Sashiko? Kogin? Hitomezashi? Boro? What are we stitching?

By Susan Fletcher
Hitomezashi sashiko stitching sample

Which one are you stitching? 

Sashiko? Kogin? Hitomezashi? Boro? 

I am relaxed about my stitching, and will combine techniques willy-nilly if I think I'll like the effect, but I do like to know where the techniques I'm messing with come from, and what separates one from another. 

So here goes:

These are all types of sashiko, and sashiko, as you already know, means 'stab stitch'. 

What all 4 techniques have in common is that they use heavy cotton thread to make simple down and up stitches (running stitches) through fabric.  They were all used for quilting, mending and/or embellishing clothing and household textiles, and date back to at least the 1600's in Japan.

Simple sashiko (photo below) uses a running stitch to create the design.   The design is made by stitching continuous lines across the fabric surface. The stitch length for simple sashiko is made slightly longer on the surface of the fabric than it is on the underside. I was told to use a 2/3 to 1 ratio, but sometimes it is a smaller difference. Sashiko stitch length will depend on the stitcher's preference and skill, as well as the fabric being stitched.  


Hitomezashi, sometimes called 'one stitch' sashiko, also uses a simple running stitch to create the design, but the stitches are evenly spaced, and equal in size on the surface and the undersize of your fabric.  Again the design is created by accumulated lines of stitching across the fabric, but they are positioned to created small repeating designs. Hitomezashi may use sashiko thread, or the slightly heavier kogin sashiko thread for stitching in order to increase the 'plump grain of rice' effect of the stitches.


Kogin (photo below) stitching is also a type of sashiko. Again it is stitched with the heavier kogin sashiko cotton thread to increase the 'fat rice grain' effect of each stitch, but the designs are made by counting and passing over multiple threads in the fabric. This means the stitch lengths are not equal in length, and that the spaces between the stitches may also vary. However the stitching is still done by crossing the fabric from edge to edge in horizontal or vertical lines to build the design.  More (or even most) of the fabric will be covered with Kogin stitching, making it a good choice for strengthening areas of cloth getting hardware, like shirt cuffs and yoke areas. This examples shows two stitched bands which will have a more complex Kogin design stitched between them.

Sashiko Kogin

Boro (photo below) is sometimes called country stitching or some variation of that. It is the crudest of the sashiko techniques, mostly used to do utilitarian mending of household cloths and work clothing, and to stitch together the last bits of re-usable cloth to make cleaning rags (no paper towel in those days! plus every scrap of fabric was first harvested as a fiber, prepared, spun, and woven - by the time you did all that work, you wouldn't have thrown away the least bit until it fell apart, would you?)  Examples of Kogin stitching show varying methods, sometimes simply layering the fabric pieces and stitching straight lines across them to bind them together as usable cloth, but sometimes involving the use of a sort of 'freehand' Kogin style stitching to increase the fabric strength by making the stitching more dense. 

In this sample I turned the raw edges, but many stitchers do not. It is a choice made by the stitcher and usually depending on the intended later use of the cloth. 


No matter which style you stitch, and no matter how 'authentic' or how 'creative' you are in your practice of these techniques, when you sashiko stitch, take a moment remember that you are sharing a long history of women stitching. The thread and needle, and the cloth you hold, they connect you to your history. 

Want an easy way to try these? Try a kit, click here.

Happy Stitching