Sashiko panel on a square pouch

3 Aug
Overhead shot of the pouch on its side, the zipper is pulled open so the gaps on the sides, where the zipper is not attached, are more evident

Sashiko means “little stab” in Japanese; it’s a traditional stitching technique from Japan that goes back hundreds of years. Originally used to reinforce fabric and mend clothing with running stitches, using a long needle, over time it evolved into the complex geometric patterns commonly used in the West (specifically around the USA crafty circles) by the “visible mending” movement. (see footnote 1)

My brain absolutely adores the symmetry of the repeating geometric figures in many of these patterns, and so I watched hours of tutorials from Japanese sashiko artists before attempting the technique.

First things first: I made a palm thimble:

A circle of denim fabric showing a grid of white stitches; inside each square, there's a cross of stitches. Around the border there are a couple of rows of buttonhole stitches, which are holding the various layers of fabric together. Sewn to the back are two loops of elastic, smaller than the circle itself

For reference, the needle is 2in (about 5cm) long, and my handmade palm thimble is 1.5in (about 4cm) in diameter. After trying the original version (two layers of denim with a layer of t-shirt quilted in between), ended up adding a core of thin chipboard (cereal boxes to the rescue!), another layer of t-shirt and a new top layer of denim.

The finger loops are made with elastic from a disposable surgical mask (washed, obviously).

To do modern sashiko, one must start by drawing the pattern. In the case of these repeating geometric patterns, drawing a grid that’s a multiple of the average stitch you hope to accomplish is the first step for beginners.

a square of denim with lines drawn in a grid, partially embroidered with a sashiko pattern in red thread; also visible, the red sashiko thread, the long sashiko needle, thread snips and a 6in ruler

Another important element of sashiko is to follow a logical path that will maximize thread use. I was too immersed in the process while stitching, so I didn’t take any photos that illustrate this, but basically, you start at one corner, and go across stitching in the same direction. When you reach the opposite edge, you turn the fabric, move to the next line of stitches running parallel, and stitch across back to the first edge.

Lather, rinse repeat until you are done with all the stitches going in that direction. After that, you start with all the stitches at 90 degrees, and do the same. And so on, until every element of the final design is there.

A square of denim embroidered in sashiko style design with red thread

I am sensitive to the contemptible prevalence of Orientalism in fashion, as well as the frequency of cultural appropriation in general, and of sashiko in particular.

The meditative aspect of the practice of sashiko is one of its main attractions for me. Yes, the patterns are gorgeous, and what first caught my eye, but I hope that my approach to the craft (including the use of upcycled fabric from old clothes), honors the spirit of sashiko.

Starting to attach the finished pieces of the square denim pouch, some of the panels are on the desk, the red cotton lining visible, as is the sashiko style embroidered front panel with the red design on denim

I liked this first attempt so much, I decided to incorporate it into a pouch–the size of which was predetermined by the size of the sashiko panel (3.75 X 3.75in/10cm X10cm), and added solid red cotton for the lining.

five finished denim panels of the pouch, two square for front (with sashiko style embroidery in red) and back, and three rectangular for the sides and bottom, attached but still flat on the desk. There's a handmade palm thimble, also with sashiko style embroidery, on the side

It honestly came together better than it had any right to.

Finished pouch laying on its side, with the sashiko-style embroidered panel on top, the zipper closed

And I love how the brightness of the lining, which by a lovely coincidence matched the thread I used, complements the denim.

laying on its side, the finished square pouch with open zipper, inside out to show the solid red cotton lining

A note about the pouch itself: I will attempt this form factor again, but I must plan better for the zipper; this type of open flap works for a tote or a shoulder bag, not so much for a pouch that goes inside a larger bag.

From overhead, the finished pouch standing with the zipper closed; there are flaps holding the zipper, and open gaps on either end of the zipper. The sashiko panel is visible on the side closest the camera

Still, it’s a nice size for things like a charger or battery, etc.

overhead shot of the finished pouch, the zipper open to show the solid red cotton lining

If you made it this far, thank you!

* * * *

1 A thing I liked about this piece is that it mentioned that there is a lot of privilege involved in having what you need to mend your clothing–time, hand dexterity, and being in a position where visible mending is a statement that you care for the planet, rather than an invitation for public opprobrium due to your economic and social position. The “sustainability” movement is largely comprised of people who have enough disposable income to go “zero waste”; working poor people can’t afford the time, and disabled people often can’t afford the effort.

2 Responses to “Sashiko panel on a square pouch”

  1. willaful 03/08/2022 at 10:15 AM #

    That’s just beautiful, and so interesting. I’d never heard of visible mending. It’s kind of lovely symbolically.

    I’m absolutely kicking myself now for not thinking to offer you my pretty cotton masks. I wound up throwing them away because trying to repurpose them seemed pointless. 😦

    • azteclady 03/08/2022 at 10:38 AM #

      Thank you!

      I had actually seen sashiko designs as decoration only; it wasn’t until I started looking into it that I learned its true purpose and traditional use.

      (don’t feel bad!)

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