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Sashiko

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Sashiko embroidery is one of my favorite crafts.  It's easy to master and the process is very meditative and relaxing.  Although the patterns can look difficult, they are just a matter of breaking down the whole into linear parts.  --Mari

The Materials

There are four key materials to sashiko - needle, thread, thimble and fabric.  As you'll see, no embroidery hoop is necessary, which makes sashiko a very portable craft.

Needles

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Traditional sashiko needles are very long (about 2 inches) with a small eye.   The width of the needle is uniform all the way to the top.  Modern sashiko needles have a larger eye so the needle can be more easily threaded.  In the photo, I included the largest embroidery needle in my collection, a 1mm width needle to show the difference between the needles.  As you'll see below, a long needle is necessary to the sashiko embroidery technique.

Thread

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Sashiko thread is more twisted than embroidery floss and not made to be separated into strands.  Sashiko thread doesn't have a sheen as embroidery floss or the Valdani embroidery thread have.  Either thread could be used a substitute for sashiko thread but the look will be slightly different.

Thimble

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This is a traditional sashiko thimble that is used to push the needle through the cloth. We have a similar thimble made of leather which you can find here.

Fabric

The ideal fabric for sashiko embroidery is one that is not too tightly woven, such as Robert Kaufman's Essex fabric, which is a linen/cotton blend.  Because sashiko thread is so thick, a fabric that is too tightly woven will show puckering or the holes quite easily.

The Technique

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To begin your project, cut a piece a thread that will be long enough to go from one end of the section you are working on to the other end.  Create a quilter's knot by wrapping the thread around the needle twice and pulling it through.

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Next, take your fabric and insert the needle through the fabric without pulling the thread through.  The proportion of the sashiko stitch is about 3:2, with the longer stitch on the right side of the fabric. Continue running the needle through the fabric without pulling the thread through until you have multiple stitches on the needle.

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After you have several stitches on the needle, whatever number you are comfortable with, push the needle through the fabric and pull the thread all the way through.  Use the sashiko thimble to push the needle through the fabric.

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Pull the fabric taut to ensure there is no puckering.  Continue until you have reached the end of the row and tie another quilter's knot, leaving some slack at the end to compensate for any puckering.

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If you are doing a pattern with any change in direction or angles, leave a little loop at each point on the wrong side of the fabric, again for puckering.

"Water Surface" Kit

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The sashimi patterns we have all have easy to follow instructions which have the stitches printed on the fabric in washable ink.  I chose the traditional sashiko kit "water surface" to show how to do a pattern from beginning to end.  I paired the kit with the Cobalt Blue Sashiko Thread (#10). The fabric has a second side that could be used to cover up the wrong side of the embroidery in a pillow or handkerchief.

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Before beginning the embroidery, decide how to do the pattern.  Typically, the horizontal and vertical lines are done first (except for the outside lines).  Next, the diagonal lines are stitched.  Finally the remaining shapes are embroidered. Since this pattern does not have any horizontal or vertical lines, start with the diagonal lines, from one end to the other.

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When the first line is finished, start with the next line, but start in the opposite direction to avoid any puckering or skewing of the fabric.   Make sure you have enough thread on the needle to get from one end of the pattern to the other, to avoid having any knots in the middle of the fabric.

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After completing all of the diagonal lines, the figures remaining create a diamond pattern. To do this part of the pattern, start at the top, then follow the arrows around the pattern back to the top.

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This is how the diamond pattern looks when completed. Work your way from one side of the fabric to the other, just as you did the diagonal lines.  Finally, embroider the outside lines.  The ink of the pattern will come out easily in a cold water hand wash with a little agitation.  Your sashiko sample is complete!

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24 Responses to Sashiko


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  1. Vicki O'Halloran says:

    Great tutorial, do you need to stabilize the fabric before you start stitching, is so , what do you recommend? Thanks Vicki

  2. SJarry says:

    Thank you for the tutorial! Would you mind if I post a link to it on my blog? newinnippon.blogspot.com.

    Respectfully,
    SJarry

  3. purl bee says:

    Hi SJarry-

    Yes you may, as long as you link any photos directly back to us for the instruction and patterns.

    Thanks for asking!

  4. Jacque says:

    Should the stitches of Sashiko be the same size on the front and the back of the piece? My stitches in the back are much smaller than the front. Thanks for your help

    jleibfried@aol.com

  5. purl bee says:

    Hi Jacque-

    The back stitches are usually a bit smaller than the front stitches, but as you get more practice they might even out a bit.

    Thank you for your question.

    Molly

  6. Carole says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tutorial… my first lesson in Sashiko Embroidery.
    I love this technique for quilting!

  7. Jane says:

    This post was really helpful, thanks! I plan to start my first sashiko project tonight and now have a better idea of what I'm trying to do!

  8. Jeanette Conrad says:

    Did I read somewhere that you could sew this on a sewing machine?

    Please reply to my e-mail so that I don't miss the posting for the response.

    Thank you so much,

    Jeanettte

    • Hilary says:

      Yes. You can do this on a sewing machine with invisible thread on the top and coloured thread in the bottom. There is a special stitch on modern machines and a little experimenting with tension

  9. purl bee says:

    Hi Jeanette-

    You cannot do this stitch on a sewing machine. But it is fun and easy to do by hand.

    Thank you!

    Molly

  10. Carrie says:

    Wonderfully clear pictures and descriptions. Thank you. Someone gave me a piece of what I now realise is a kit. However, the only thread I have to hand is DMC stranded cotton. Will this work and how many strands should I use?

  11. purl bee says:

    Hi Carrie-

    Yes, you can use the DMC embroidery floss. You can use all 6 strands. Please see the section of this story called "Thread" for more info.

    Thank you!

    Molly

  12. Judy says:

    Jeanette, Babylock company makes a Sashiko sewing machine.. The reviews I read indicate that the Sashiko II version is better. This is a single purpose machine which costs several thousand dollars.

  13. Ann says:

    Babylock does make a single purpose Sashiko II machine that has adjustable stitch length and stitch distance. I have one and love it. Using a pre-printed pattern would be great so the adjustments could be made to fit the printed stitches. I paid less than $2,000 for a new model at my local Babylock dealer in town. I'm glad I stumbled upon this website so I can look at getting the pre-printed patterns!

  14. Kirsten says:

    that's a great explanation! Thank you so much for explaining the difference between the needles.

  15. Susan says:

    What is the best way to tie off the sashiko thread. I couldn't find it in your tutorial. Apologies if I missed it,
    Thank you

  16. purl bee says:

    Hi Susan-

    You can finish it in one of 2 ways. Once you're towards the end of your length of thread you can weave the tail through the back of some of the stitches and then snip it without tying a knot. Or you can tie a french knot at the end if you want to make sure it's ultra secure. Here's a short explanation of a French Knot: http://www.purlbee.com/embroidery-tutorials/2007/7/20/french-knot.html

    Thanks for your question!

    Molly

  17. Vicki O'Halloran says:

    Great tutorial, do you need to stabilize the fabric before you start stitching, is so , what do you recommend? Thanks Vicki

  18. Lian says:

    I bought my first sashiko kit to sew a pre-printed pattern to make a table-mat. There's a fold in the fabric and I'm wondering if I should be embroidering through just 1 layer or through both fabric layers?

  19. purl bee says:

    Hi Lian-

    It should be just through one layer of fabric.

    Thank you!

    Molly

  20. purl bee says:

    HI Vicki-

    No need to use stabilizer, just follow the instructions as given above and you should be in business!

    Thanks!

    Molly

  21. Margarita Mora says:

    Excelente tutorías, si tienes otro(s) sobre cualquier manualidades japonesa, por favor envíemela a mi correo. dios te bendiga

  22. Margarita Mora says:

    Excelente tutoras, si tienes otro(s) sobre cualquier manualidades japonesa, por favor envemela a mi correo. dios te bendiga

  23. martha b m says:

    buenas noches gracias por compartir esta tcnica que me encanta yo lo voy hacer en lino panam gracias y saludos de mexico city.

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