I have been wanting to try my hand at Japanese Sashiko stitching, an ancient technique of reinforcing clothing with geometrical patterns of small stitches. Few people actually use Sashiko to mend clothes any more but I wanted to stay true to the original intent of the technique. Part of it is due to my interest in mending and the “slow sewing” movement, part of it is a response to a podcast on cultural appropriation.
Since I am not Japanese, what makes it o.k. for me stitch Sashiko? Can I claim for this work to be actual Sashiko? Do I take anything away from people who actually master the craft? These are important questions that we need to ask ourselves before borrowing from other culture.
For me, it was important to stay as close as possible to the intent of Sashiko: this is a functional craft, which is why I used it to reinforce an old linen skirt that was starting to fade. The white stitches are drawing the eyes away from the fading spots. They are also reinforcing the fabric, especially in the areas of tension near the button holes.
Also, I inspired myself form some of the traditional patterns I researched online but also created my own patterns for part of this project.
Third, I did not buy any new material for this. Sashiko was meant as a mending technique. It would not make sense to buy special fabric, thread and pattern for it. Neither would it make sense to try and achieve absolute perfection. The beauty of mending lies in seeing the hand of the mender.
Sashiko stitching turned out to be peaceful and meditative. It’a all about repeating small steps in pattens. It happened to be raining while I stitched and for some reason it never occurred to even listen to music as I did this.
Once I was done with the stitching, I decided to rummage through my grandmother’s button box and pick a new set of buttons for the skirt. I ended up selecting vintage bakelite buttons. Their heft and shininess feel good.
Looking through the button box, I noticed a small piece folded newspaper. How could I have missed it? I have gone through this box hundreds of times. I unfolded the paper and there were a handful of small handmade pins of the sacred heart of Jesus that my grandmother had must have sewn for a novena.
The entire experience made was meditative. This small gifts and the stitches were like hidden prayers who had suddenly found their way to me.