patterns, but the lines do not touch. The fabric threads are not counted; however, the number of stitches may be counted. About.com has several free sashiko pattern sheets including this one.
The hitomezashi form is worked as a grid of lines that may meet or cross to create patterns or motifs. Susan Briscoe has blogged about a Sashiko class along with some great examples, including this photo.
The pattern darning form of sashiko is known as Kogin which is a counted embroidery technique. We touched briefly on Kogin in a newsletter on darning.
Sashiko stitching evolved from an official order that said farmers could only wear clothes made of blue or grey material. Any stitching on them could not be larger than a grain of rice and stripes no wider than a piece of straw. That is why people sometimes refer to the stitches as grains of rice. There is some superstition that goes into the patterns as well. The numbers 3, 5 and 7 are considered to be lucky. Protection from evil spirits could be ensured if the pattern zigzagged because the spirits got lost and a wedding gift often had paired stitches.
Sashiko as a necessary needlework declined by 1950. Possibly as a result of the many wonderful examples in museum, sashiko began a rebirth in the 1970s. This was the same time that Western quilting began its popularity in Japan. As a result, Sashiko has evolved into the art form we see today.
You probably already have most of what you need to get started.
- Fabric Markers, for light and dark fabrics. Some suggestions are the Fine Line White Marker and Iron-On Transfer Pencil-Blue.
- There is a special Japanese embroidery scissors made of one piece that cuts when you squeeze the handles, similar to this red self-opening scissors.
- Kakehari is a sewing clamp, much like a third hand or sewing bird tool. It clamps to your fabric to keep your tension when you are stitching lines.
- There are some specialty sashiko ring thimbles which are worn on the middle finger. The Leather Thimble Pads would work because you can adhere it to your finger wherever you need the protection.
- The thread was spun cotton but with a looser twist than embroidery floss. There are several manufacturers making sashiko thread today, but their colors and weights will vary. A good substitute is floche.
- A very sharp sashiko needle is used. This is also a long needle which helps your stitching stay straight. We used a Milliners Size 1 for the project. A better choice might be the Temari needles.
- If you are using a pre-printed grid the Printable Sticky Sulky sheets may be perfect for getting the grid on your fabric.
- You can use a variety of fabrics. For a more traditional look, you would want to use a fabric with a lower thread count and thicker than a normal quilting fabric. Something like a cotton flannel would be a good place to start.
- Sashiko was stitched on a layer of fabrics, with the best fabric being on top. Today, you will probably use a batting as the middle layer.
On to the technique
Sashiko takes a different approach to stitching. This takes practice, but the needle stays still and you work the fabric onto the needle. Because you make several stitches at a time, a long needle is very useful. This is also why the fabric is not put into a hoop or frame. The reason you do not do one stitch at a time is because the thread will tend to twist. Generally you strive for four to eight stitches per inch so the more layers you have the longer the stitch length will be. For moyozashi, the gap between the stitches is half the length of the stitch. It is important when stitching not to cross the threads or have them touching. This takes a little preplanning when you are coming to junction, turning a corner, or converging into a circle.
To put all of this into practice, we made a cup wrap with a sashiko motif. The materials for my project included:
- Grey/Black “hand-dyed” fabric
- Black fabric for the backing
- Insul-bright for the padding
- White Floche to stitch the design
- Black elastic cord for the loop
- A button found at a local thrift store with an Oriental feel to it.
The basic pattern and instructions on line are by Lori Miller at The Good Weekly blog. After trying the pattern she provided, it was changed to make it larger. Notice that the flower has five petals, which is considered to be lucky.
Here is the finished cup wrap.
We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!
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