Sashiko for Beginners Part 1

intro to sashiko

I took a Sashiko for Beginners course in August this year at The Festival of Quilts at the NEC, Birmingham.  I knew nothing about it, except that it involved hand sewing and my hand sewing is awful, so I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.  This article gives you a background to Sashiko and the materials you need.

What is sashiko?

Sashiko is a simple but stunning type of embroidery from Japan.  The simplicity of it (there is only one type of stitch) makes sashiko perfect for beginners.

It’s traditions are based in “make do and mend” and Japanese countryside workers used it to fix their indigo dyed workwear, by adding patches and then beautiful stitching on top of this. By the 1950s with increased prosperity and man-made fabrics, sashiko became less popular as country people changed the way that they dressed.

It was fortunate that it saw a revival in the 1970s and has grown in popularity as more people appreciate it’s meditative and creative qualities as well as an art form.

How do you say “sashiko”?

I’ve heard it pronounced two different ways:

  1. Sah-she-ko
  2. Sash-e-ko (the “e” sound is almost silent)

The second pronunciation is the most common form.

What tools do I need?

There are two main items I recommend you buy:

olympus sashiko thread

  1. Sashiko needles – Clover make these and they are inexpensive.  They are super sharp, and are similar to embroidery needles but extra long as they are designed to push through several layers of material. For small projects, you could just use embroidery needles.  I bought mine from Amazon (this 6 pack seemed like a good deal.)
  2. Sashiko thread – this is a pure cotton matt thread from Japan.  It is easy to find in the UK and is also inexpensive. It is available in a variety of plain and variegated colours, but the traditional colour is pure white.  I don’t recommend swapping it for embroidery thread as this has a sheen which is unbecoming of sashiko designs (but of course, it’s entirely down to personal preference!)  I bought my Sashiko thread here (it was the best price at the time.)

Other items you could buy to make life easier:

  1. Sashiko templates or even standard templates for marking out traditional designs.  You could use a ruler and something circular like a coin but you will need the patience of a saint as Sashiko designs are very precise and usually very geometric.  I bought mine here – these were really difficult to find in the UK (there’s sellers on Etsy too.)
  2. A washable or rub off chalk pencil marker.  Bohin make a fabulous one which you can get with different coloured refills which makes it ideal for working on different coloured fabrics.  I bought mine from Cotton Patch which was the cheapest at the time.

Bohin Chalk Pen

What Fabric Should I Use?

For purests, you would use Japanese indigo fabric, as this was the traditional hand dyed fabric used for hundreds of years. However, what was once inexpensive hand dyed fabric, is now super expensive and quite difficult to get hold of in the UK. Alternatives include more open weave fabrics such as thicker household fabrics in cotton and linen.  Dress making fabrics are fine too.  I’ve cut up some old thin denim jeans which I’m going to test (better quality denim would be quite heavy and difficult to get the needle through.)

Next post on creating your first Sashiko project is coming soon!…

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