Sashiko is a traditional form of needlework that has been practised in Japan for centuries.  Born out of necessity, it was a way to make layers out of thin garments in cold climates. Sashiko was also method of patching textiles to extend their life in times of hardship. Like other needlecrafts (such as quilting or knitting Aran sweaters), the sashiko embroidery that developed from functional patching became an art form in itself.

As textiles became cheaper and more readily available, sashiko embroidery began to be used for decoration as well as practicality. Traditional Japanese patterns and motifs were incorporated into the sashiko syllabus of stitches and more intricate designs developed. Today, although sashiko is used primarily as a decorative accent, its functional purpose remains:  to reinforce, strengthen and make warmer, and in the process to create a useful cloth where beauty visits as an unintended consequence.

Sashiko artist Kazuko Yoshiura’s exhibition is being presented at Amy Katoh’s legendary shop Blue & White in Azabu Juban through October 15, 2010. The wall hanging above, in a patchwork “cracked-ice” pattern, is an incredible sampler of different sashiko patterns. The word sashiko itself means “little stabs” and key to its methodology is the tiny regular stitches.  While results can look elaborate, the basic technique consists of simple running stitches sewn in repeating tate-jima (vertical lines) or yoko-jima (horizontal lines) and combinations of the two . 

Ironically, Yoshiura first learned sashiko at Blue & White 30 years ago!  Since then she has carried her art far and wide, publishing books and being featured in magazines, including Japanese Vogue.  She lives on the Izu Peninsula and teaches sashiko at Blue & White on the 2nd Thursday of each month. One of her quilts is even included in the collection of Paul McCartney!

Items on display include table runners and decorative bags. Traditional sashiko is white thread against an indigo dyed fabric, but red thread can be used as well, as seen on this small bag.

This embroidered vest hangs in front of a giant furoshiki (a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth) in classic karakusa pattern. It would be perfect to use as a small tablebloth.

My pick? These charming throw pillows were very reasonably priced and a perfect way to catch a little sashiko fever.

Blue & White is located at 2-9-2 Azabu Juban. Telephone: 03-3451-0537.  Many thanks to Amy Katoh for her assistance with his post.