Fiber arts · sashiko

Why Sashiko?

It’s probably best to start at the beginning.  With a problem.  With my trousers.

I needed to patch a few of my Levi’s as there’s no reason to throw away a pair of pants if they can mended.  The problem was that I was never taught how to mend things properly and only possess basic hand sewing skills.   After a few false starts with iron on patches (which promptly fell off), sewing the iron on patches into place (only to have the stitches break), and a great deal of cursing I turned to the internet to find a proper method for patching an area that gets a lot of stress.  


After finding some references to visible mending I found the term “Sashiko” which was explained as a traditional Japanese technique for visible mending.  This was closely associated with “boro” which was also described as a traditional approach for mending garments.  Both of these descriptions were later shown to be incorrect and inadequate.  I was interested by the geometric patterns and the contrast between indigo fabric and white thread.  After some struggles I was able to successfully patch my jeans with a mutated technique that resembled the original craft only in the most rudimentary form.  It worked, it was crap, and I wanted to do better.  

Close up of a rectangular piece of dark blue denim used to patch the knee of a pair of blue jeans. The patch has been embroidered with white thread in a geometric pattern Several patches made into the crotch of a pair of blue jeans made with blue denim scraps and white thread View of a pair of old blue jeans from above. One of the knees has been patched with a rectangular blue piece of denim which is embroidered with a geometric shape

There really isn’t anything more profound to this story than a crafter with a savage case of ADHD who turned an ordinary task into a new creative pursuit.  

As with starting any new craft there were a number of hurdles to get over.  The first was finding information.  There were a small number of books in English available and I picked up one by Nihon Vogue and two by Susan Briscoe.  As I mentioned, I have ADHD so I skimmed the books and immediately set upon acquiring a few supplies, thread, stencils, fabric pens, and needles then dove right into my first project.  It did not go well.

Realizing that I needed some additional instruction I found an online course taught by a Japanese teacher who has been living in the US for some time.  Going through the video course did two things, it gradually introduced me to the techniques that I had skimmed in the books and also gave me a more tangible feeling that this craft was grounded in a culture that I was not a member of but had interest in understanding.

  A white linen shirt embroidered with sashiko patterns

Over the next month and a half I was able to complete an embroidery project which had me working on three linen shirts that I had sewn a few years ago when I became interested in historical costuming (my wife had done quite a bit of work in that direction far before me and was able to help).  These shirts had been sitting in a box so I wanted to bring them out and decorate them so I could move them into daily wear.  This was an excellent learning process.  Which is to say its was full of lessons.  Which is to say I fucked up.  A lot.  

Currently I’m about two months into the learning process and am beginning to sort through all the information that I’ve acquired and will be using this blog to help me document my projects as well as my research into the cultural and techniques of sashiko.  I cannot speak Japanese and as I work full time as a software engineer I don’t believe I have the dedicated time to learn so I am quite handicapped in this pursuit.  But I will move forward as I can with English resources and machine translation with the implicit understanding that I’m missing a great deal of context due to not only the language barrier but a cultural one as well.


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