Unplug with Japanese Sashiko Hand Sewing Projects

30 Jan 2012

Hand stitching is one of my favorite ways to enjoy some unplugged studio time, and Japanese sashiko is one of my favorite hand sewing techniques. Sashiko is a Japanese quilting technique using a heavy thread and evenly spaced, slightly modified running stitches to form geometric patterns.

sashiko hand sewing
Sashiko-style coasters by Rachel Hauser.
I've made several quilts which featured sashiko stitching in my quilting life. The first was in celebration of my sister's 40th birthday, and it still hangs in a place of honor in her living room. 

What I love about Japanese stitching is the same thing I cherish about all Japanese design: it is simple and clean. The sparse white stitch against an indigo cloth is a soothing and mesmerizing combination. 

So when I see sashiko designs in the Spring 2012 issue of Stitch magazine that update the subject matter by merely reversing the color combinations (white background and blue thread) it really gets my imagination going. I'd love to try all of those patterns. 

Maybe my sister will receive a stack of sashiko coasters on her next birthday to go with her quilt.

Spring Stitch has an entire section of projects for "unplugged" hand sewing (including some adorable bird patterns). My favorite pattern in the issue, however, has to be the awesome little coin purses with hand stitching and metal closures. Oh, how I want to make a dozen of these gorgeous gems and have a different one for every occasion! They remind me of a collection of Whiting and Davis mesh bags from the late 1800s - mid-1900s I inherited several years ago. Along with some fancy dress versions, I have two gorgeous petit point bags and another tiny piece that could have been a model for this collection in Stitch by Rachel Hauser (who also designed the coasters).

purses with hand stitching
Hand stitching personalizes these coin purses by Rachel Hauser.
If you're not familiar the embroidery stitches you might need for some of these unplugged projects, the magazine includes a little tutorial for the backstitch, French knot, split stitch, and more. Plus, Rachel has these tips on sashiko stitching.

Sashiko Stitching Tips by Rachel Hauser
From Stitch magazine, Spring 2012

  • Some quilt and needlework stores stock heavy thread and needles specifically made for sashiko, but you can also use a large embroidery needle with pearl cotton thread.
  • On the right side of the work, aim for stitches that are longer than the gaps between them (in other words, the stitches on the wrong side of the work will be shorter than those on the right side). Keep your stitch length consistent.
  • Where pattern lines cross, avoid letting the stitches cross or meet each other-there should instead be a gap at the pattern intersection. Before starting on your actual project, you may want to sew a sample of the stitching pattern to determine how many stitches you can comfortably fit in each line to prevent crossed stitches, then maintain this number consistently throughout the work.
  • For straight-line stitching patterns, you can work faster by loading several stitches onto the needle using a rocking motion, again being sure to keep the stitch length consistent.
  • When stitching diagonal lines, first sew all lines angled in one direction. (You can return in the opposite direction of travel on parallel lines.) Next, sew all lines on the opposite diagonal (lines that are at a 45-degree angle to those already stitched) in the same way. Because woven fabrics stretch on the diagonal (bias), diagonal lines are more difficult to stitch. After every few stitches, pause to ease the stitches by pushing the fabric with your thumbnail away from the direction of travel, dragging your thumb right over the stitches just completed. After finishing a line, gently pull the fabric to ease any tension in the stitches. When stitching lines with sharp turns, be extra careful to ease the stitches this way to prevent puckering.
  • To hide knots, leave a tail when starting and ending a thread, then sew the tail in over the pattern stitches. However, knots are visible on the wrong side of some traditional Japanese sashiko work, and knotting thread ends may be an easier approach for projects that hide the wrong side of the work.

Have you tried sashiko hand stitching? If so, tell me about your experience in the comments section below. And be sure to get your issue of Stitch, Spring 2012 for tips, projects, and other hand sewing ideas.

Spend some time unplugged!


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Comments

JenniferK@8 wrote
on 31 Jan 2012 9:42 AM

Recently started sashiko, on my third piece. Find it so calming after a stressful day. Glad to know I guessed correctly on how to deal with ends on the backside.

JenniferK@8 wrote
on 31 Jan 2012 9:42 AM

Recently started sashiko, on my third piece. Find it so calming after a stressful day. Glad to know I guessed correctly on how to deal with ends on the backside.

JenniferK@8 wrote
on 31 Jan 2012 9:42 AM

Recently started sashiko, on my third piece. Find it so calming after a stressful day. Glad to know I guessed correctly on how to deal with ends on the backside.

on 31 Jan 2012 11:45 AM

The La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum in La C, WA has a close connection to Japanese sewers/quilters. I took a course from a Japanese expert.

Here is a link to my blog:

vivian-institches.blogspot.com/.../embroidery

celm56 wrote
on 31 Jan 2012 10:54 PM

I have done some Sashiko hand work. I was looking for something to do while traveling across Canada and the States one summer. I took a Sashiko kit with me. It was great because it didn't take a lot of room and was easy to do without a hoop. I made two pillow fronts, two backs and a handful of little coaster size saches. The pillows went on to be a wedding present and the little coasters are still waiting for me to but some herbs and spices in them.

This year while traveling over the Christmas break I made up another kit and it was great to do on the numerous flights. As you can see I enjoy Sashiko, and I was thrilled to see it in the recent Stitch magazine I received in the mail. Sashiko is quick, travel savy and there are some great patterns out there.

createandsew wrote
on 1 Feb 2012 7:39 AM

I tried a pillow kit a couple months ago and really enjoyed doing it.  I have avoided hand sewing because in the past I never felt the results met my expectations.  I am almost done with a pattern I have transferred to a piece of linen and continue to like the process.  Using the colored sashiko threads now available adds a whole new dimension, my first project was with a variegated color.

Anne Jones wrote
on 2 Feb 2012 2:38 AM

I have used denim and fine crochet cotton and sashiko to make all sorts of small items  gets very hard on the hands but looks great.  My husband is very shirt so I cut off the legs of his jeans for the denim therefore it costs very little

Cheers Marietza Anne Jones

Anne Jones wrote
on 2 Feb 2012 2:38 AM

I have used denim and fine crochet cotton and sashiko to make all sorts of small items  gets very hard on the hands but looks great.  My husband is very shirt so I cut off the legs of his jeans for the denim therefore it costs very little

Cheers Marietza Anne Jones

kaytonah wrote
on 4 Feb 2012 12:08 PM

It's too bad you didn't include more pictures of what sahiko looks like. I have never heard of it and the examples are too far away for me to get an idea of what it is.

on 4 Feb 2012 3:31 PM

Great article, but I felt some important aspects were not covered. More detailed info about exactly how the needle is handled would have been helpful. Is it held as in embroidery with thumb and forefinger, with all the work done with the above the work hand? Or, as in quilting, does the bottom hand lift the work, with a middle finger thimble doing the pushing? You suggest a rocking motion - not much to go on there....!

A picture of a hand pushing the needle would have really be enlightening. An article like this is a bit like a quilt pattern that leaves the maker with the instruction to "Quilt As Desired"...

Elise Shaw wrote
on 27 Feb 2012 9:37 AM

I am in love with Sashiko! Learned it at the Puyallup Fairgrounds at the Expo. Incorporated into an art quilt. It's very soothing work for me!

Pepita2 wrote
on 10 Jun 2012 11:14 PM

In a class I took on machine sashiko I was told that the number of stiches in a design(ie.a wheat in the wind) should be the same in every one.  The same should be true in hand stitching.

Since you are quilting at the time of stitching you can do a series of blocks.  Put your knot at the far edge when you join the squares they won't show.

Topics wrote
on 17 Oct 2013 5:17 PM

Quilters and embroiders alike share a common passion for cloth, stitch, and color! For centuries, people