Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Japanese sashiko

My dear friend Joanna was in town last week. Over the phone she said, "my jacket really needs some more patches." Joanna is such a free spirit (and an anti-capitalist one, at that!) that she proudly sports the jackets she's been wearing for decades. She tells me she cherishes the patches I've sewn, but is definitely sensitive about any new holes. This is my third or fourth round of patching her jackets, which of course, has been my honor and pleasure.

Here's Joanna (in a relatively new jacket--no patches!) in the health food coop of Ann Arbor, with a random stranger she invited to be part of the photo. (I thought this pic was quilt-blog-worthy!)

For this round of patchwork, I had a new skill to apply: Japanese sashiko. Last month, a textile tour in Japan had taken me to the small but very memorable Amuse Museum in Tokyo, where Chuzaburo Tanaka's collection of "boro" (historical, patched Japanese textiles) is on permanent display. Tanaka was the first to recognize the artistic--spiritual?--value of the patched-over robes, blankets and pants worn by impoverished Japanese villagers of the last century. These textiles have texture!

Above is an example of pants in Tanaka's collection. The way the item is displayed helps convey the lived-in quality that makes them so beautiful, as the haiku-like signage suggests:

I think the same principle applies to the Gees' Bend quilts from Alabama that use old jeans material(photo from object [if] ied blog, which has a nice article about them).

Anyway, in boro, these patches are applied to the garments (both inside and out) using sashiko stitching, a running stitch, in rows, to stabilize the layers. Again, the trace of the human activity of stitching is seen and felt. People now employ sashiko for decoration, using a thick cotton embroidery thread, but my use on Joanna's jacket went back to its functional roots, and I simply used a double strand of sewing thread:

Truly, sashiko makes so much sense. Where it now has interesting texture, the jacket was once rumpled, with the bulk of an unruly placket lining causing much of the wearing-down points. Stapling down the flap with the running stitch made it behave:

I also added patches of silk with sashiko to the frayed parts on the collar

and sleeve (pictured here from the elbow down).

I love this beautiful technique and am so thrilled to employ it in an authentic context, so soon after my return from Japan, for such a sweet and appreciative recipient.

Linking up with Work in Progress Wednesday and Needle and Thread Thursday.