Instructions for Japanese Sashiko

By Roxanne McHenry ; Updated September 15, 2017

Japanese sashiko is a traditional stitching technique used for embroidery or quilting. Sashiko uses a running stitch with a long needle and special thread. Sashiko is perfect for quilting projects vests like quilted jackets, vests or quilt tops. In Japan, sashiko patterns also decorate home goods like doorway screens, pillows and cushions.

History

For centuries Japanese farmer workers used sashiko to repair indigo farm clothing. The sashiko quilting held the patches on the clothes through several layers of cloth--much like quilting a quilt top today. These repairs created a piece of clothing that was beautiful and functional at the same time.

Special Materials

Sashiko-style design is possible with conventional embroidery or quilting supplies, but authentic sashiko requires traditional materials. Use a white or indigo woven cotton material that's not too tightly woven for even stitches. Don't substitute regular embroidery thread for Sashiko thread. Sashiko thread is thicker and more twisted than embroidery thread, and comes in traditional white or blue colors with a matte finish. Sashiko needles are long to provide five to eight stitches per inch. A thimble helps gets all the stitches onto the needle evenly.

Typical sashiko designs include Japanese geometric patterns of cranes, waves and cherry blossoms. Traditionally, the Japanese used a contrasting thread against the fabric to make the patterns stand out.

Getting started

Pre-made sashiko kits have all the supplies you need for one project. Most kits use a traditional color scheme of white thread on blue cotton or blue thread on white cotton. The cotton squares come with Japanese sashiko patterns pre-printed in a washable ink. Pre-made kits available online offer a variety of projects from samplers to large hanging room dividers.

DIY Sashiko Projects

Sashiko does not require a kit. DIY sashiko gives you the freedom to pick your own patterns and create custom projects. Cut cotton squares to fit your project, and buy sashiko needles and thread in the colors needed. There are many free patterns online to copy and print on fabric.

Modern Quilting

Modern quilters love sashiko for the simple, captivating look the technique creates. While the traditional designs and colors are still popular, modern sashiko quilting includes many more pattern variations and color choices. Modern quilters use these new variations to create their own custom sashiko patterns to share with other quilting enthusiasts.

About the Author

Roxanne McHenry has written online marketing articles and courses for web publications including Affiliate Classroom and Web Pro News since 2002. She has lived and worked in Japan as a teacher and technical translator. McHenry has a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese language and literature from the University of Washington.