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Learning Sashiko with Upcycle Stitches

Learning Sashiko with Atsushi of Upcycle Stitches

I’ve long admired Sashiko and Boro work and was yearning to learn more about this beautiful Japanese craft. As you know I hate waste, and am always looking for ways to avoid wasting fabric. The thing I find so wonderful about Boro is the idea that you can take something worn out, and by mending with Sashiko stitching and patches of fabric, create something stronger and more beautiful than the original. Doesn’t that feel like a metaphor for life? The investment in the garment and the fabric and the respect for the materials speak to me. Last year i signed up for the online Sashiko class with Atsushi of Upcycle Stitches and Sashi Co  and found the entire experience so enjoyable that I can’t wait to tell you all about my experience learning Sashiko with Upcycle Stitches!

This was such a beautiful and enjoyable learning experience. Atsushi is a wonderful teacher and I have so much respect and appreciation for all of the little details he includes in this online course. Down to teaching you the correct posture and reminders to rest at appropriate places. Right at the point where I was concentrating so hard that my entire body was tense and wound up like a spring, Atsushi recommended stopping for a cup of tea and a chocolate.

The thread through this entire process was patience. Though I was keen to start right away, the first step was actually to wait for the materials to arrive. Atsushi’s mother Keiko puts together the kits of everything you need for you class in Japan (Atsushi lives in New York) and mails them to you. I was so pleased when I received my kit and saw all the care that had gone into it. And remember what I said about patience? One of the included items is a little packet that clearly says not to open it till the last stage in the course. It took all of my self control not to open it! Other items in the kit include a Sashiko thimble which is now my favourite tool ever and is quite different to the thimble i usually use. Sashiko thread and needles – which are really crucial to the Sashiko stitches functioning correctly. Materials for practicing and the all important Asano-Ha pattern, as well as a chalk pencil, for marking patterns.

Practicing the Sashiko Unshin

Once I had my kit it was time to watch the videos. These are split into three parts; the theory, history and ethos of Sashiko; Unshin, the rhythm and technique of Sashiko and how to care for and use the materials ; And lastly stitching the Asano-Ha pattern. There was so much in these videos that I watched each one multiple times to try and absorb as much as possible. Atsushi has put a great amount of detail and tips, including how to manage your thread and store it correctly.

I did not watch all three videos in a row as i wanted to give myself time to soak in all the information and practice what i had learnt. I ended up watching and practicing over a week during the Christmas break. I love that feeling of discomfort that you are learning and the end satisfaction when you can accomplish it. I love hand sewing and have done a lot in the past – but the technique of Sashiko was very different. It took quite some time for my hand to feel comfortable and for the awkwardness of the motion to become smooth and natural.

One of the things I love about Atsushi’s method of teaching is that he knows this and reminds you often that you will feel uncomfortable and need to press on for a few hours until you learn the Unshin.

I started with the narrow strips of cotton just sewing line after line of Sashiko until i felt relatively comfortable and was starting to develop the rythmn.

Stitching the Asano-Ha pattern - learning SashikoStitching the Asano-Ha pattern - learning Sashiko

Embroidery is one of my favourite crafts, I find it calming and restorative and love having a piece I can enjoy afterwards. Once I had used up all the space on the cotton strips I took a deep breath and dove into the Asano-Ha pattern. I found the process of stitching the Asano-Ha pattern so restful, and did some with a cup of tea in the back yard, and some on the couch with Birdie while she watched 101 Dalmations. The next step will be to perform the Mizutoushi – which is kind of like blocking in knitting – and helps the threads relax and settle into the fabric.

Asano-Ha completed pattern - learning Sashiko with Upcycle Stitches

Is it perfect? No. And that’s ok. Because if there is one thing i have learnt through this course it’s that Sashiko isn’t really about one perfect stitch, it’s about the process, and enjoying the dialogue with the fabric.

So what will I do with my first piece of Sashiko? Atsushi very thoughtfully includes enough materials to create a bag if you would like. The long strips used for the initial practice can become the handles, there is some interfacing as well as lining to cover the back side of the work. Personally I am hoping to make a small cushion from my piece so I can enjoy it more regularly. A little bit like this one on Atsushi’s blog.

It would be easy to think you’re done after completing your piece and finishing the videos, but there is one last stage of the learning process, and probably the most important one – an online session with Atsushi via Zoom. I am doing a session this month and I am so excited/nervous!

I absolutely loved learning Sashiko with Upcycle Stitches and if you’re interested in Sashiko and Boro and would like to learn more I highly recommend not only Atsushi’s online course but he shares a wealth of free tutorials and materials on his blog, Instagram and Youtube channel.

Learning Sashiko with Atsushi of Upcycle Stitches

About Author

Meg is the Founder and Creative Director of Megan Nielsen Patterns, and is constantly dreaming up ideas for new sewing patterns and ways to make your sewing journey more enjoyable! She gets really excited about design details and is always trying to add way too many variations to our patterns.

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3 years ago

It’s interesting to read about this beautiful tradition and to see the satisfying results of your work. It seems like a meditative task.

Louise Thorsen
Louise Thorsen
3 years ago

Thank you for sharing the links to this course. I have several sashiko projects which I purchase din Japan a few years ago and this may be the inspiration I need to get started. But please tell me, what was in the packet marked “Do not open till the end of the course”?

Louise Thorsen
Louise Thorsen
3 years ago
Reply to  Meg

Thank you ?