An Introduction to Sashiko Stitching

Sashiko stitching

Oh be still my beating heart! Oh how I loved my first go at Sashiko 🙂

The third in my mini series on some hand quilting techniques (see also Kantha stitching and Banjara embroidery), this is how I found my first experience of Sashiko.

When I opened the shop a couple of years ago (that long already?!) I had never really heard of it, although I do recall seeing it on a stand at the Festival of Quilts one year. Sashiko stitching is Japanese and I think it has an interesting story.

Traditional Sashiko on a worker’s garmet
Image courtesy of Google images

What is Sashiko exactly?

Firstly, it’s pronounced “Sash-ko” and it means “little stabs” or “little pierce”.

Sashiko stitching was originally used for practical reasons: it originated about 400 years ago and was used to reinforce seams or for making repairs to clothes. It traditionally uses white thread on a blue / indigo background. The reason for this is that back then it was only the elite and Royalty who were allowed to wear brightly coloured and highly embroidered clothes. The workers wore an indigo blue outfit. When these needed repairing, they used a combination of white stitches to create patterns, so they too could have embroidered clothes.

Sashiko Mending
Image courtesy of Google Images

Although historic Sashiko used red thread for some decorative items, modern day Sashiko uses a whole variety of colours. For my sample above though, I stuck to tradition with a white thread.

Using red thread
Image courtesy of Google Images

Traditional Sashiko Patterns

Sashiko stitching uses mostly geometric patterns, and there are two styles:

Moy Ozaski – this is where the patterns are created with long lines of running stitches; and
Hitomezashi – where the pattern emerges from the alignment of single stitches made on a grid.

These geometric patterns and designs come from both Chinese and Japenese designers and embroiders and build up to form waves, mountains, bamboo, arrow feathers, pampas grass, and patterns such as overlapping diamonds, linked diamonds, linked hexagons and so on. If you look on Google images or Pinterest, there are literally hundreds of different Sashiko patterns, and it was one of these that I chose for my sample at the top of this blog.

Geometric Patterns
Image courtesy of Google Images

Give Sashiko a go

Sashiko has its own special thread and needle (very easily available online, and as soon as I find a supplier, I’ll stock them in the shop too). The Sashiko thread is much thicker than normal cotton and a dream to sew with. The only thing was that when I received my skein, I couldn’t find the end. Hmm. Was that me I wonder, or have you found (or not found) that too?

Sashiko stitching uses a basic running stitch. These stitches should be evenly spaced but should be longer on the top than underneath.

There are also a few rules about what you do when you reach corners, T-junctions and make stars and crosses – see pic below. So Sashiko stitching has this delightful combination of being easy and challenging all at the same time. Just when you think you have a perfect line of evenly spaced stitches, you then discover that you can’t leave the necessary space at a corner, so you end up pulling out a few stitches and re-sewing. You get better at judging that though, and I thought it was a very satisfying technique to do.

Sashiko stitching rules
Taken from my own notebook

Sashiko stitching would definitely enhance a quilt and add an extra element to your hand quilting designs. Do let me know if you give it a whirl, and don’t forget to leave a photo of your samples pieces or finished quilts in the comments below; I would love to see them 🙂

Until next time,