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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The sashiko kits we have all have easy to follow patterns 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!