11 October 2009

Sashiko embroidery class

Finished sashiko embroidery

In September, 2009, I joined three other artists - one all the way from Maine - in a beginning sashiko class, taught by Miho Takeuchi, at the New England Quilt Museum. Like many under-funded cultural institutions, the Museum's programmatic needs don't fit well within its space, a former bank building. Classes are held at a table set up at the shop, but somehow the mercantile setting - we were on display as we stitched - was fine, and at least it was easy to buy supplies.

Miho is a very good teacher and her website is: http://www.designbyaika.com/

Sashiko is a very old Japanese technique, derived from a thrifty habit of quilting farmers' jackets for added warmth.

For this beginning class we used:

Pre-printed pattern on sashiko cloth, a loosely woven, plain weave material
A fat quarter of plain weave fabric of our choice, loosely woven

Sashiko thread, a low-twist, low sheen multi-ply filament;
plies are not separated when used
Sashiko needles, similar to crewel embroidery needles

Waxed carbon paper, such as Chacopy, made by Clover
Blunt edged tracing wheel, also available from Clover
Sheet protectors
Lightweight flower pins

General sewing supplies: thimble, scissors, pencil, notebook

Sashiko supplies

Miho showed us how to handle the skein of thread to prevent tangling, and after cutting an 18" or so length we began. Sashiko is an exercise in linear program, as one seeks to stitch all the lines of the pattern with a minimum of back-tracking, start-and-stops, and wasted thread. The technique is a simple running stitch with two or three stitches loaded on the needle at once before the thread is pulled through.

Stitching diagram

First lines - horizontals, straight diagonals, then moving diagonals

Miho doesn't knot the thread on the reverse side - she weaves a short tail back into a few stitches to secure. I learned not to do this back-stitching until I was finished, but instead to just leave the length of thread unsecured. This allowed me to use the dangling thread to pick up any partial motifs.

Below are sequential images of the project

All finished except for the frame around the pattern
Image at top of blog show completed pattern

Back of work showing back stitching at beginnings and ends, and carried threads
Care is taken to prevent puckering

No hoop is used, so it's important to maintain a loose tension on the thread. Whenever I had to carry the thread on the back, I was careful to make the carry very loose. For a good result visually, Miho pointed out that we should pay special attention to the stitch length in any area where many stitching lines intersect - such as at the circles at the center of the "stars" in the pattern above.

After we had a good start on the pre-printed pattern, which I finished at home, Miho also showed us how to transfer patterns to unprinted cloth. Miho slips a pattern inside a sheet protector, places the waxed carbon paper face down onto cloth and then transfers the pattern with firm back and forth strokes using the tracing wheel. The wheel indents the pattern onto the sheet protector, making it easy to track progress.

Tools for pattern transfer:
paper pattern, sheet protector, carbon paper and tracing wheel,

all placed on solid blue fabric

Flat flower pins don't get in the way of the ruler when marking straight-aways
You can't see the carbon paper but it's under the sheet protector

Of course, the indented sheet protectors can be reused; just transfer the design in some systematic manner, or mark each finished line in some way.

Some traditional patterns

My wave pattern, transferred, and in progress

Reverse of wave pattern, showing the carried thread

For the class I brought some Robert Kaufman Kona cotton, but I wouldn't recommend this material. It's too tightly woven, so the thick sashiko thread is restricted as it goes through the snug weave, and doesn't relax as flat as it does with the sashiko fabric.

The Japanese fabric available at the New England Quilt Museum is gorgeous, distributed by a company called Olympus and is vegetal dyed. This may account for its price - $27/ yard. According to Purl Soho, Kaufman's Essex fabric, a linen/cotton blend, works very well for sashiko and Purl sells this fabric for $9.00/yard, http://www.purlsoho.com/purl/products/fabricdetail/3539

Of course, when you transfer your own pattern, you don't have the perfect stitch layout all marked for you, as on the pre-printed fabric. After completing the pre-printed design however- and there is something soothingly meditative about this work- you develop almost a muscle memory for the stitch.