Zokin

Zokin (雑巾) | Japanese cleaning cloth

Have you heard the term “Zokin” in your Sashiko research? I have found several discussion about Zokin online and surprised how fancy Zokin became in non-Japanese culture.

For the Japanese, Zokin is a very common word, especially for parents who have children between the age of 4 to 12 or so. A lot of kindergartens and elementary school require a few Zokin at the beginning of the school year for the children to clean their school with the Zokin (*1). Every Japanese knows the word of Zokin (Some Japanese do not know the word of Sashiko – Sashiko was common but the Sashiko we practice is more like a revival version. – Zokin is still a surviving concept.)


It is merely a cleaning cloth. Due to the demand (let’s say every kid in school need to bring several Zokin every year), we can purchase them in a dollar store or other general store in Japan. Some schools require Zokin to be (made from) new. The others do not care about the condition so the parent can make Zokin from old towels or rags.


What is Zokin?

Zokin is a piece of fabric (Rag or Fabric) for cleaning. Zokin (雑巾 – ぞうきん):Zo (雑) means “Miscellaneous” and Kin (巾)means cloth. The term itself means a Cloth for Miscellaneous purpose.

As I mentioned above, we can get the clean new Zokin from the store. However, the word itself includes the nuance of “dirty” because of our custom. For example, we wouldn’t like to wipe the dishes with Zokin, even if the Zokin is new and clean.

Alternatively, we have a word for the cleaning with more cleanness requires such as food and dishes. It is called Fukin (布巾 – ふきん). In our Sashiko tradition, we have been making many Sashiko stitched Fukin using very high-quality cotton gauze fabric. Let’s say, we start using one Fukin as the dish wiping cloth. When the Fukin starts getting dirty, we get the new Fukin and old Fukin will be the cloth to clean the tabletop or countertop. When the old Fukin starts tearing or severely getting dirty, we start using as “Zokin” which we wipe on the floor or other dirty areas in the house.

For the purpose of the word has, we can make Zokin by using the new Fukin or other piece of fabric, or by stitching the old fabric that we won’t be able to use for the original purpose – like T-shirt or towels.

Zokin is another Japanese culture where “everyone” was doing in Japanese history. So there is no rule at all – just try to understand that the Japanese didn’t throw away things that easily. Zokin is just a name for a piece of fabric – in a long life of the fabric with appreciation.


How to make Zokin

Since there is no rule for Zokin, please understand this tutorial as “one example” of how to make Zokin. I am recalling my mother making one for me when I was a child… so any input from Japanese people would be appreciated.

  1. Prepare the Fabric
  2. Trim the Edge (if necessary)
  3. Stitch the Edge (and flip if necessary)
  4. Stitch to strengthen the fabric.

(1) Cut the fabric

Any kind of fabric would be fine for Zokin. After all, it is the last step of the fabric lifetime. I prefer cotton for the easiness of cleaning. First, cut the fabric for the ideal size. Usually, I prefer 2 layers of fabric to make them appropriate for cleaning. Too thick layers would be difficult to dry after cleaning (which create the bad odor), and a too thin layer (one-layer) may be too weak to use as the cleaning rag. There is no rule for sizing (unless you bring Zokin to school – if you are reading this article in Japan for bringing them to school, please follow the requirement from your school guideline). I like the size of a bit bigger than my palm. It is purely for the easiness of cleaning.

(2) Trim the Edge (if necessary)

This is another preference kicks in.

Let’s say you repurpose the used dish towel as I do in the video. The dish towel already have the side sewed up for avoid fraying. Some do not like the thickness of the edge of fabric. Some prefer to keep the edge so the fabric won’t fray in using the fabric as Zokin.

It is up to you. In the live streaming on Instagram, I made 2 Zokin with trimming the edge and leaving the possibility of fraying the fabric in the process of using them. In the tutorial video, I left the original dish towel edge so that the Zokin won’t fray as easily. Again, it is very much up to your preference and requirement in the cleaning project.

(3) Stitch the Edge

If you decide to trim the edge (and if you cut the fabric to your ideal size), you have an option to avoid fraying by stitching the edge and flip the fabric. Find which side if the front. Then fold it with front facing each other. Then, stitch the side, and flip the fabric so the Zokin have the “front side” on both side. It is not necessary for all the project, but this process will protect the Zokin from fraying easily.

(4) Stitch to strengthen the fabric.

The 4th step, actual stitching, is the most important part of making Zokin. The more you make the stitching, the stronger the Zokin become. There is no rule or regulation what kind of pattern to stitch. For the purpose of making the fabric stronger, the geometric pattern with the straight line would be ideal, such as pattern I performed on the Youtube Video or a Grid that has systematically stitched.

As you may realize, this process of stitching, for the purpose of making fabric stronger, can be called Sashiko. It was(is) very ordinary custom to repurpose the used fabric to make the cleaning rag. The Japanese used to say that we should keep using the fabric until the fabric dissolves in the water. Zokin is just the name of one form of fabric in its long life. The result of the continuous process of using the fabric & mending (fixing) it, and stitching (to stabilize the fabric) is Boro.

This is the latest article about Boro written by Atsushi

Hand-stitching and Machine Stitching

As the other sewing culture, the Zokin has also a discussion of either hand-stitched or machine stitched. Personally, the way of stitching doesn’t really matter because it is for the purpose of cleaning with old fabric – the most important concept here is repurposing.

Here is some advantages for Zokin made by hand-stitching.

  • The bigger stitches made by hands will be more flexible in terms of tensioning the fabric. The machine stitches can result in destroying the fabric. Also, the Zokin stitched by machine may require the second repair because of its tension.
  • No need for the big preparation of sewing machine. Once you know “Unshin (運針)” it will take only 10~15 minutes of your time to make one Zokin. It can be done with watching TV…

Again, there is no rule so follow your preference and enjoy the repurposing process.


Sashiko thread or not for it?

I strongly recommend using Sashiko thread on the regular Sashiko project in making Jackets, bag, tapestry, and other small fabric items with Sashiko stitching. (Please read another article why I recommend Sashiko thread so strongly here). Your project in Sashiko is so valuable that I want to respect the fabric with the best thread instead of whatever available in the market. It will make a difference.

In Zokin, however, I think it doesn’t need to be Sashiko thread. It is merely a cleaning rag. The Zokin will have a massive amount of friction in comparison to the regular Sashiko project we enjoy. The purpose of Zokin is rubbing and therefore the Sashiko thread will be damaged quickly anyway. It may be damaged even before the thread become part of the fabric. So, it is perfectly fine to use a reasonable sewing thread.

However, when you are thinking of making “Boro-looking” fabric from Zokin and using the fabric as Zokin, which looks like a piece of fabric start melting by itself, then Sashiko thread may be a good choice. Generally speaking, the (used) fabric itself should start fraying before the (new) Sashiko thread. The regular sewing thread will snap sooner than the Sashiko thread.

The contrast of old weak fabric and strong new Sashiko thread may create the Boro-looking image of melting fabric. The fabric will be dirty, but with patching and continuous stitching, we may be able to make “the Boro” in today’s society.


Some sample photo of actual usage in Japan

In Sashiko Live Streaming on Instagram, I asked Japanese viewers to share their Zokins in their ordinary days. I sincerely appreciate them providing the photos. It is a big deal for them to share because sharing something so personal (inside of the household) is strongly related to the feeling of shame. However, in order to share the actual image, the picture was something I really would like to share. Please share your Zokin, if possible, so we can connect your place to Japan via Zokin, cleaning and repurposing the fabric.

Again, ANY FABRIC is fine. It is my goal to make a Zokin with my own daughter with using some fabric she likes.

*1: It is another beautiful Japanese culture that I would like to somewhat pass down to my own daughter even in the United States: How to clean with our own hands. The Japanese school require students to clean their classrooms, desks, chairs, and pretty much everything they use. I of course didn’t enjoy it when I was a kid, but I beleive it was a good custom to learn.


Live Streaming related to Zokin Topics


Script for the Youtube Video

Hello. This is Atsushi.

I found it interesting to encounter the word Zokin in browsing the photos of Sashiko. Zokin is quite a common word for the Japanese, and I wrote the blog about Zokin.

 

On top of sharing the information, here is a quick tutorial of how to make Zokin by yourself.

(1) Cut the fabric

Any kind of fabric would be fine for Zokin.

First, cut the fabric for the ideal size. Usually, I prefer 2 layers of fabric to make them strong enough to clean yet light enough to handle. There is no specific rule for Zokin, so the size can be really up to your preference. I prefer the size of my hand palm so I can clean comfortably.

(2) Trim the Edge (if necessary)

The second step is about another preference you may choose from.

Please check the website for the detail explanation. In short, you may trim the edge of the original fabric for the less bulkiness. Or keep them as is to protect the fabric from fraying.

 

(3) Stitch the Edge

If you decide to trim the edge (and if you cut the fabric to your ideal size), you have an option to avoid fraying by stitching the edge and flip the fabric. Find which side if the front. Then fold it with front facing each other. Then, stitch the side, and flip the fabric so the Zokin have the “front side” on both sides. It is not necessary for all the project, but this process will protect the Zokin from fraying easily.

 

Flipping the fabric is completely optional. It will make the fabric more durable and look less bulky, but stitching 4 sides are also a good way to make Zokin.

(4) Stitch to strengthen the fabric.

The step of actual stitching is the most important points of making Zokin. The more you make the stitching, the stronger the Zokin become. There is no rule or regulation what kind of pattern to stitch. However, for the purpose of making the fabric stronger, the geometric pattern with the straight line would be the ideal pattern, such as pattern I performed on this Youtube Video or a Grid that has systematically stitched.



As you may realize, this process of stitching, for the purpose of making fabric stronger, can be called Sashiko. It was a very ordinary custom to repurpose the used fabric to make the cleaning rag. The Japanese used to say that we should keep using the fabric until the fabric dissolves in the water. Zokin is just the name of one form of fabric in its long life. The result of the continuous process of using the fabric & mending (fixing) it, and stitching (to stabilize the fabric) is Boro.

 

Editors Note

 

2 main questions about making Zokin would be… 1. Is it have to be hand stitched? 2. Do we use Sashiko thread?

 

It doesn’t have to be hand-stitched. Again, it is very much up to the preference. Personally, the way of stitching doesn’t really matter because it is for the purpose of cleaning with old fabric – the most important concept here is repurposing.

 

One big advantage of hand-stitching is the durability of Zokin. The bigger stitches made by hands will be more flexible in terms of tensioning the fabric. The machine stitches can result in destroying the fabric over time.

 

For the thread, any kind of thread would be fine for the Zokin unlike the other Sashiko project to make Jacket and bags.

 

However, when you are thinking of making “Boro-looking” fabric from Zokin and using the fabric as Zokin, which looks like a piece of fabric start melting by itself, then Sashiko thread may be a good choice. Generally speaking, the (used) fabric itself should start fraying before the (new) Sashiko thread. The regular sewing thread will snap sooner than the Sashiko thread.



The more information is available on our Engish website, upcyclestitches.com