Sashiko Needles – Which to buy?

In Japan one may have an abundance of sashiko needles to choose from, but outside of Japan our choices tend to be more limited. For the past decade or so we were really limited, generally to whatever Olympus had to offer, and that was about it. Times have changed, much to our benefit.

Which brand to start with?


Olympus 2 needle pack, one long and one short

Olympus, the company providing non-Japanese stitchers with sashiko supplies for a very long time (decades? I really have no idea) offers a wide variety of thread, needles, thimbles, and kits and has continued to add to their catalog of creative notions over the years. If you’re starting out with one of their pre-printed kits, you may find Olympus sashiko needles to be just the thing to help you get a feel for sashiko. The needles are large and easy to hold with big, easy to thread eyes. Drop one on the floor and you’ll be sure to find it long before someone accidentally steps on it.

While a good place to start, how do these hold up to more advanced sashiko? Not very well. The thicker needles are unwieldy when it comes to quilting through more than one layer of fabric, never mind batting. On to other options.


Clover Basic assortment (8 needles)


One step up the scale is another familiar brand: Clover. With an ever-expanding catalog of sewing supplies and notions, Clover is always looking to tap into the latest creative trend. They offer two types of sashiko (or as they spell it, sashico) needles; a basic assortment and a set of three long needles. Finer than Olympus needles, I’ve tested these out and found them to be very good for sashiko work in general, but they are still a step below my all-time favorites.


Tulip Long assortment and Short assortment, 6 needles per pack


Tulip. Top of the line in my experience (and I’ve heard there are still better needles in Japan, I just need to find the small shops where they are sold), these are manufactured to exacting standards. Smoother, more flexible, and less brittle than most needles, Tulip sashiko needles can sew through just about anything, including quilt batting. Some people have expressed concern the eyes are too small to thread with thick sashiko thread, but I prefer the smaller eyes as I’m less likely to drop my thread by accident and lose my needle in the process. The medium needle with the smallest eye is my preferred needle for silk sashiko using Fujix Soie et silk thread.

Both the Tulip Sashiko Long Assortment and Short Assortment are worth having in your sewing tool kit.

Please avoid using a needle threader with these as they tend to break the eye.

Long or short?

Why do sashiko needles come in such a variety of sizes? If you’re familiar with how to sew sashiko using a palm thimble, then you can see how a longer needle is easier to make a long, straight line. However, that same long needle would be too much to handle when it comes to making curvy lines where you can only pick up one or two stitches at a time.

Basic rule: Long needles are for long lines and short needles are for curves.

Doing a variety of lines and curves? Get the widest assortment you can and work with, or just try a pack of every type and see how they work for you. The Clover basic assortment and Tulip Long assortment are both good variety packs.

Sashiko Classes for Beginners – May 2015

I have two basic sashiko classes coming up in May in Alameda, California. Here are the details:

  • Date: Monday, May 18 or Sunday, May 24 (Same class, pick which one day works best for you.)
  • Time: 1-4 pm
  • Location: The ReCrafting Co., Santa Clara Ave. at Everett in Alameda.
  • Cost: $50 Includes full class kit. Just bring scissors and a ruler!


We’ll cover basic stitch technique, how to transfer a design onto fabric, and the little details such as turning corners, backstitching instead of tying knots, stitch length, and all the nitty gritty you may have been wondering about in your own sashiko practice. A kit will be provided with fabric, thread, needles, and a thimble. Just bring scissors for cutting thread and a ruler for measuring lines. If you have a project you’ve already started and would like some feedback or help getting it finished, bring it along.

To reserve your spot contact Carol via email or call 925-360-3375.

Maximum class size is 8. Students 12 years old or older, please.

Want me to teach this class at your guild or local sewing shop? Let me know!

Playing with Texture: Japanese Dobby Cottons

Buddhas in beige

Dobby cottons are fun to play with, but most quilters outside of Japan may be unfamiliar with these highly textured fabrics. What exactly does “dobby” mean, anyway?

Dobby looms entered into the weaving scene in the mid-19th century and the origin of the term comes from “draw boy”, usually a young helper who would pull strings to move warp threads on a large floor loom up or down as desired, thus enabling the weaver to create fabrics with added texture.

From Wikipedia:

On a treadle loom, each foot-operated treadle is connected by a linkage called a tie-up to one or more shafts. More than one treadle can operate a single shaft. The tie-up consists of cords or similar mechanical linkages tying the treadles to the lams that actually lift or lower the shaft.

On treadle operated looms, the number of sheds is limited by the number of treadles available. An eight-shaft loom can create 254 different sheds. There are actually 256 possibilities which is 2 to the eighth power, but having all threads up or all threads down is not very useful. Most eight-shaft floor looms have only ten to twelve treadles due to space limitations. This limits the weaver to ten to twelve distinct sheds. It is possible to use both feet to get more sheds, but this is rarely done in practice. It is even possible to change tie-ups in the middle of weaving a cloth but this is a tedious process, so this too is rarely done.

With a dobby loom, all 254 possibilities are available at any time. This vastly increases the number of cloth designs available to the weaver. The advantage of a dobby loom becomes even more pronounced on looms with 12 shafts (4094 possible sheds), 16 shafts (65,534 possible sheds), or more. It reaches its peak on a Jacquard loom in which each thread is individually controlled.

kobayashi_purplefloral_dobby1 kobayashi_purplefloral_dobby4


Using a treadle loom is tricky at first. I’ve only ever dabbled a bit with one myself, but it seems akin to learning how to play one of those big church organs… the type with multiple floor pedals, pull stops, and a full keyboard. Modern dobby looms are computer controlled, so a human only needs to program it, get it going, and check to make sure nothing goes wonky during the weaving process.

Hokkoh teatime dobby cotton



Some of the dobby fabrics in my shop have a sort of irregular, slubby texture, while others have a distinctly geometric texture. I like how light plays off these differences in what would otherwise be a pretty, but flat fabric.

What can you use dobby fabrics for? Many are heavier weight than quilting cottons but lighter than canvas or Oxford cotton, while others may be lightweight, breathable, and made for summer use. Dobbies can be used for clothing, quilting, bags, upholstery (with reservations–I’m not sure some would hold up to heavy use), curtains, and other crafts.

For example, I have this dragon fabric in six different shades, and I’m working on a set of throw pillows!



Schedule for April 2015

It’s spring here in California… actually, we skipped winter altogether so it’s been spring since February, but I digress. Spring is time for new projects, cleaning out the stash, and learning new techniques.

Here’s where you can find me in April:

Thimbles thimbles thimbles! And more thimbles.

As an avowed thimble-hater in my youth, I never expected to carry so many in my shop that I would actually use.
metal_palm_thimbleYou may have heard me evangelize the merits of a sashiko palm thimble, either leather or metal, and seen me wearing both at a quilt show or teaching event. I do use these regularly and find they take the stress out of sashiko and allow me to sew for longer than I would without a thimble. They may seem awkward to start with if you are unaccustomed to them, but once you find the right balance and rhythm to using them they will become your go-to thimble for sashiko.

olympus_leather_thimbleWhich to choose, leather or metal? It really depends on the base of your middle finger on your dominant hand. If the base of your finger is very narrow and rings tend to spin around when you wear them, try the leather thimble with its adjustable elastic. If you have a medium-sized finger base, either will do. If your fingers are thicker or you have arthritic joints, you may prefer the leather and either adjust the elastic or replace it with ribbon to make it larger. I tend to use the metal one most as it is easiest to find in my sewing tool box.

Are they absolutely necessary? No, but if you plan to be sewing long lines, I wouldn’t do it without one. Short curves where you’ll only be picking up one or two stitches at a time will be fine without a thimble.


This leather fingertip thimble from Cotton Boll feels like wearing a glove. It is soft, pliable, and has a slit for your fingernail to poke through and comes in small, medium, or large. Cotton Boll is a Japanese company, but the thimble is made in the USA. Having grown up near a cattle pasture in California, this does not surprise me. Plenty of leather around here.

littlehouse_thimble1The tortoise thimble is armor for your finger, but with access for your fingernail to be free. I’m one of those people who fumble with metal fingertip thimbles, so I haven’t used this one. They do seem popular at quilt shows! They come in two sizes, medium and large. If you’re not sure which you might need, just ask. I’ll do my best to get you fitted.

This little ring thimble is what I use for sewing quilt bindings. Adjustable and comfortable, this thimble prevents me from stabbing my fingertips and bleeding all over my quilts. The one shown is from Little House. I currently stock these from Clover as the exposed brass turned my finger green and Clover plates theirs so that doesn’t happen. You can see a video of me using it to sew a binding here.

Yubinuki are beautiful handmade thimbles. I’ve picked up a few books on how to make them, but it may be a while before I have the chance to sit down and learn the finer points. Check out the selection of books at Pomadour’s Craft Cafe if you’d like to give it a shot! I also like this clever handmade thimble from May Sheung on Etsy.


New in the shop: Sashiko Southwest

"Protecting Beauty" from Sashiko Southwest

“Protecting Beauty” from Sashiko Southwest

Joyce Perz of Sashiko Southwest is an artist with a vision. She enjoys the classic style of Japanese sashiko, but living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, she is exposed to Southwest Native American tribal art in all its beautiful geometry. In combining the two she has created a collection of beautiful hybrid designs.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joyce while I was working at AQS Quilt Week Albuquerque in January of this year. Her personality and energy were inspiring, and I was excited to see her kits fly off the display in my booth during show.

Printed on Kona cotton with a wash-out ink, these kits are similar to the widely available Olympus kits many of us are already familiar with, but with a playful flair and unique take on both Native American art and traditional Japanese design.


“Fish in the River” from Sashiko Southwest

While these look great with white thread on dark blue cotton, you could spice one up with a change of thread color, or use it as a centerpiece in a larger project.


These little kits make inexpensive, easy weekend projects, or bring one along to do while you’re waiting for an appointment (that’s how I get a lot of my sashiko done!). No hoop needed, just fabric, needle, thread, and maybe a sashiko thimble.

I have several designs available in the Kimonomomo Etsy shop right now and available at quilt shows (check the schedule to the right), or you can order directly from Joyce at


Schedule for March 2015

Busy busy! Local local! No airplanes for me this month. Here’s where you can find Kimonomomo this March:

Looking for classes? I’m working with Jennifer Serr of the Sewing Room in Alameda, CA to put a schedule together and will post here when we’ve got that ready for you.

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