Quilting with Sashiko

My mom was a hand quilter, which makes it logical that after watching her enjoy it for so many years,  I’d come to appreciate handwork, too. The slow pace, the gentle and rhythmic stitching, and the fabulous texture of it all.

There are some aspects of hand quilting I do not enjoy so much, especially how painful it can be. I went from hating thimbles to carrying an assortment of them in my shop, mainly because I use the little buggers now and I understand how necessary they are. Needle grippers are convenient to have around, and I have grown fond of mine.

Let’s face it–quilt needles are tiny, sharp, and deadly. The eye is almost as sharp as the point, and they’ll draw blood on the first stitch. Most people can’t even thread them without a microscope and a pair of tweezers. How do you use something as small as a size #13?!

They make sashiko needles look gargantuan.

But quilting needles can accomplish something sashiko needles can’t–or at least, can’t very easily. While it is possible to quilt with sashiko thread and needles, it isn’t advisable. I’ve done it plenty, but quilting in the Western style with thin thread and small needle just work out better in many cases. Sashiko works beautifully on a single layer of fabric. Two layers stitched together provide a pleasant texture and extra warmth. Add more and it just ups the ante, making the completed project something to be proud of, whether or not your stitches are resolutely even.

Add in batting, however, and things can get complicated. The loft from batting makes sashiko tricky. It’s inadvisable to use a hoop for sashiko because you want slack in your thread, not tension, and that slack can cause things to shift around while you’re working with batting.

For the piece pictured I stitched the top in sashiko, then layered my quilt sandwich (top, batting, backing) and basted it all together. First I marked out the straight lines to frame my blocks, then sashiko stitched those, nice and slow, with a palm thimble to shove the needle through. My stitches were further apart than those done on the single layer of the top, as getting through batting with a big needle will cause that to happen.

After completing the straight lines, I went to work with the quilting needle. Compared to pushing a sashiko needle through the sandwich, this was a breeze. I chose an off-white thread to do all the quilting, rather than colors that might blend in, because I wanted the difference in stitches to be evident. I didn’t want the quilting stitches to hide behind the bolder, brighter sashiko, but to compliment it. Harmony was the goal, and I think we got there.

I often encourage sashiko beginners to stitch a single layer first, whether it’s a preprinted panel or a design transferred onto a quilt block. Get a feel for the needle and thread, manage your stitch length and intervals, get comfortable with turning tight corners and leaving enough slack for movement. Walk the path, don’t rush ahead too fast. Pace yourself.

If you’re an experienced quilter, the next step will bring you joy. Quilting around those big stitches will bring out so much more of the design. The finished piece will be textural, touchable, and visually more interesting with added depth and dimension.

Give it a try. I think you’ll like it. I certainly do.

The quilt shown is from our monthly Kimonomomo Sashiko Subscription Box. It was part one of a four-part seasonal series and represented Winter. Each kit is available for one month, then retired.  Winter was released in January, Spring was in April, Summer was in July, and Autumn will be available in October 2018. Missed out on the series? We’ll start a new set in January 2019. You can check out all of our subscription options in our Etsy shop. 

 

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