Unplug with Japanese Sashiko Hand Sewing Projects – Quilting Daily

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-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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