Sashiko was a style of functional embroidery developed in Japan and used as early as the 17th century, which was very popular with the peasant class. Traditionally the style features geometric white patterns on darker, usually indigo cloth.
(sashiko pictured here recreated “in the hoop” using an embroidery machine) https://swpea.com/products/japanese-folded-sashiko-quilt-4×4-5×5-6×6-in-the-hoop-machine-embroidery-design.
The Sashiko style was used predominantly to mend clothes with patches. The quilting of the clothes made them more durable and warmer for the harsh winters peasants would have to deal with outside of estates and castles. It could also be used to turn clothes beyond repair into bags, hats and cloths for cleaning. If necessary it could be utilised to quilt an entire outfit, changing it from indoor summer-wear to winter-wear. It was important for the working class to repurpose material in this way due to its scarcity, as textiles could not be mass produced, and even once they could be, were often too expensive. In this way, the poor in Japan could get the most use out of cloth very valuable cloth as possible.
The other purpose behind Sashiko was, of course, to make the clothes more aesthetically pleasing. It is an example of a group using their limited resources to best effect, and creating beautiful patterns without using the expensive new silks that the ruling class of the time had access to.
Sashiko which means little stabs, was usually created using white thread on top of dark indigo cloth traditionally. This was due to the fact that dyeing cloth brighter colours was more difficult and more expensive than darker shades. Laws were eventually brought in stopping any lowborn individual from wearing bright colours, further restricting the colour choice along with a superstition that indigo deterred insects and snakes. When designing modern Sashiko of course it is possible to use any colours but for those wanting to stay traditional white thread on dark blue is the norm. As previously stated the designs created using the thread were geometric shapes used to make peasant clothes more aesthetically pleasing while still serving a purpose. The designs are created using a plain running stitch.
Image source: folkfibers.com
The material used was loosely stitched and originally made from hemp and linen. Eventually peasants gained access to cotton which was better quality but still loose enough for the embroidery. The thread used was strong cotton whenever possible and hemp before this was available.
Sweetpea Embroidery Design
We are able to replicate these beautiful 17th century designs with our embroidery machine these days, rather than painstakingly with a long thin sturdy needle like the Japanese who originally designed them.
Here’s a quick sneak peak on how the sashiko quilt is recreated “in the hoop”.
Embroider the Sashiko.
Take your second piece of fabric and fold it in half length ways wrong sides together.
Place your Fabric onto the hoop, matching the fold up with the little indication marks we stitched earlier and the raw ends towards the bottom right corner of the block. Tape your fabric in place and stitch down.
Now use that same stitch down line as your placement line for your third piece of fabric. Lay the fabric wrong side up on the hoop with one edge crossing the placement line by about 1cm (1/2”) and with the excess towards the top left corner of the block.
Stitch Fabric down.
Continue following the full instructions provided with the download from swpea.com and the final result will look like this. To find the design click on this link https://swpea.com/products/japanese-folded-sashiko-quilt-4×4-5×5-6×6-in-the-hoop-machine-embroidery-design.