By the 1800s there were cotton fabric manufacturers in southern Japan, but in the colder northern part of Japan where cotton couldn't grow, the working classes continued to use the handwoven and rough hemp. During this time merchant ships traveled the coast line of northern Japan. One part of their cargo was cotton rags, which they sold to farmer and fisher men's wives. The wives being often too poor to purchase bundles of rags individually would group together to purchase, clean, sort and sashiko stitch the rags together to make clothing, bedding and household fabrics. It is around this time that white cotton thread appears in sashiko stitching.