Sashiko (correctly pronounced with a tiny, almost imperceptible short i-) is a form of traditional Japanese quilting. It started as common darning. Sumptuary laws forbidding commoners from wearing bright clothing were in effect up until the late 19th century in Japan. When patches were needed on clothing, sashiko was done in plain white thread, sewn in geometric patterns, over the indigo fabrics that were the everyday uniform of farmers and fishermen. The star-type pattern pictured here is asanoha or hemp leaf.
Sashiko has always been popular in Japan and regularly undergoes revivals here in the States. Looks like we're in for another try with this age-old art. Many people find that after working with bright prints and complex pieced patterns, there's something soothing about the simple in-and-out of sashiko stitching.
Call it the Zen side of quilting.
Recently I taught a sashiko class and the five students worked diligently at learning to handle the sturdy sharp needle, with the aid of a thimble, and had to un-learn trying to get tiny stitches--as one does with hand quilting American-style. We worked on pre-printed indigo fabric (the printed designs wash out) and stitched a sample of four different sashiko patterns.
I made a sample wall hanging in the Circles of the East pattern showing them how they might use their sashiko stitched fabrics in a project. Very cool. One warning: sashiko is addictive!
Classical sashiko is done in heavy white cotton thread, about the same weight as rug warp, but the many luscious colors available in perle cotton today make quilting in color irresistible.