Sashiko is a form of Japanese folk embroidery using the basic running stitch to create a patterned background. The geometric patterns include straight or curved lines of stitching arranged in a repeating pattern. The Japanese word Sashikomeans little stabs and refers to the small stitches used in this form of needlework.
Originally, sashiko was used as a form of darning to repair or add strength to worn areas of clothing or to create insulated double-layer coats.
Due to its beauty and durability, it has become an art form rather than just functional and is very popular with quilters.
The inspiration for traditional sashiko designs usually comes from nature, such as clouds, rippling water or waves, flowers, and leaves. Designs can also be very geometric featuring interlocking lines, stars, squares, triangles and circles. Tessellating designs – repeating shapes that are interlocked – are also very common motifs in sashiko embroidery.
Each of the patterns typically has a history to it, and many have special meanings or common uses. For example, the Hishi or diamond shape is often seen in Japanese home decor. The hexagonal Kikko design (also known as turtle’s shell or beehive) is considered a symbol of good fortune.
Traditional sashiko uses indigo dyed fabric and white sashiko thread.
Two layers of evenweave fabric such as linen or cotton and linen blends that are heavier than broadcloth are typically used for Sashiko.
Boro are a class of Japanese textiles that have been mended or patched together. The term is derived from Japanese boroboro, meaning something tattered or repaired. As hemp was more widely available in Japan than cotton, they were often woven together for warmth.
Boro was born of forgotten values of ‘mottainai’ or ‘too good to waste’. An idea dangerously lacking in the modern consumer lifestyle.
Although beautiful, boro cloths came about through pure necessity. During the 18th and 19th centuries cotton was a luxury afforded only to the nobility. The lower classes had homespun fibres that were more difficult to make into fabric and didn’t last as well. By patching and stitching, the fabric could be strengthend and its life could be extended. During the Edo era there were also laws that restricted lower classes from wearing bright colours which is why the cloths are indigo blue and brown. Boro textiles are now highly sought after collectibles.
During these times pieces of cloth were re-purposed in various forms. Often starting off as a kimono then becoming every day clothing, a piece of sleepwear, a futon cover, a bag then finally a dusting cloth. Every scrap was used until it wore out.
This relates to the Japanese philosophy of ‘mottaini’, which centres around wasting nothing of the intrinsic value on an object.
The charm of boro is not only the indigo shades and shabby street chic, or even its eco-friendliness. Sewn together over generations, family sagas are woven through the threads.
Modern stitch inspired by Japanese textile art, by Belinda Marshall