Sashiko Stitching
June 05, 2024

How to stitch Traditional Pattern Olympus Sashiko Samplers

 How to stitch Traditional Pattern Olympus Sashiko Samplers.

These sashiko patterns are printed with wash out ink, ready to stitch. They are the large pattern continuous lines traditional sashiko patterns, (Moyo-sashi Sashiko). These instructions cover questions you may have about the fabric and threads, how to start and continue your stitching, washing instructions other things I am frequently asked.

Things to know before stitching these samplers: 

(But first, please note that I am writing here about Olympus fabrics and Olympus sashiko (20 meter and 100 meter skeins) threads. There are many good sashiko fabrics and threads but they may not wash and behave the same as the Olympus ones.)

The Fabric:  These samplers are printed in wash out ink on traditional cotton sarashi-momen cloth. The open weave make stitching easy and when washed it will not loose colour or size, but it will thicken a bit to, as will the sashiko thread. This makes your stitching more beautiful as it is snugged up into the fabric weave.

The fabric is about 13" X 35" and the design is printed on one half. The other half is blank. There is a selvedge on both of the 13" sides because the sarashi-momen cloth is woven on narrow traditional width Japanese looms. You are meant to fold the printed side over the unprinted side and stitch through both layers of fabric. (More on doing this later)

The printed wash out ink:   Do not get the fabric damp before you are done all your stitching, it is made to wash away completely so if you get it damp the design will fade, run or disappear! Also, do not iron until you are finished and have washed the fabric. Heat may make the ink permanent.

Removing the printed ink: It will wash away entirely so after you have finished stitching, put it in a bowl of lukewarm water and let it soak a couple minutes, then swish and rinse. 

Washing your project: Washing sashiko samplers is good! The threads and fabric are colourfast and although they 'swell' or thicken up a bit, they aren't actually shrinking, just softening and thickening. This makes them more beautiful and with a few washing the soft 'fuzzy' fibres of the sashiko thread will also disappear. What is happening is that both the cloth and the thread have 'loose' fibres that are swelling and sort of grabbing onto each other. This is what causes the unique quality seen especially in antique sashiko garments and bedding fabrics.

I wash my Olympus sashiko fabrics and sashiko threads on warm settings in my washing machine and dryer, and if I do iron them, I press from the back on a padded surface so the texture is not flattened too much. (Another do not :-) Do not use hot to dry your cottons, cotton hates hot air! It ruins the fibres, leaving them rough and scratchy and ugly. It helps them a lot if you take them out of the dryer before thy are fully dry- and then you can smooth with your hands-no need to iron :-)

OK, we did the general information. Now the stitching.

 How to begin your sampler:

Smooth the sampler fabric out on your table, printed side up. Then fold it in half so that the two raw fabric edges are matched and smooth it out again. The smoothing is going to help the two fabrics stay together. 

You should be looking at raw edges on one side, a folded edge on the opposite, and selvedge edges at the top and bottom. The printed design should be inside.

Now stitch the raw edges together by hand or machine about 3/8" from the raw edges.

Turn the cloth right side out and finger press flat (no ironing!). Smooth the cloth again.

Now when you are finished stitching all the edges will be finished and you can call the project done (or you can use it to make something else like a cushion, quilt block, bag, pocket on another bag...)

Thread your sashiko needle with about 18 - 20" of sashiko thread. Use the whole thread. (There is a blog on my website that will show you how to prepare your skein of sashiko thread so it will not end up a tangles mess. Its probably worth it to go look at that!

 To knot or not to knot?

It's a personal choice, I think. I start with a knot for my first thread, but after that I end and begin new threads by passing my thread under a few stitches of thread (about 3) on the back of the cloth and leaving about a half inch of tail. Do not go through the fabric, just under the stitched threads. (You can find photos of this method in my website blogs)

How to do the actual stitching:

You don't use a hoop for sashiko stitching. Simply gather the fabric into your hand and stitch along the marked stitch lines putting as many stitches on the sashiko needle at a time as you are comfortable doing. This will give you straighter more even stitching, and it goes along much faster.

 Another choice. The Japanese instructions will show you to stitch the outer 'frame' of the design first. I presume this is to fix the two layers of fabric to each other.

Putting many stitches on the sashiko needle at a time. This will give you straighter more even stitching, and it goes along much faster.

I prefer to leave that outer square until last because once stitched the fabric looses some of its ability to move, which reduces your ability to stretch and ease your stitches as you go along.

Why would you need to stretch and ease the fabric as your stitching progresses?  

If you are an experienced sashiko stitcher you probably never really think about this anymore. With experience you learn 'the feel' of stitching that will be ok, or be too tight.  But at the beginning almost everyone stitches too tightly. 

You know how this goes.

You load up five or six stitches on your needle and pull the needle through, then you slide those stitches through your fingers to lay them out long and flat. And you repeat and repeat and repeat and all is going along peaceful and sweetly. You start to see the design building and get a bubble of excitement in your throat...

 And then something goes wrong.

 The fabric doesn't quite flatten out anymore, there is a definite puckering beginning that you can't get to smooth away....what happened?

What happened is that as your stitching goes along more and more fat sashiko thread is being added between the warp and weft threads of the fabric until it has no choice but to start to buckle.  That's why you don't see it at the beginning, and why it seems like smoothing your stitches out is working fine. The effect doesn't start to happen until the fabric is 'overfull'.

So what to do?

Leave some slack in your thread. Every time you turn a corner leave a tiny loop of thread on the back of the cloth at that stitch, when you stitch long lines without corners just leave an extra looseness in a   stitch on the back every 4 or 6 inches, and when you carry a thread on the back, from one line of stitching to another, leave slack in that carried thread.

 Usually those loops and slack threads will be pulled into the fabric and disappear as your stitching continues and they are pulled into the fabric. It won't hurt to stop and tug the sides of the fabric now and then (by holding each side directly opposite) to help also.

Not to worry. It doesn't take long to figure out how to keep enough slack in your stitching. And don't worry that you will leave too much and it will show later. Sashiko thread is not slide-y so if there is some slack left in little loops on the back it will stay on the back, especially after the fabric has been washed and the warp and weft has tightened up on the threads.

 What is left? We covered beginning and ending your threads, remembering to leave slack so the fabric doesn't pucker up.  Next you need to figure out how to stitch your specific design.

There are two things to think about as you consider the particular design you are going to stitch.

  • The order of stitching in sashiko patterns
  • The direction of stitching in sashiko patterns

Rules for the order of stitching for all sashiko designs

 Every Sashiko pattern will be a little different. Some patterns have no diagonal lines, some have only diagonal lines, for example. Use the rules in the order they apply.

1. Stitch the horizontal lines first. Stitch all of them, one after the other, and always stitch all the way from one end of a line to the other (often this is all the way across the cloth)  

2. Stitch all the vertical lines.

3 Stitch all the diagonal lines from left to right.

4. Stitch all the diagonal lines from right to left.

(If you have a kit with threads included then you will have colour coded diagrams to help you with the stitching order and colour changes)

 Direction of sashiko Stitching

This applies to the traditional large pattern continuous line sashiko patterns (Moyo-sashi) which include the  Nagomi Sashiko Sampler Series.  Study the design a little while and you will see that there are small pattern motifs, but that they are made up of long lines which most often go all the way across the design. You want to stitch along the long lines NOT around the small motifs. The small motifs you see will emerge as the stitching of the long lines continue (which is kind of magic, and fun :-)) 

Example: Take the hemp leaf design. You see the shape of the 6 point leaf repeating in the pattern, but to stitch it you will stitch every line straight across the whole fabric using the order of stitching rules. This does mean you will carry thread across short areas on the back of the fabric, remembering to leave some looseness in them. I know there are some directions that show a sort of zigzag change of direction on this design but it does stitch so much easier and more enjoyably (and faster) if yous stick to the order of stitching rules! 

I think that's it!

 Enjoy your stitching & kind regards