Sashiko (刺し子) is a form of needlework developed in Japan a couple of centuries ago.
We can find its history in several regions in Japan, where the Japanese had to experience the severe winter. Sashiko used to be a job for women to mend men’s garments over the winter. Both men and women worked as farmers over the summer. Men worked in the wood and women repaired the fabric over the winter. The routine still exist in some places. Our partner, Sashi.Co & Keiko Futatsuya, slows down over summer because many Sashiko artisans work as famers primary.
As long as I know, there is neither the solid definition nor the answer to what Sashiko is. Each regions developed Sashiko in their unique way, and each style of them is very beautiful. My definition of Sashiko is that it is a process of mending the fabric to repair, strengthen and warmth the garment, which family member will wear. Well, let me stop here. I am not writing a book about its history.
However, I believe it is one of my missions to explore what Sashiko is. The exploration will be a big one, so please follow the link if you are interested in understanding it. I am working on some reading materials.
- Start the exploration to Sashiko history and definition
- Sashiko is a process, not a result. Needle movement with appreciation.
Sashiko Stitching / How to stitch
Sashiko transformed itself over the years and centuries.
We now mainly enjoy Sashiko as a decorative form of needlework. The simple stitching with the traditional combination, which is Indigo Dye Fabric and White thread, attract many people. We can find its unique stitchings in tablewares, clothes like jackets or shirts, handbags, and tapestries. I’ve had workshops for quilters, which they loved the taste of Sashiko.
There is no such a thing as “the rule”. You can do Sashiko on any kind of fabric with any color. However, there are efficient and beautiful ways to do stitching based on its history and accumurated wisdom. As a Sashiko artist from surviving traditional family in Japan, I will introduce the traditional and basics of Sashiko.
Tools and Materials to prepare in the beginning.
It is very easy to start. You do not need a huge investment to prepare what you need. Here is a list of things you would need to start. I wrote about the tools we use.
List of things you would need to start
- Sashiko Thread | Pick a good one
- Fabric | Solid Cotton fabric is recommended
- Sashiko Needle
- Sashiko Thimble
- Pattern | Anything you would like to
- Tracing tools such as tracing paper or chalk pencil
*Each Link Above goes to our Online Store.
*Click here for little more information for each material.
Preparation, either drawing the pattern on the fabric or transferring the pattern onto the fabric, is a very important process. Either way, please make sure that the patterns are strongly visible on the fabric. Once you start doing stitching, the pattern may fade off. In case, reinforce the line accordingly. Having a good pattern on the fabric is a key to accomplish the better result.
If you are using the transferring method from patterns printed on papers, please refer to another article of mine, how to transfer the pattern onto fabric. With online video tutorial, you will be able to grasp the process of transferring the pattern with appropriate tools. If you are drawing the pattern on the fabric with using rulers and pencil, refer to the article about how to draw the symentric patterns (coming soon).
After the pattern in nicely on your fabric, trim your fabric to appropriate size for your project. Let do actual stitching!
Stitching – How to use tools
Among several Sashiko methods, naminui method (Running Stitching) is one of my specialty. I will focus on Naminui on this introduction page. In order to perform Naminui, put the thimble as the picture below show. A round shape facing down, and the thimble is on the middle finger of your dominant hand. Try to practice hold the needle as the picture show. This is the basic and standard figure of how to hold the needle using the unique shaped round thimble.
Before stitching, after practicing the figure, do not forget to thread the needle. If you choose the appropriate needle, it shouldn’t be too difficult to thread through. Of course, you can use threader if you need support. Also, putting a hint of Vaseline on the tip of the thread may help the threading process.
Let’s start stitching
In my workshop, I always say;
“Hold the fabric and needle together with using your thumb and the tip of middle finger. The needle should be on your dominant hand. Then support the fabric with another hand. Move (push) the needle while making stitches”
Then I see confused faces in the classroom. Always.
It is pretty difficult to explain how to make Sashiko stitches in written contents. The standard form is shown in the photo below. I understand that you do not understand by looking at photos.
Since it is difficult to explain in written form, I uploaded several videos how to do Sashiko stitching. I am learning how to make videos, so it has a chance to re-upload the better videos. Check our Youtube channel for the update and more information.
Example with Shippou Pattern
Tips for the better experience
Making no knots…?
Regular hand-sewing and stitching require a knot at the end of the thread to hold. However, we often avoid making the knots when we start stitching and end stitching. Instead, we make several “over-ray” stitches to hold the thread and fabric. The picture below shows a few stitches which as 2 colors, like pink and yellow, pink and light green. These are over-ray stitching and the Sashiko thread makes it possible to replace the knots. (I believe most of the(I believe most of the regular embroidery thread will not work as knots even if you make several over-ray stitches.)
The “knot-less” stitching makes fabric more smooth, and it is great techniques for projects you need to use both side of fabric. Here are some supporting links to over-ray stitching including an online video tutorial how to make over-ray stitching.
- How to NOT to make knots in Sashiko (youtube video)
- Why do we make over-lay stitches
How many stitches should we make?
You may make as many stitches as you want as long as the needle let you do. Some artists makes as many as 30 stitches without smoothing the fabric. The unique method of Naminui and the way to hold the needle and thimble make it possible. When you work on the patterns with straight line (like the picture below) making many stitches will save you time and give you even stitches. When you work on the pattern with circles or curves, try to keep the stitches small and less stitches so you will make smooth and nice curve by stitches.
By the way, the picture above another picture showing the overlay stitching.
Here is a video showing the Naminui Stitching that I make.
Right or Wrong | Any regulation?
I personally believe there is no such a thing as “right” or “wrong” in Sashiko stitching. It isn’t structured tradition like other types of Japanese traditional culture such as “Sado / Tea ceremony” and “Ikebana/flower arrangement art.” After all, Sashiko was merely a stitching custom which the ordinary people practice daily basis. So, do not worry about doing right or wrong. Therefore, there isn’t any regulation. Just enjoy the process of stitching.
Even stitches always give you the good result.
Although there isn’t any regulation, there are a few suggestons you may take into consideration. The first suggestion is about the length of one stitch. There is no standard for the length of Sashiko. No Sashiko tell you that you have to make, let’s say, 1mm length stitches throughout the project. Just try to keep the even stitches throughout your project. Even if you have relatively big stitches for the first line, you may want to keep the same length. Even stitches always give you the good result.
You will be able to adjust the length of stitching based on what your Sashiko project require. Jeans mending require the bigger stitches. A pillow with curve line will require small and precise stitches.
Question. Which is the best Sashiko stitching?
Look at the center of this Sashiko pattern, where 3 lines cross. Which point would be the best Sashiko, either A, B or C?
Some book may say that “A” is the “right” Sashiko and “B” and “C” are not “right” so if you have B and C, you should retry it. In my opinion, B and C are also good Sashiko. Why? Because every line keeps the same length throughout the pattern.
Let’s look at another picture.
This is the exact same pattern from above. Do you even find point A, B and C? Are they that significant when you look from distance? Sashiko tend to have many stitches on the fabric. So small “adjustment” is not necessary. If you have even stitches, the result will get better.
In fact, it is up to your preference after all.
I prefer the Sashiko with “even stitches without adjusting much.” Some people may prefer adjusting stitches with almost perfect pattern looking.The beauty of Sashiko is partically because of its inperfectionism, so I always teach my student to not to worry about the small detail. In stead of redoing the Sashiko, I will move on to another project so you can stitch more and more. Trust me. If you keep the even stitches with appropriate length for your project, the result will be great.
A series of my exploration to Sashiko history and definition.
More brief information for materials.
I strongly recommend using “Sashiko thread” for the best results. Sashiko requires a series of think and unique stitches for better appearance as well as strengthing the fabric simultaneously. The regular embroidery floss may be a bit inappropriate for its purpose. You can find more information and articles about Sashiko thread we prefer in our website.
- About our Sashiko Thread
- Natural Dye Sashiko Thread
Cotton Fabric is always a good choice for Sashiko. We have used other types of fabric such as silk and linen. However, the cotton fabric will result in the beautiful stitches. Heavy fabric, such as hard denim, may be difficult for the beginners since it requires finger power to push the needle. Light fabric, such as cotton poplin, may require you some practice because of its thinness. The thin fabric is perfect material for stitching double layers. There are more information and articles about the fabric for Sashiko.
- About preferable fabric for Sashiko stitching
Picking a good needle is a very important process.
For the better result, the needles should be long enough to hold several stitches. The needle I recommend, which is the one I use, has about 5 cm (2-inch) length. It is longer than usual hand sewing needle. I explain why you need this long needle in other articles and also in a youtube video. The needle should have a relatively big eye for thicker thread. At the last, the needle should be tough enough to stitch the several layers of fabric, and yet flexible enough to keep several stitches.
A thimble surprises many workshop participants. This round shape made from metal thimble are not common in other types of stitching. It requires a lot of practice to get used to making stitches with this thimble. One of my workshops focuses on how to use this thimble. Learning how to use the thimble will speed up your stitching and will give you the better result.
Any patterns would be great on Sashiko stitching. Japanese geometric patterns are the all-time favorite, but we also get inspiration from other stitching and embroidery culture. It is always a good idea to start with basic and fundamental. In order to learn Sashiko basic, I recommend using some of Japanese geometric patterns. They are available in our online store for download.
- Patterns for Sashiko? What is good and what is bad?
At last, but not the least, getting the appropriate tools for tracing the pattern is another very important process. There are no needs to get some special tracing tools. Chalk pencil, a tracing wheel, safety pins, and so on from a local hobby store would be just fine. I learned that some supplies and tools are difficult to get in the United States, so here is a list of things we carry in our inventory.
- Carbon Paper (Transfer Paper)
- Mylar Paper (Poly Sheet)
For the tutorial how to transfer the pattern onto the fabric, please refer the other articles I wrote as well as the youtube video. I also sell the kit to practice how to transfer the pattern. You can use the Indigo Dye fabric for Sashiko after you practiced transferring pattern onto the fabric.
- How to transfer pattern onto the fabric (Youtube Video)
- How to transfer pattern (Web-Article)
- Pattern Practice Kit (Web-Article)
- Pattern Practice Kit (Product Page in our Online Store)
Update 2019 Fall
Thank you very much for reading a long article. I wrote this article about 2 years ago (in 2017), and there are many updates since. One of the biggest update is the Online Sashiko Class.
I look forward to meeting you there, either In-person or Online (I have live session to meet, too).