quilting The Art of Sashiko

t he quilt
By Dawn
The Art of Sashiko
The ancient art of sashiko originated from necessity, but has
become a popular modern quilting technique.
WEB Extra
Go to www.FonsandPorter.com/sashikostitches to download stitching diagrams for these designs.
Fons k Porter’s Love of Quilting
November/December 2011
ashiko originated among
Japanese peasants who used a
running-stitch technique to patch
their worn and torn clothing.
Because cloth and thread were
valuable and rare, patching was both
frugal and necessary. Depending
on the nature of their labor, areas
of their garments had multiple
patched layers. A farmer’s clothing
might have many patches across
the shoulders where the yoke of a
two-bucket carrying pole rested as
he walked. A fisherman’s trousers
would have multiple layers at the
knees for protection as he knelt in
the boat to pull in his net.
During the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, sashiko
stitching became less utilitarian and
more artistic, appearing in clothing
of upper society. The technique
faded during the early twentieth
century, but by the 1970s had
regained popularity in Japan. As the
influence of American patchwork
spread east, the impact of sashiko on
quilting designs spread west. Today,
many quilting designs across the
globe find their roots in sashiko.
Although sashiko is traditionally
stitched by hand, we can replicate
much of its beauty by machine.
Thanks to precision stitch regulator
technology, we can also look like
we are experts with very little
effort. Longarm machines offer the
advantage of stabilizing the quilt
layers on the frame, and decorative
threads work well in the needle.
To duplicate the look of
true sashiko, use a heavy thread
(12-weight will produce a
traditional sashiko look). Finer
threads will work, but create less
drama and visual impact, as seen
in Photo A, which compares a
12-weight thread to a 50-weight
thread. If you desire only the texture
created by a repeating sashiko
design, match your thread color to
the background fabric.
Traditional sashiko was stitched
with white cotton thread that did
not come in skeins or on spools—
thread lengths were random and
inconsistent. Early sashiko artists
simply buried their thread tails
when they ran out of thread and
began again. We have the luxury
of a continuous thread supply.
Plan your design path to take
advantage of that whenever possible.
If you must stop and start, use a
traditional quilter’s knot to tie and
bury your starting and stopping
If you’d like to try stitching
sashiko designs with a regular
sewing machine and heavy
decorative thread, consider working
from the back side of your project.
Mark your sashiko design on the
backing fabric using one of the
methods described on page 110.
Wind the heavy thread on your
bobbin instead of putting it through
the needle. Loosen the bobbin
case tension considerably and use a
regular-weight thread on top.
Adjust your tension so that you
actually see a very small dot of the
bobbin thread pulling up to the
surface with each stitch. This will
ensure that the bobbin thread gives
a hand-stitched appearance on the
quilt’s right side. If you prefer to
work from the front of the quilt, use
Fons k Porter’s Love of Quilting
November/December 2011
a topstitch needle to accommodate
the thicker thread. Loosen the top
tension and tighten the bobbin
tension to form deep stitches on
the surface.
Longarm quilters whose machines
have a complex thread path with
more than one tensioner may also
want to load the quilt so that the
backing faces up. Complicated
thread paths can make some
decorative threads hard to manage
and cause thread breakage or
tension issues. If you can bypass
some of your thread guides, you will
have more control over your tension.
Use a heavy needle such as an 18
or 20 in your longarm to reduce
needle flex and skipped stitches
with thicker thread. If your thread
path is simple, you should be able to
use the thicker decorative thread in
your needle without much change
other than the tension adjustments
described for domestic machines
above. Use a longer stitch length to
mimic sashiko hand stitches.
You’ll discover there are many
wonderful books available that
describe sashiko in detail and
provide literally hundreds of designs.
Many designs will adapt easily to
machine quilting, but some may be
too complex for beginners.
Check out the stencils at your
quilt shop—many are based on
sashiko designs. Use a pounce
pad filled with iron-off chalk for
easy marking (Photo B) or use
your favorite marking tool.
(Test marking products to be sure
they are removable before using
them on your project.) Chalk lines
are best for simple designs without
lots of crossover lines.
Water-soluble stabilizer sheets
work well for detailed sashiko
designs.You can feed them through
your computer printer, so you only
need to draw your design once.
Color code the stitching lines as
seen in Photo C and in the patterns
provided. Mark lines to be stitched
with different colors so you aren’t
confused at line intersections.
Place the stabilizer on your quilt
and secure it with pins or a watersoluble spray-basting product. Stitch
directly through the paper, following
the lines you’ve drawn (Photo D).
Peel off as much paper as possible,
and then soak the project in water
to dissolve the remaining stabilizer
As you study sashiko designs,
you’ll find many that look as if
they can’t be stitched by machine.
But remember, you can choose to
backtrack or stitch double lines
where a person stitching by hand
would have added stops and starts—
that’s a bonus! All it takes is a little
practice, and you’ll quickly become
a sashiko master with an electric
Author Profile
Dawn Cavanaugh is National
Director of Education for
APQS Quilting Machines.
Contact: [email protected]
Fons k Porter’s Love of Quilting
November/December 2011