Sashiko doesn’t have to involve a lot of fancy stitches. Sometimes you can achieve delightful visual and tactile effects with a simple straight stitch. One of the easiest ways to do this is by using double gauze cotton fabrics.
What is double gauze? It’s exactly what the name implies: two layers of cotton gauze fabric, lightly tacked together. Popular in Japan for making light, breathable clothes for humid summers, soft clothes and blankets for newborn babies, and lightweight scarves for winter, double gauze suits all seasons and ages.
Before double gauze, layers of plain homespun cotton were used to achieve a waffle texture for garments to trap heat and allow for breathability with otherwise lightweight, not-so-breathable fabrics.
The piece shown here has two layers of indigo dyed cotton and stitches were done with plain hand sewing thread. The fabric is not thick or a broad weave, such as would be preferable for sashiko today. The thread isn’t thick either, nor is it white. It’s possible the garment was stitched first and dyed after, or even dyed prior to and after stitching, depending on whether or not the fabric was recycled from a previous use. That’s the nice thing about dyeing with indigo; you can dye fabric again and again without weakening the fabric or thread. In many ways the fabric can actually improve with repeated dyeing, which is one reason we see a lot of blue-on-blue sashiko in collections of antique pieces. Modern (post WWII) pieces are almost exclusively white-on-blue as they were not made for daily use and tend to be more ornamental than practical.
But I digress. Back to double gauze and how lovely it is to work with, especially when you can’t get vintage indigo cottons from Japan (as they are becoming increasingly difficult to find these days).
There are various grades and types of double gauze on the market today, ranging from “milky soft” to somewhat coarse and rough. The ones we carry in our shop are from Cosmo, Koizumi, Sevenberry, and Kokka, and I find them to be reliably well made and comfy.
My one and only complaint about sewing with double gauze is how slippery it is. The fabric itself isn’t slippery, but those fine layers do a little dance on the cutting table that frustrates me no end. I’m hopeless at trying to accurately cut, much less patchwork quilt this stuff, and garments are out of the question. I’ve asked friends and business associates in Japan for help, but so far none have given me any solid tips or suggestions on how to sew with double gauze.
So I improvised. I took one half yard of fabric (18″ x 44″), folded it in half (18″ x 22″), sewed the faces together almost all the way around, turned it right side out, then stitched around the outer edge to keep the layers from shifting. And it worked. Once that outer anchor row was in place, everything else was child’s play. Honestly, a child could do this, it’s that simple.
The giraffe fabric shown was pre-washed, which resulted in a little bit of shrinkage and softened the fabric nicely. I added a bit of extra tension in the thread as I stitched each row in order to get the ripple effect shown on the fabric on the far right. Each row was done freehand, not measured or marked, so the rows are not rigid. I wanted them to look soft and flowing, and I wanted some control over the overall texture of the piece.
The finished work is quite small, and I’ve been asked if it’s meant to be a burp cloth for a baby. It isn’t meant to be anything at all, simply an experiment for someone who has limited time and a curious mind, who also likes to make things that are pleasing to the eye and hand. This piece is highly tactile, and once you hold it, you can’t help but pet it. My stitches are large compared to the antique indigo shown, but you can make your stitches any size you like. Changing the length and spacing of stitches will result in different effects, so I heartily suggest experimenting with that yourself. You may be pleased with the results. Several customers who have seen my various works in progress have also jumped on the sashiko-double-gauze train, and a few have been back for more after completing their first piece. Stitching through double gauze (without batting) is such a delight as the needle slips through the fabric like a hot knife through butter.
Want to give it a go yourself? We offer a variety of double gauze fabrics in our Etsy shop, and the Sashiko Subscription Kit for September 2018 is a double gauze lap blanket. Missed the kit? You can make one with two yards of double gauze, sashiko thread, and a needle.