Well. This can be a bit surprising for some of you. When I question myself, “Is Sashiko Art?”, the answer I come up with is, “No, I do not think Sashiko is the (Fine) Art.“
Sashiko isn’t the (Fine) Art for me. More precisely speaking, I would say, “Sashiko can be a form of Art, but Sashiko was not developed as the Art.” In other words, thanks to a friend of mine who gave me a good insight, “Sashiko is a form of Folk Art but not Fine Art.”
*After learning the difference between Fine Art, Folk Art, and general concept (big picture) of Art, I consider Sashiko can be the part of Art.
Some may disagree with me. I understand that the beauty of Sashiko item can be understood as the form of Fine Art. However, with considering the definition of Art and the origin of Sashiko, it is unnatural for me to say “Sashiko is the art”.
Please bear with me here. I will try my best to explain the reasoning and logic behind it. This blog post is my challenge to explain why I say “No” to the question of “Is Sashiko Art?”
*Please understand that my intention to write about this topic is to figure out where I stand. I never intend to judge or criticize someone or someone’s art. In fact, I (Atsushi) am the one who would like to develop Sashiko as the art toward the future. However, most of the Sashiko artisans I respect including my mother Keiko, do not consider Sashiko as the Art (or Fine Art). In order to move forward, understanding Sashiko and its possibility is must-thing for me to do. I hope this article can give you another perspective of Sashiko.
*English is my second language, and has been so long since I wrote an essay in English… forgive me any typo or grammatical error. I will do my best in correction when you point out some (but please be accepting, too. Being perfect in writing isn’t the goal here.)
Table of Content
- Why do I care if Sashiko is Art or not? – my motivation
- Art Terminology & Definition
- Sashiko as a process of caring – not the result
- Sashiko as the Folk Art – Mingei –
- Categorization of Some Japanese Arts and Traditions
- The whole discussion is for me (Atsushi)
- The culture & Tradition alter over time.
- I respect not only the result but the concept behind it
Why do I care if Sashiko is Art?
First of all, I would like to explain why I care if Sashiko is Art or not. I understand that it is even ridiculous to define the words in Art. Understanding the Art itself is already abstract and subjective. If she/he thinks the item “A” is the art, the item “A” is the Art.
Also, it is very true that we should simply enjoy the beauty of the result, and share the pleasure and joy of Sashiko art items.
In 2018, throughout many Sashiko workshop opportunity, we have received numbers of compliments that we (Keiko and Atsushi) are the true Sashiko Artist. I enjoyed the positive feedbacks, and I called myself “Sashiko Artist” without even thinking deeply. I simply enjoyed what I do, and shared the pleasure of Sashiko.
Then, I just realize why I never considered myself as the artist before offering the workshop in the USA. I never thought of me an Artist in Japan. Keiko, who lives Japan, still don’t consider herself artist.
When someone call me an artist, I have no problem with that. I don’t know what Art is yet someone find me an artist. It is absolutely fine.
However, when I title myself as the artist, I wanted to know what I meant by it. Without this, I cannot move forward to introduce the traditional Sashiko as well as possibly Sashiiko as the Fine Art (which I believe Sashiko is not).
Art Terminology & Definition
When we talk about the definition of an item, it is very important to make sure we all are on the same page of the other words’ definition and terminology. Here are several words I would like to define first.
The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
Creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content.
Encompasses art produced from an indigenous culture or by peasants or other laboring tradespeople. In contrast to fine art, folk art is primarily utilitarian and decorative rather than purely aesthetic
I realize the definition for the general “Art” is too broad to discuss my point. So, I would like to use these 2 words, Fine Art and Folk Art, to explain my ideas.
- Fine Art has no functions to the necessity in life, there fore it is Fine Art.
- Folk Art is developed for the necessity and we put the value as the art later on.
Therefore, I think, Sashiko is a form of Folk Art and not Fine Art.
Sashiko as a process of caring – not the result.
I strongly believe Sashiko is the process of needle movement rather than the results of the mass of stitches. For the achievement of Sashiko, we appreciate the result of Sashiko stitching by the nameless Japanese who performed Sashiko stitching. Some of their achievements are called Boro, and we appreciate the beauty of it.
I wonder, if the Japanese thought of “Fine Art” when they practiced Sashiko stitching in the past. Probably not. It was merely a chore to survive through the severe winter in Japan. They would probably care about the family or their friends, and made stitches rather than worrying how beautiful and inspirational it would be as the art.
(*It is not a discussion of black and white. I also believe that the women who mended fabric with Sashiko cared the result as a beautiful pieces in their capacity with limited resources and time. However, it isn’t the Fine Art since they “could have” express more if they didn’t have to work for the purpose.)
In fact, “because of this caring stitches”, I believe Sashiko is so beautiful and inspirational. I feel unnatural by saying “Sashiko is the Fine Art” because I am probably scared of losing the taste of “Caring stitches.”
There is a machine which can make the even length (fairly long) stitches so called it Sashiko Sewing machine. People sometimes ask for my opinion about the Sashiko machine. I enjoyed watching what the machine can do. However, I know I wouldn’t use the Sashiko sewing machine because it doesn’t involve the core of Sashiko – enjoying a dialogue with fabric.
I have no problem with people using the sewing machine and calling it Sashiko. However, as the one who was born in Sashiko family and still practices Sashiko, I would like to be able to distinguish the beauty in preciseness and uneven (& caring) stitches.
- The beauty of item is the secondary.
- The process of stitching is the primary.
Then, the question kicks in.
In order to define Sashiko as the Folk Art, the item has to be made by nameless people. I use my name, Atsushi Futatsuya, and my mother’s name, Keiko Futatsuya, to stand out in the field. Would it be called Folk Art Sashiko?
I don’t know. This is the reason I started asking the question if Sashiko is the Art.
Strictly speaking, what we are doing may not be authentic Sashiko because we use our name. Furthermore, I am the one who wants to be the artist regardless of the original figure of Sashiko. Therefore, I wanted to make sure where I stand before I move forward in 2019.
(Keiko, my mother, never thought herself as the artist. She cares much using her name neither. What she cares is how to surprise the world by her enjoying Sashiko stitching. If you behold or possesses her Sashiko items, you should be able to understand this, but her stitches are full of caring and therefore it is so beautiful.)
Again, it seems I am the one who would like to call Sashiko the Fine Art. However, all of my experience and knowledge says it is not. So, this is merely a start of my long journey to re-define Sashiko.
Sashiko as the Folk Art – Mingei – do they care how it looks? No.
Mingei Art Movement in Japan and Sashiko
The folk Art in Japan has its rich history. I introduce the Folk Art (Mingei Art) Movement in Japan in a separate blog article (Above). For more details, I recommend reading one of founder’s book, Yanagi Soetsu’s book. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yanagi_S%C5%8Detsu)
Generally speaking, Yanagi Soetsu defined Mingei by these 8 criteria.
- Practical: made for practical usage, not for the display.
- Nameless: made by unknown craftsman, and the craft is not made to be famous.
- Mass-produced: In order to meet the demand from the people, the item were made in mass quantity.
- Reasonable Price: Inexpensive price so the ordinal people could purchase and use.
- Locality: The art item has a local characteristic such as color, shape, and patterns.
- Division of Labor: For the mass production, the art item was made in the division of labors by skilled craftsman
- Tradition: Following the tradition and wisdom the ancestors cultivated.
- Collectability: The creation depend on the local tradition and climate rather than the individual skill
Sashiko was discovered as the part of Mingei movement (In Northern part of Japan). Sashiko followed all of the 8 criteria above at some point. However. after the industrial revolution, we (including my Sashiko family) needed to alter its character and lost the sense of Mingei. In other words, Sashiko became unnecessary at some point in Japanese history, and only a few people kept the tradition and customs with non-Mingei reasons.
The Sashiko I was grown up with is somewhat nameless (brand name with about 50 nameless artisans), somewhat Mass-produced in a capacity of hand-made craft, and relatively reasonable as the local souvenir.
Sashiko I practice now after the difficulty to continue the family Sashiko is not nameless (although we have nameless artisans as well), somewhat Mass-produced but mostly one-of-a-kind, and expensive (although some say super reasonable for the amount of the work required).
As you can tell, the Sashiko we practice is not already following the strict rule of Mingei. However, (therefore), I feel unnatural to say Sashiko is the Fine Art. I feel Keiko and I would lose the other characteristic of Mingei by defining Sashiko as the art, which I am horrified to face to the risk of losing the core beauty of Sashiko.
I hope I am explaining enough why I started this – this blog entry is not for judging someone. It is for encouraging myself to move forward. I could keep going without defining Sashiko if I didn’t know that so many people get interested in Sashiko. Now, thanks to SNS, because I know there are many people who enjoy Sashiko, I feel obligated to explain the origin of Sashiko – to respect and appreciate more.
Categorization of Japanese Art
Here is another interesting story.
If you are fascinated by the beauty of Sashiko, you may compare Sashiko to the other Japanese beautiful traditional art and culture. We can name numbers of them.
A – Family & Organization
- Kabuki (Performing Art)
- Ikebana – (Flower Arrangement)
B – Traditional Craft certified by Japan
- Edo Kiriko (Glass Art)
- Yuzen (Kimono)
C – Locally Traditional
- Misoshiru – (Miso Soup)
Can you guess what the categorization I made for?
Category A is well known for the Japanese traditional Art (performing art). There are the “family” or “organization” to pass down the tradition. The one can be part of the family, but there is a very strict rule to follow.
Category B is known as the Japanese traditional Craft. Over the history, the Japanese developed so many traditional crafts with forming the artisans guild. The Japanese government certified those traditional crafts and trying to protect & pass them down to the next generation.
Category C is the other Japanese art, crafts, and culture which are not certified by Japan as the nation or don’t have the “Big (Celebrity) Family” to pass it down. The items I listed, Sashiko, Miso Soup, and Origamis are (were) so ordinary for the Japanese to form the organization to protect them, therefore they didn’t become the Japanese “traditional” art, crafts or culture, which leads to my saying, “There is no such a thing as right or wrong in Sashiko” because of this categorization.
It also explains why I feel unnatural to call sashiko the (Fine) art.
Let’s say, you are an American, and eat a slice of pizza regularly. Would you call a slice of Pizza as the art? Well, the artisan made a beautiful and skillful pizza for you. Would you feel a bit strange to call it the Art?
Anything can be the art. Yes.
If the artist uses Pizza to make the fine art, it can be a form of Fine Art (if the audience defines it as the art.) However, if a regular chef is merely creating the tasty and beautiful pizza, then the people started calling his work as the art, wouldn’t he feel a bit strange?
Sashiko isn’t Pizza. I understand. We cannot eat Sashiko, nor we cannot stitch pizza. However, this is the foundation of my question. I sometimes feel like people fantasize Sashiko. Sometimes, the saying sounds like the exaggerated phrase in comparison to what Sashiko is. It is perfectly fine that people understand anything from Sashiko. However, it is a different story if I, as the creator, start exaggerating what it is without realizing that I am exaggerating.
Again, I am also the one who would like to bring Sashiko to the Art. In order to do so, I need to share all of my knowledge and wisdom, then I can feel easy on moving forward.
The whole discussion is for me, Atsushi.
Thank you for reading this far. As you may have understood by now, the whole discussion of “Is Sashiko Art?” is for me. The more I read the comments I received on Instagram and Facebook, the more I understand that I am the one who would like to be the Artist.
You may say, “You can be the artist if you think so.”
Yes. It is very true.
However, the fabric I stitch on may not feel the same. The thread I am stitching with may disagree. The hand I am moving doesn’t appreciate the decision that I make. The 30+ years of experience in Sashiko is not all about stitching. It is the experience with Sashiko in my childhood. I believe I am the one who saw the Sashiko items the most in my generation.
I once cursed my fate. I now appreciate my privilege.
The artisans who I grow up with would not think of themselves as the artist. I asked Keiko if she would consider herself an artist. Her answer was as simple as “No” after questioning me why I ask her such a stupid question.
Following, she also explained a bit.
It is her pleasure that her clients (customers) think of her achievement as the (Fine) Art. However, I do not consider myself as the Artist. I simply enjoy the conversation with the fabric, bringing the “unused” fabric to the stage again where people would wear or use in their life. I am merely a Sashiko artisan.
I respect her as well as the other artisans I feel like the family to me. If I would follow their path, I would never consider Sashiko as the (Fine) Art. It is the end of the story, and I wouldn’t need to bring up the definition & terminology because the other’s perception wouldn’t change their attitude and understanding.
I, on the other hands, have both sides of understanding – Sashiko as the “merely” stitching and Sashiko as the “super cool” art.
In order to integrate these 2 extreme concepts, I needed to understand where I stand.
The culture & Tradition alter over time.
Over time, the culture and tradition alter its form. So does Sashiko.
Sashiko started as the wisdom in survival through the severe winter in Japan. The poor the Japanese were in the rural area, the more people needed to do the stitching. We call it Sashiko.
At the same time in the history, at other places where were a bit richer than the other places, the Sashiko formed its necessity as strengthening the fabric instead of mending or filling the gap. Also, over time, Sashiko changed its stance to decorative stitching for those who couldn’t dye patterns out.
Sashiko was developed as a form of stitching by the ordinary Japanese people. It is perfectly natural to observe some changes, and it is as perfectly natural to enjoy the transformation in this era by other people’s necessity and intention.
Again, we can call anything “Art” and they can define Sashiko as they want. I am not titled to accept or deny any interpretation of Sashiko. One can just grab the needle and make some stitches, then she/he can call it Sashiko.
Sashiko can be as simple as that. At the same time, however, for those who would like to enjoy Sashiko sincerely, I would like them to understand the primitive form of Sashiko. It is my fate to verbalize some of the shame the Japanese had been holding throughout Sashiko and Boro-Making process.
The Boro as the sign of Shame
Sushi started its path as the fast food for Samurai and civilians in the Edo period. The reason we use “Wasabi – the green spice” is for the bactericidal action in eating raw fish on the street. In this century, Sashiko became a synonym of Japanese food, with a hint of fancy and expensive yet healthy & popular food option available.
Sashiko can be like Sushi, too.
One day, people may call the process of “repurposing a garment” Sashiko. Or, simply, hand-stitching on a piece of fabric may be called “Sashiko”. I do not know how “we” transform Sashiko’s culture.
Regardless of the change, I believe, someone needs to keep mentioning the origin and the logical side of the traditional culture. Most of the traditional culture and craft, (which lead to the Folk Art) have a logic behind it. For example of Sushi, Wasabi is not only for the tasting. It has a role of protecting the customer from food poisoning. So is the same in Sashiko. The size of needles has the meaning. The thimble has its own role. The Sashiko thread has a completely different purpose in comparison to the other sewing thread.
When we know those “wisdom”, I believe we can enjoy the culture more and more.
Furthermore, as a sort of conclusion, this is the reason I do not categorize Sashiko in the Fine Art. Fine Art, the artist doesn’t need to explain anything (in my understanding.) It can be conceptual as well as inspirational. Sashiko… as long as I know, Sashiko still requires some explanation to be “stunningly beautiful”.
Again, please understand it is NOT about good or bad. Fine Art is fantastic, and so is Folk Art. I am here to explain the difference so that I may be, one day, start calling myself “Artist” instead of “craftsman or artisan”
*I have called myself “artist” before without knowing the definition at all… so, here I am now.
I respect not only the result but the concept behind it
I understand Sashiko is getting popular because of its simplicity, beauty, and idea of visible mending. I respect those who translated and introduced the idea of Sashiko to their own culture and developed it. One day, I would like to meet everyone who enjoys Sashiko and talk about Sashiko and its cultural meaning to us.
For me, Sashiko is a whole package of ordinary Japanese days for the ordinary Japanese people. Sashiko communicate the women’s pride in the severe condition. We can learn how Japanese people behaved throughout learning the mindset of Sashiko. Therefore, I respect not only the result of beautiful stitching but also the concept behind Sashiko.
Here is a list of mindsets I am determined to share throughout Sashiko, this website and our Sashiko Workshops. I have been saying it over the Instagram & Youtube live streaming, and I will do so in 2019 as well.
- There is no such a thing as Right or Wrong in caring someone (and oneself).
- The Caring is the best thing we can do. The emotion doesn’t have to be positive. It can be sometimes negative like jealous or hatred. I believe the opposite of Love is not “Hatred”, it is “Ignorance”
- We would like to introduce a moment of “no more judging”, to someone, and especially to oneself throughout Sashiko. The Sashiko stitches are merely the result of needle movement. No one, including oneself, would judge it good or bad. Instead, we would like to think of someone who may be happy by looking at the stitches.
In summary (long story short)…
- No right or Wrong.
- Be mindful about what you feel.
- No more Judgement (Observe what you do)
I believe you know an activity which satisfies the three criteria above. It is a “meditation”. I feel Sashiko is a very good meditative stitching. Probably, the Japanese people in the past used Sashiko for the meditative purpose (I don’t know if it is true). For more stories about Sashiko and meditation, please wait for my next writing.
I hope I have explained enough why and how I think Sashiko is not the (Fine) art, (yet). As I mentioned in the beginning, writing in English is always a big challenge to me. I will proofread over and over again, and probably change some of the writing. Regardless, what I wrote here is my sincere message & honest understanding about Sashiko.
Please leave a comment if you agree, disagree, got inspired, or even found a problem. I am open to correct (if I find it a problem) and discuss further more.
Thank you for reading this long blog entry.
Enjoy the rest of 2018, and Happy New Year of 2019.
16 thoughts to “Is Sashiko Art? | The origin of Sashiko as Folk Art”
Art and beauty and function.
I add stitches to cloth. To mend. To embellish. To meditate.
When i stitch, i feel the souls of my ancestors before me who stitched.
When i hold a cloth that has been repaired strengthened and embellished with sashiko…..i feel the souls of those who stitched long ago.
Art and beauty and function.
“When I stitch, Ifeel the souls of my ancestors before me who stitched.”
My mother Keiko says a very similar comment that she can resonate herself to the Japanese who were doing Sashiko. I am very happy that I could express what I wanted to share. Very beautiful writing.
I hope that our paths will cross some day.
I would love to meet you and your mother.
Let me know if you ever come to Nagasaki.
Yes. It would be lovely to meet some day. Let you know when we are in Nagasaki.
I really appreciate your blog post – I love sashiko and agree that at its core, it is about “caring stitches”. I would also categorize it as folk art. I like to incorporate some sashiko into all the quilts I make. I love that it is both utilitarian and beautiful!
Thank you for your comment!
There is no question that Sashiko is beautiful. As I had tried, I wanted to share the cultural background of Sashiko. I appreciate your time to read it 😀
Your English is perfect for conveying your feelings about your art. Having recently learned about Sashiko, I am lucky that you are sharing your art and your philosophy about it. Thank you – and I’m looking forward to learning more from you about Japanese art and culture.
Happy New Year to you and your family!
Thank you for the comment.
After writing the blog article, I realize it is not only Sashiko but also the Japanese culture that I would like to share. I will continue this journey in 2019 as well.
Happy New Year to you, too!
I always feel the integrity behind your words when you write about your work. I truly appreciated reading this inquiry into your craft. I love sashiko even more now, and I will hear your words– “caring stitches”– in my mind as mantra when I stitch. I also love how you named and brought to light the intersection of sashiko and meditation. I would be interested to read more about that. Your conclusion about not judging, caring through stitching and let go off the binary of good/bad is an excellent prescription for living in 2019. I hope to meet you someday and stitch with you. Blessings for a new year to you and your family.
Thank you for the comment. It means a lot to me.
It is interesting to find mantra from your writing. I recite some Buddhism mantra in my meditation, and just started implementing it to my Sashiko stitching. I will see how it goes.
It would be great, one day, to stitch together in warm, comfortable weather 😀
Best Regards to you too.
I have just discovered your blog. Inspiring with what I perceive as integrity. I was mostly moved by what you wrote about Boro as visible shame. And it resonates with my own experiences of growing up in relative poverty and feeling less worthy of good in life.
No judgement no good/bad are applicable to both stiches and to our fellow humans and are a wonderful daily practice to alleviate shame and other stigma from past experiences.
Thank you and best of luck
I’ve had a very long love affair with Japan and it’s people for decades…all the way from South Africa. My name is Shannon Theron, a painter, a professional fine artist. I accidentally stumbled apon Boro Sashiko looking for fabrics. I fell in love with it in a huge way. The purity, honesty and beauty of it hit me so hard, I’ve just completed a big textile sculpture covered in Sashiko. Also I’m busy with a ‘boro’ Sashiko wall hanging. I cannot begin to express how deeply I adore it and the exquisite culture of Japan. I know in my soul that I will be doing this for a VERY long time You and your mom have gifted us with exquisiteness…so here it is from me to you both…Boro Sashiko WILL still be classified as Fine Art, regardless of how the Sashiko is applied. I’m giving you my knowledge here, as someone who knows the arts of all civilizations/countries very well. The fact that it is not yet classified as Fine Art is truly sinful.
All my deepest and warmest wishes for a blessed journey for you and yours….
I personally DO NOT classify Boro or Sashiko as Fine Art. As I appreciate your sincere comment and I accept the admiration of others. However, as the one who inherited Sashiko, I do not consider it as Fine Art. I talked about it a lot once on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/sashi.co/ | Then, I switched the platform to Patreon to protect ourselves. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. I explain many reasons “why” I do not consider Sashiko as the Fine Art.
Good afternoon! Could you help me to clarify something? In recent times I made some Nakshi kantha embroidery learning from youtube.com. Last week, to my great surprise, I have seen on Pinterest some of the Nakshi kantha patterns under the name: Japanese embroidery Sashiko. Can Sashiko be found elsewhere too (Bangladesh, India), and how it got there? Thank you. Best wishes, Anna Etelka Clifford.
Thank you for the comment. As long as I understand, the similar hand-stitching culture (customs) exist(ed) everywhere in the world. Kantha is a name for a similar culture in India. Sashiko (刺し子) is a Japanese term for the hand-stitching culture that the Japanese had been practicing. For the history of Sashiko, you can learn more on this website. After all, we (human) needed hand-stitching everywhere in the world. They developed slightly different, but the same in the root. I hope I answered your question.