I know there is not one amongst you who is not touched by the effects of the terrifying virus sweeping our planet. Life has changed abruptly in ways we could never have imagined only a very short while ago. But if you are like me, I know you will find sashiko offers a blessed escape from the anxiety and stress.
In the spirit of providing a tiny bolthole from the darkness, I have been looking through my collection of sashiko photos and chosen fourteen favourites that I would like to offer for your enjoyment over the next two weeks on instagram. Don’t worry if you are not signed up for insta, at the end of the two weeks I will collate them all into one long blog post.
To kick off, here is a hanafukin I stitched in a freestyle cherry blossom pattern. Thank goodness that through everything, cherry trees still bloom!
Times are strange indeed when even sashiko class is cancelled because of coronavirus. But if you have to stay at home, what better way to pass the time and stay sane than by doing sashiko. It’s the perfect stressbuster, though I’m sure any sashikoist reading this doesn’t need me to tell you that.
This is just another example of how you never know what life will throw up next. After the hiatus of last year I was happy to return to my regular sashiko class in January, but saddened to learn when I did that one of our classmates had recently passed away, at the age of 67.
I remember Junko Takashi as quietly elegant, reserved but warm, and always simply and beautifully dressed. She often brought along clothes to show us that she had decorated with a touch of sashiko. In fact I think that was her forte. She confided in me once that she wasn’t much good at sewing—something we both had in common--and enjoyed looking for items of clothing to buy off the rack, that she could individualize with sashiko. I have seen many examples of how she did this on blouses, tunics and jackets. I wish I’d taken photos of them all. After combing through my photo collection, however, I did find a few samples of Junko’s work, which I put here now in memory of a sashiko friend.
This cream tunic blouse has shippo tsunagi (seven treasures) on the right sleeve; vertical lines of free sticthing on the front for balance; and seigaiha (blue sea wave) and masu zashi (square measure) on the shoulder.
A white blouse with tobi asanoha (scattered hemp leaf) on the front and a form of linked cross (juuji tsunagi) on the right shoulder
Concentric circles in purples and showers of vertical lines below. Lovely.
It's a pity the glass reflection blocks a better view, but this framed piece is all variations on ajisai (hydrangea).
Masu zashi (square measure stitch). Imagine how much time it took to do this!
And this! Hishi seigaiha (diamond blue sea wave).
Last but not least, this beautiful kaki no ha (persimmon flower) cushion.
As it’s been so long since I’ve written a book review, I recently went to check out the shelves in a large Tokyo bookstore to see what’s new. Not much has changed in relation to how disappointedly few books about sashiko in Japanese there are, but I did pick up some new ones. This one jumped out at me as something slightly different.
Sashiko no komono to otsukuroi (small items made of sashiko and sashiko mending) by Saki Iiduka was published in November 2019 by Nihon Vogue-sha. It seems to reflect a trend towards focusing on sashiko’s functionality for mending and recycling, rather than simply making pretty handicrafts, as many of the books in the past have. This one is very much a reflection of the author’s lifestyle, and shows how sashiko fits in with her ethos and way of living.
Ms Iiduka (pronounced ee-zu-ka) studied painting at university and spent ten years living in the rural prefecture of Yamagata, where she had opportunity through her studies to closely observe rural life. She first encountered sashiko after graduation when she and a group of friends ran a café and lifestyle workshops in an old school building. She began making items for everyday use from sashiko, using and recycling whatever materials were at hand. In this sense her sashiko is close to the origins of sashiko, as a means of strengthening and reusing precious fabric. Many of the items pictured are things that she has made and uses. Nowadays she lives in a village in Gunma prefecture with her family and has a studio called Kaeru-top where she runs sashiko workshops, sells sashiko and runs a café.
The first section of the book introduces 21 different items with instructions for making each at the back, and the stitch pattern diagrams shown to actual scale, which is a plus. The items include an amulet bag, brooch, pincushion, coaster, name card case, purse, book cover, pot holder, shoulder-bag purse, box-shaped pouch, sturdy drawstring bag, tote bag, lunch wrapper, stole, and boro drawstring bag.
The section on the basics of sashiko has a series of photographs that show the process for drafting and stitching three different patterns (hishizashi diamond stitch, komezashi rice stitch, and hon-juji-hishikake real cross diamond woven stitch) in very clear detail, with the reverse side shown as well.
Then there is a section on mending, once again with close up photographs showing how to mend holes, and photographs of suggested items to use mending techniques on, such as shirt collars and cuffs, cushions and knitted socks.
My favourite section shows the author’s handmade swatches of stitch samples that she has made over the years for her own reference. I was pleased she wrote that names for the same pattern and variations are different in different regions, as this is something I always struggle with. Just as I think I’ve learned the name of a pattern I will find it in another book that gives it a different name.
Nihon Vogue books are always high quality and this one is no different. What I liked most was that it is a real reflection of the author’s actual lifestyle with an emphasis on practicality, which gives it a pleasing freshness and authenticity.
I love sashiko. I love its simplicity and complexity, I love looking at it, doing it, reading about it, and talking about it.
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