Sashiko Stitching: Reuse and Upcycle

“200 years ago, patching was a symbol of shame in the region where I grew up,” said Master Atsushi Futatsuya while initiating his Sashiko Workshop. “The more patches you had, the poorer you were,” Futatsuya added, contextualizing its inception in Japan’s rural north with later southward expansion via trade routes. Highlighted by Master Futatsuya, a 30-year veteran in sashiko needlework, aesthetics were not the original purpose of the running stitch hand technique resulting in striking geometric patterns, but actually to repair or mend fabrics (‘boro’).

The term “sashiko,” literally translating as ‘little stabs,’ refers to the hand-sewn stitches used in this form of decorative reinforcement needlework in patterns like diamonds (hishi-moyō), fish scales (uroko), and counterweights (fundō). Nonetheless, Futatsuya’s sashiko style is acquired from the culture of Castle City, Takayama, where he grew up, and had a stint running his family’s Sashiko business.

Today, the idea of exposed stitching to form striking geometric patterns to repurpose and upcycle old fabrics sounds more like an Urban Outfitters product line instead of something 17th-century Japanese peasants would don.“When you have even stitches, the intersection will look beautiful, because even stitches are the core of sashiko.” According to Futatsuya, “stitches do not have to be perfect because it describes your personality,” but in order to remain cohesive, he recommends “if you start big, end big, and if you start small, end small.”“Sashiko itself is not a good business model,” Futatsuya explains, due mainly to its unpredictable time completion parameters, but says “it can help people.” In 2011, shortly after the 9.1 magnitude earthquake’s destruction in Japan, he went as a volunteer to teach sashiko  as part of the relief.

Earlier that Saturday morning, as I participated in Master Futatsuya’s three-hour workshop organized by Curious Corners, memories of my own seemingly endless days (and nights) cutting and machine-sewing garments to survive the cutthroat curriculum at The Fashion Institute of Technology jolted me. Much to my surprise, I was immersed in a calm fashion design exploit under the direction and experience of Sashiko heir, Master Futatsuya. Perhaps one day, more fashion design curriculums will incorporate sashiko needlework.

— Reported by Neglah Sharma

“Fabric, thread, needle and thimble are all you need to begin” Futatsuya said. “sashiko can be done anywhere.”

This form of needlework uses both straight and curved geometric designs, with various templates for purchase.

Sashiko patterns can vary in complexity, but the three types include naminui, hitomezashi, and kogin.

Sashiko stitching can be used as an embellishment on handbags, fans, belts, and other accessories in addition to mending clothing.

Curious Corners: A New York based Japanese arts and crafts house that offers workshops, lectures and exhibitions on sashiko, indigo dye and more. www.curiouscorners.com

Upcycle Stitches: www.upcyclestitches.com

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