Wednesday December 30th 2015

Sashiko – The Japanese Art of Quilting

Of the 50 beautiful quilts featured in the special exhibit “Japanese Color & Form: New Works by Fifty Japanese Artists”, many feature the uniquely Japanese technique of sashiko. Learn a bit about this technique and how it is featured in the upcoming exhibition at the AQS Quilt Show in Des Moines, Iowa, October 3-6, 2012.

This exhibit is free with AQS Quilt Show Admission

We asked Bonnie Browning for an explanation of what we’ll see when viewing quilts with sashiko.

Sashiko is a running stitch worked in repeating or interlocking patterns. Traditionally sashiko fabric is indigo (dark blue) and the sashiko stitching is done in even running stitches in a bold contrasting color (traditionally in white) using a design of geometric repeats.


In her quilt, JAPANESE SASHIKO MOTIFS, Rei Saito demonstrates a variety of sashiko patterns in her sampler of sashiko motifs. She says, “It is said that sashiko began more than 200 years ago. Women did sashiko in each season, for their families or for decoration for themselves. What were they thinking as they sewed each sashiko stitch, one after another? I am getting old, but I still keep sewing sashiko stitches.”

To the right, you’ll find an image of just one of the 50 amazing masterpieces from this new quilt exhibition, “Japanese Color & Form: New Works by Fifty Japanese Artists”. Look for this on display at the AQS Quilt Show in Des Moines, Iowa, October 3-6, 2012.

Click here for tickets

Click here to register for special events or classes


Sashiko originated in rural Japan in the 18th century where women made garments for the family. The stitching was originally designed for strengthening a single layer of fabric, for patching worn clothing, or quilting together several layers of indigo-dyed fabric for warmth and durability. It was believed that the closer the stitches, the more durable the garment.

In the early days, clothes worn by the common people were made from homespun fabrics woven from the fibers of the paper mulberry tree, wisteria, and hemp. Cotton was imported and went to the nobility.

Because it was time consuming and difficult to make fabric and garments, the people developed ways to recycle fabric and extend the life of their clothing. Once the Sunday best kimono showed signs of wear, it was worn as every day dress, later used as a sleeping gown or shortened to make a jacket. When further worn, the fabric was used as an apron or bag. Eventually, layers of scraps were sashiko quilted together into dust cloths. Another way of extending the life of a garment was to use a running stitch to hold layers of patches in place, thereby preserving a well-worn jacket or favorite garment. Socks, worn both inside and outside the house, wore out easily. Thus, the bottom surface was strengthened with sashiko.

When cotton fabric, softer and easier to sew, became accessible to peasants, winter clothing was created by stitching together multiple layers of clothing with sashiko patterns and more intricate designs became possible. Thus the early geometric stitches, which were purely functional, now became valued for their decorative qualities and special names were given to the different designs, which incorporated traditional Japanese patterns and motifs – pampas grass, hemp leaf, lighting, and ocean waves. By the 18th and 19th centuries, sashiko quilting began to be used for decorative purposes – wallhangings, table runners, bags – and was no longer exclusively utilitarian.

Click here for tickets to the AQS Quilt Show in Des Moines, Iowa

Click here to register for special events or classes

History Reference:
The Classic Quilting of Sashiko, Ondori, 1990

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