Sashiko Thread – Which type should I use?

If you don’t live in Hawaii, California, Oregon, or Washington state it may be difficult to believe Sashiko has been in the US for decades. For those of us on the Pacific side of things, Sashiko has waxed and waned in popularity since the late 1970’s at least, with a big upswing in the 1980’s and again in the past ten years or so. I started selling Sashiko supplies online in 2005 and have seen demand grow exponentially since.

For years the only brand of Sashiko thread available in the US market was Olympus. If you were very lucky and lived in Berkeley, CA you could have visited Kasuri Dyeworks near the UC campus and purchased other types such as Hida Sashiko thread. If not… there was always mail order, if you had a Sashiko book in English that listed resources.

Pepper Cory, one of the early pioneers in promoting and teaching Sashiko in the US, couldn’t find a reliable Sashiko thread supplier in Japan and opted to use readily available Perle cotton thread instead. This is what many people are more familiar with, along with embroidery floss. Perle and embroidery floss both produce strong lines and come in a wide range of colors, which makes them useful when Sashiko thread is not available… or you already have a lot of these threads you want to use up! However, I don’t use them as they don’t offer the same look as Sashiko thread available on the market today.

When I started selling sashiko supplies to supplement my vintage kimono business, all I could find was Olympus thread. It’s inexpensive, available in an assortment of colors, 100% cotton, colorfast, and the threads come in small (20m) or large (100m) skeins. I visited the Olympus main office in Nagoya, Japan in 2016 and got to see projects on the drawing board and where the company was going with their latest craft kit ideas. The company produces hundreds of types of handcraft kits every year that are popular with people in Japan who didn’t learn to sew from their mothers or grandmothers. Their pre-printed sashiko kits do well in the US and many stitchers have a few tucked away for “someday” in a closet or drawer!

The next brand I found was Hida Sashiko. This company based in the mountain town of Takayama once exported their threads around the world but has stopped exporting their thread a few years ago. You can also find their thread in Tulip Sashiko kits.

The main reason I was drawn to Hida was the work of one of their dyers, Keiko Futatsuya. Her natural dye colors were so soft and dreamy I wanted them all. She has since left Hida and works independently at Sashi.Co, continuing to experiment with different botanical dyes including indigo.

The picture on the left features several colors of Keiko’s hand dyed thread. It’s easy to pick out the brown, gray, and white, but they colors you can’t readily see include light beige and pink! Her colors can be very subtle sometimes.

I continue to hunt for new types of Sashiko thread every time I travel to Japan. Here are a few more that we carry in our online shop:

Aizenkobo – 3-ply homespun thread which is best doubled. The colors are botanically dyed and will vary from batch to batch. These are dyed in Kyoto in beautiful shades of creamy white to darkest indigo, and everything in between. Probably not the best to start with if you’re a beginner, but those who are more comfortable with Sashiko and ready to experiment will be delighted with these.

Yokota – thinner than Olympus, Hida, and Maito, thicker than Aizenkobo. It’s colorfast and comes in 40m, 100m, and 170m meter skeins. The 100m skeins are thicker than the 40m and 170m skeins. This is the thread we use most often in our monthly Sashiko Subscription Kits and when I teach classes. Color #6 is a good solid indigo hue, but not true indigo (and won’t bleed). Rainbow is one of our best selling colors at quilt shows!

Maito – 6-ply and the thickest of all the brands we carry. Botanically dyed in Tokyo in soft, rich hues from cherry blossom pink to smoky gray, sunny yellow to vivid indigo, and the jammiest berry purple I’ve ever seen.

Which thread should you use? Sample a few and see how they feel for you. I primarily use Yokota as it is well suited to standard quilt cottons, but any of them will work on more loosely woven fabrics including linen and cotton/linen blends. Maito is best for very broad woven fabrics, whereas Aizenkobo is handy for finer fabrics and miniatures.

Questions I’ve had from customers over the years:

Can I crochet with these? I think so. I don’t crochet, but they would probably work just fine.

Do you offer thread sample cards? Not yet. They’re a lot of work to put together and we’d have to charge for them. I’d like to offer them in the future, but until then I suggest trying them out one skein at a time. Olympus and Yokota are quite affordable!

Can I overdye these? I can confirm that the Olympus and Yokota threads cannot be overdyed as they have been treated so they won’t take fugitive dye and won’t bleed, either. The botanically dyed threads may or may not take more dye, but I think they’re perfect as is.

Can I quilt with any of these? Yes. Any will work for a quilt top, although Maito might be too thick for most quilt fabrics. If you plan to stitch through your top, batting, and backing, I’d go with Yokota, Aizenkobo, or Olympus, but I’ve had Olympus fray and break when going through heavy layers before so it’s not my favorite for quilting. Yokota is my top pick.

If you have more questions, please let me know and I’ll add them here. 



3 Comments Add yours

  1. betty depaola says:

    I have been doing Sashiko for over 10 years and definitely agree with your comments on pearl cotton as compared to sashiko threads. Pearl cotton is too stiff and does not lay as well as sashiko threads. Thanks for the article.

  2. Connie S. Smith says:

    Thank you for your information.

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