A quiet passion of mine is sashiko, a type of Japanese embroidery. It was originally used as a way of quilting or mending clothes, but it’s evolved as a decorative craft. It’s basically running stitch, traditionally in white thread on indigo cotton, and each stitch is supposed to be the size of a grain of rice. (Some of mine are rather long grain!) There are many patterns, from simple geometric shapes to more intricate ones like the one above. You can draw or trace your own pattern onto fabric or buy pre-printed fabric or kits. I’m not very good at straight lines, so I buy pre-printed cotton and follow the dots. Here’s one I’m working on at the moment:
Sashiko needles are very long because you load the fabric onto the needle then pull the thread through several stitches at once. There’s a fair bit of information about sashiko out there in internet land. Two really good books that tell you all about how to do it and include pattern templates and projects are The Ultimate Sashiko Sourcebook, by Susan Briscoe, and Japanese Quilting: Sashiko, by Hiromitsu Takano.
If you’re lucky enough to live in Canberra, the wonderful KimoYES shop in Phillip has kits, needles, thread and pre-printed fabric. It’s also a colour and texture wonderland full of other Japanese fabrics. When I’m in there I feel as though I’ve walked inside a kaleidoscope. I haven’t been to Indigoniche in Brisbane or Kimono House in Melbourne but their online range looks pretty good.
The best thing about sashiko is that it’s so meditative. It’s not hard but you have to concentrate. You keep slowly stitching away and—hey presto!—you end up with something beautiful AND you feel really relaxed. I have all sorts of plans for using my sashiko samplers in clothes, cushions, wallhangings and bags, but for now I just can’t stop stitching, in and out, in and out, and making pretty patterns.