I feel in love with quilting by virtue of sashiko.
When I hand quilt I always use shashiko thread for durability and function, but most of all because of the beautiful history that defines it. Sashiko is a Japanese hand-stitiching technique, traditionally used by fisherman and farmers to repair holes in fabric. The plain-stitch technique originates from the working class and remote communities. It evolved from the need to protect, or mend, clothing and fabric. The basic technique is a small running stitch that follows the grain of the fabric, whereby horizontal rows of stitches are considered stronger than vertical rows. While the geometric patterns of white stitching contrasted prominently with the indigo colored ground, sashiko was initially used for mere practical reasons. By doubling up layers and stitching them together, or by recycling old pieces of cloth into a new garment, the finished product naturally became more durable and, equally important, warmer. It was an inherited skill, taught at a young age, and one in which women were judged as to their suitability for marriage. Sashiko was also used for making fire fighters' uniforms until World War II, they were custom made in city workshops.
Sashiko developed during Japan's Edo period
, what proved to be an austere period in more than one sense. Japan had virtually closed itself off from all neighbors and trading contacts. The country was required to be completely self-sufficient in all aspects of life, and skills to 'make do and mend' evolved from pure survival into something akin to an art form and way of life. Strictly enforced national laws regulated who could wear what type of fabric and colors, and although cotton was cultivated from the 16th century onwards, the farmers were not allowed, nor could they afford, to wear cotton clothes themselves. The fibre of choice for clothing was bast fiber (Asa) such as ramie, nettles and Japanese hemp. Once woven, the cloth was then dyed with blue indigo, which is hard wearing, was believed to repel insects and snakes, and therefore judged perfectly suitable for the work these communities engaged in.
Beyond the warmth and protection provided by the garments, the patterns embroidered
onto the blue cloth where also believed to offer spiritual protection to the wearer
Stitched protective symbols (like the above sampler) are ordinarily what is known in modern, western-style garments "made in Japan". Sadly, the days are long gone when sashiko garments were sewn with a practical purpose in mind. I am greatly inspired by the old traditions and incorporate sashiko in my work often. Today I mended the knee to a pair of my overalls, and now I couldn't love them more!