Sashiko stitching is a traditional embroidery style from Japan. Originally used for repairs and reinforcements, in the present day it is more often employed for its decorative purposes. Sashiko stitching is a simple yet elegant embroidery style that creates repeating patterns of varying complexity.
Here’s an introduction to contemporary Sashiko embroidery along with a free Sashiko clouds pattern!
In Sashiko, patterns range from directional lines and checks to complicated interlocking tessellations. All Sashiko patterns are created using a basic running stitch. This makes it a somewhat similar technique to quilting by hand, but it is instead created on a single layer of fabric.
Photo via little dear tracks
Traditional Sashiko designs
Many traditional patterns feature Japanese folk motifs like bamboo, fishing nets, fletching (arrows), leaves and fish scales. Here, you can see a sample of the fish scales pattern – one of my favorite of the simple Sashiko designs.
There are many sites online where you can download free traditional Sashiko embroidery patterns. And, if you would like a more contemporary take on Sashiko, you could make the place mat pattern pictured above from a free pattern featured on Aimee Ray’s blog!
Traditional Sashiko colors
Traditionally Sashiko is stitched in white floss on indigo cotton, although the background color can vary from pale blue to dark navy black, giving the style its distinctive character. Sometimes red floss is used for added decoration.
This tradition of stitching on blue cotton prompted me to take denim as my starting point for the simple embellishment. The stitched white on blue inspired me to create clouds out of a modified version of the traditional fish scale motif. This is a little contemporary spin on Sashiko stitching that you can use in localized areas while still enjoying the lovely textured effect of this embroidery style.
Sashiko stitching: how to make the Sashiko clouds pattern
Begin by printing out the pattern, then collect your supplies. Note that the hoop is optional. Traditionally Sashiko stitching does not require a hoop, but I found I just couldn’t do without it. Try it out for yourself with and without a hoop and see what works best for you!
- White embroidery floss
- White carbon paper to transfer
- Hand-sewing needles
- Blue cotton to stitch on (darker shades work best but feel free to experiment.)
- Optional: an embroidery hoop
Using White Carbon Paper:
The transfer method utilizes white carbon paper. Leaning on a clean hard surface, place your carbon paper face down onto the area you want to transfer the design. Then place the pattern right way up on top of the carbon paper. Use masking tape to stop your design from shifting while you trace (or pin it into place if stitching on to a garment).
Lean heavily with a colored pencil to trace over the design, this way you will be able to see which parts of the design you’ve been over already. Finally, when you’ve completed tracing, remove the pattern and white carbon paper, being careful not to smudge.
I used a white fabric pencil to fill in any gaps in the design that didn’t come through in the tracing. Now you are ready to begin stitching!
Embroidery note: White carbon tracings will show better on darker blue fabrics and show very pale on a lighter blue. Be kind to your eyes when sewing this design and work in a well lit room; natural daylight or daylight replicating bulbs are usually best.
More tips for working the Sashiko stitching technique
I used three-stranded floss, so the stitches would stand out. I knotted the thread and worked a double back stitch for security to begin; I finished off the floss end with a double stitch like this too.
The only stitch you need throughout is a running stitch, and the aim is to keep your stitches as regular as possible. Some professional Sashiko stitchers will recommend that you make the gap between each stitch half the size of the stitch itself.
Try to be mindful of where the pattern lines meet, maintaining regular gaps where your stitches intersect with other lines. Do this as best as you can! This is not as easy as it looks!