Sashiko Embroidery (刺し子, lit. “little stabs”) is a traditional Japanese embroidery style. The stitching is was used to sew fabric together as well as to decorate clothing or cloth-based home accessories decoration. Originally, the stitches were functional.
Here’s a close up of an old Japanese garment,…. that was made well and truly before Sashiko became hip.
But fast forward to today, this Japanese technique of embroidery has a huge following, for particularly the more artistic, pretty, repetitive types of designs. Like this sampler from the Textile Museum of Canada, via Wikimedia.
Today, anything can be embellished, or mended, with these beautiful continuous designs. It’s the ultimate recycling method: Have some worn-out clothes? Piece the best bits together to make new garments, and be super trendy.
Is Sashiko Embroidery easy?
Absolutely! Anyone can do it, as Sashiko is made with simple running stitches. And, because it is so simple to do, it’s meditative too.
This is how you begin:
Decide on a project: what do you want to make.
Choose on a repeating design: how do you want to embellish it.
Use a stencil and copy the design onto your fabric.
Get the right needle and thread – see below.
Start stitching away, but only after you read our ‘tips from the Pro’s’ twice.
Enjoy the nice rhythms of this work, and also the wabi-sabi, Japanese for ‘the appreciation of perfect imperfection and transience’.
Learning Sashiko Embroidery – Tips from the Pros
- Push the needle instead of making a stitch.
- Don’t pull the needle. Instead, pull the fabric.
- And smoothen the fabric after stitching, to ensure there is no tension brought onto the fabric from the thread.
- Try to make all your stitches the same length for the best effect, and make the back stitches about 1/3 of the front stitches.
- At cross points, keep the center bit open, avoiding lines to cross over eachother.
- On the back side, leave some slack, or loops, when you turn your work.
And, to quickly get that authentic Japanese look, opt for a dark navy background and stitch in white or off-white. Remember, this was a way in the old times to mend clothing. At that time, they used plain colored thread as it was less expensive.
Sashiko vs Boro Embroidery – what’s the difference?
Boro is the Japanese word for the ‘result’ of continuous Shashiko embroidery. It literally means ‘the piece of torn and dirty fabric’. So, consider Boro to be the reference word to your embroidered project.
Sashiko thread is not just normal embroidery floss. It has a twist to it, which makes it ideal to make Sashiko stitches. Sashiko thread typically consists of 4 embroidery flosses. These strands are twisted, so that you’ll creates rich stitches on the fabric after stitching.
But, you can choose how prominent your want your Sashiko lines to be, and go for thinner thread instead, in some cases. Depends on how artsy you’d like to get and the look you’ll want to create.
Have a look here for an assortment of different thread. Popular brands include Daruma, Olympus and Yokota.
A sashiko needle needs to be longish, as you’ll want to make longish straight lines, right?! Go for a min of 50 mm long. And you’ll find that a dedicated Sashiko needle is also thicker, sharper, and stronger than other needles.
Best of all, for me, the official one has a relatively large eye. However, as a big eye on a needle can destroy the fabric, so be sure to choose an appropriate eye size.
Besides these purpose Sashiko needles, you can also use milliners needles or crewel needles to make your gorgeous sashiko stitching efficiently.
Not all Needles are Alike
An inexpensive choice is Clover’s Sashico Needleset 134 . However, if you prefer to get the whole Japanese experience, you can get an authentic high quality Japanese Sashiko needle set here. Click the image to see all 5 different sizes possible.
If you’re serious, get this set. The Japanese are famous for their outstanding artistry with steel, and yeah, these needles are the real deal. Don’t take our word for it, enjoy checking out the details of these needles:
- The tip of the needle has minute, unobservable, angle, not so sharp as to damage the fabric but meticulously made to loop through it.
- There are very fine vertical lines added to the surface in the process of polishing, which will reduce friction when the needle goes through fabric. (Hint: You don’t get this with cheap aluminium needles…..)
- The hole for the thread is round to avoid the thread getting jammed or severed.
If that wasn’t enough…
- Amazingly, the tip is rather solid; but the parts around the hole are rather soft; its trunk is resilient with unique heat processing.
- Therefore, the “Misuya Bari” needles are simply the best, and unlike cheaper ones, won’t snap.
- Human inspection of Quality: believe it or not, but Japanese Needle Artisans take each of the finished products in their hand to inspect its tip, hole, bend, solidness and whether it has any scar for copper-processing, one by one.
And that’s why these needles cost a lil bit more than Clover’s. And so worth it!
Typically, you either draw your own creation or you use a geometric stencil to quickly mark an endlessly repeating pattern onto your fabric. With a stencil set like this, you can design many patterns:
What you’ll also need is a chalk pen, to mark the lines onto the fabric with, like this one:
Recommended Books on Sashiko Embroidery
- This is the book that appeals most to me, personally:
This is the ‘mother of all’ book in English:
This book by Vogue Japan came out only last year, but looks amazing also, flipping through it:
As does this one, also just published:
Despite some being only new-ish, all four books have an impressive number of 5-star reviews. Click any of the book images to learn more.
Free Sashiko Embroidery Patterns
Perfect Beginners Project
So, I was thrilled when I came across this idea: to make some simple brooches, with some striped fabric for added fun.
Over time, I will add a few more projects here, so do check back from time to time for more. I may even add my own patterns and get some free sampler stencils that you can simply copy for your own projects, to embellish just about anything you wish.